Who is the Best Dressed British Politician
On July 5, 2018, Andrea Nahles, Horst Seehofer, Olaf Scholz and Alexander Dobrindt appeared in front of the cameras at ten a.m. after the meeting of the coalition committee in Berlin. The gentlemen wore dark suits and white shirts, but no ties. Was it that hot The outside temperatures were high that day, but negotiations took place in an air-conditioned room. So why the open shirt? What happened to the tie, which has always been an integral part of the political elite?
Clothing is a language. It says a lot about us and reveals a lot. The textile entrepreneur and art collector Thomas Rusche recently stated in an interview that we speak to a lot more people with our clothes than with our words. So what do veteran tie wearers like Horst Seehofer or Olaf Scholz say when they suddenly leave off the tie and the collar of their shirt is almost negligently open - especially at such a crucial moment in the political year?
If you take off your tie, you symbolically gasp for air
One possible message, of course, would be: exhaustion. The negotiations were tough, and those who take off their ties are symbolically gasping for air. If the etiquette is neglected, then it is about really important, that could also be interpreted. But it could just as well be linked to a slow decline in morals, which one or the other has already noticed in recent political life.
Until a few years ago, German politicians always wore ties at work. It was traditionally left out only in speeches to trade unionists and perhaps in the ZDF summer interview. Many primeval greens originally did not wear a tie, but during the red-green reign, the tie also prevailed among the alternatives, Joschka Fischer then even wore suits with a waistcoat. When Alexis Tsipras became Prime Minister in 2015 without a tie, it was a topic for the world press. However, Tsipras has not influenced the politicians' dress code. Trudeau, Kurz, Macron - the younger heads of state also stick to the traditional look.
Unlike in Germany now. Olaf Scholz, who is otherwise always quite severely dressed, appeared for the first time as acting chairman of the SPD on February 14, 2018, with an open white shirt on political Ash Wednesday. Did he think this fit the beer tent? Franz Josef Strauss always wore a tie. And that's how Horst Seehofer is now. Even as prime minister he liked to go without a tie, for example in 2011 at the summer reception of the state parliament. Afterwards, it was discussed in the press whether this was a breach of the dress code. Seehofer justified this with the fact that his wife had allowed it after a long day at work.
Political clothing has not only been a hot topic for us since "Kashmir Chancellor" Gerhard Schröder or the excitement surrounding Rudolf Scharping's suits from Möller & Schaar. Well-dressed politicians in the Federal Republic have always received a vote of no confidence. Erich Mende, Björn Engholm, Walter Scheel, Walther Leisler Kiep, Michel Friedman - elegance is at best ridiculed, but more often branded as a vice. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was the only politician who was initially trusted despite his tailored suits. Which promptly turned out to be a mistake.
Work clothing promotes team spirit
Whether well cut or not, it is the politicians' work clothing, and in the case of men it consists of a suit, shirt, tie and black shoes, in the case of women a trouser suit and blouse or top with a simple neckline, rarely a costume and Pumps. Work clothes are worn for several reasons. It expresses that individuality takes a back seat during work. Workwear promotes team spirit as it underlines the community. And it prevents you from being distracted from your work by flashy clothing or from showing off your appearance.
The average politician in Germany therefore usually wears dark suits and white shirts, while colleagues in France and Italy often prefer the more flattering and TV-friendly light blue shirt. Dark and finely patterned ties with a blue background are considered serious, yellow, green, pink or purple are usually rated negatively. Wine red usually looks bland, the bright red tie is a bit trite as an eye-catcher, but is still popular with some heads of state on certain occasions. Overly vivid motifs should be used with caution - as the tie is placed directly under the face, it should distract from it as little as possible. The best choice would be a plain dark blue tie. She was the favorite of the extremely well-dressed Sergio Loro Piana. However, German politicians rarely wear them.
The work clothes of our politicians also symbolize that we are a republic and a democracy - the suit is a symbol of the bourgeoisie. After 1949 he testified to the unmilitary, anti-Prussian and peaceful character of the Federal Republic. At that time the suit was still the basis of the men's wardrobe, everyone wore it. In the years after 1968, however, the politicians moved more and more away from everyday clothing, and he soon underlined their formal and dignified office. But that only works if the suit is complete. The rule is: Whoever violates a commandment breaks the whole law. Without a tie, the whole outfit is pointless.
MPs in casual attire - that wouldn't work
The tie developed from variants of the scarf in the 18th century. At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, the shape that is still common today was established. Compared to the artfully intertwined neckerchiefs of the British Regency era, the modern long tie is more impressive because of its minimalism and rounds off the suit with a clean vertical line.
What if ministers and members of parliament wore casual clothes like most Germans? The cabinet in a T-shirt, shorts and Birkenstock sandals, with a fleece jacket, jeans and sneakers? Many would welcome that. Still, it wouldn't be feasible. And the politicians would probably not want it themselves. Because they feel that they need a suit and tie as part of the staging of importance, more than ever. Gianni Agnelli also looked impressive in an unbuttoned denim shirt and white jeans, but not Olaf Scholz or Horst Seehofer.
So where does this new unwillingness to comply with the dress code come from? Maybe it's because the Chancellor, as a woman, doesn't wear a tie. Schröder, Kohl, Schmidt and all the Chancellors in front of them wore ties, so that was a requirement from the very top. Maybe it's a failed attempt to come across as a bit more modern and younger. But as long as you haven't mastered smart-casual, you'd better stick with your tie.
Bernhard Roetzel is a specialist in classic men's fashion. Most recently he published the "Gentleman Lookbook" (publisher: H.F. Ullmann)
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