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The Importance of what Politicians Wear

The Importance of what Politicians Wear
11th June 2024 Sarah Gray
Sarah Gray headshot while on Sky News

Last week I was invited onto Sky News Breakfast to chat with Kay Burley in their Westminster studio about whether the politicians are getting their outfits right.

You might think well, does it really matter Sarah?

And I would argue that yes, it does.

Why? Let me explain;

As humans, we are hard wired to notice and respond to visual clues. It goes back to our cave days when we had to assess danger Vs safety in the blink of an eye. These snap judgements happen before our conscious judgements kick in. Malcolm Gladwell suggests and provides plenty of examples in his book ‘Blink’, that these snap judgements are often more accurate than judgements made based on a stack of information gathered over time.

So with this inbuilt judgement tool, we can look at any situation, person or object and know if there’s danger or safety, if it’s friend or foe, trustworthy, genuine, authentic or otherwise. You know the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”? There is so much truth in this.

Our clothes are form visual clues and speak volumes. They are a huge part of our personal brand.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not style over substance.

But dialling into the fact that how we present visually sends messages about our character, is key. We know instantly if we can relate to someone simply from the way they show up. For the most part, we don’t get to meet the politicians, but we are bombarded with images of them from TV, newspapers and social media. So the picture they portray is even more important as these images are what we instinctively base our snap judgements on before they’ve even spoken.

This is all about authenticity. We can usually spot inauthenticity a mile off!  And why is that? Because in the blink of an eye, we can tell if someone is presenting as their true authentic self or not. We are able to judge whether or not they are showing us their personality. We can spot if they are trying to be someone they are not.

Given the enormity of the role of a politician, it is crucial that they convey honesty, reliability and stability.

So back to the question I was asked by Kay Burley… Who is getting it right?

Well, a polished and professional look will work well for most. It is evident that the very classic polished suit look is where Rishi Sunak feels most comfortable. Some consider him to look too immaculate and while this works in the House of Commons, it isn’t relatable to many of his voters.

But recently he has attempted to “appeal to his electorate” by adding trainers to his classic look. In principle this is great, many do it. However, it appeared not to be authentic and he didn’t look at ease. It felt as if he was trying to be someone he isn’t. Then there was the time he took a £750 rucksack to a non affluent area of the country. It seems as if there was no consideration at all there about how this might look to his audience. 

I believe that if Sunak wants to be seen in casual clothes in the hope to appeal to a wider audience, he can do so but that he needs to opt for the smart and conservative end of casual. This way, I feel this is authentic.

Starmer comes from the legal industry and he appears to have realised that his legal attire will not cut it in politics. He has done away with the traditional ‘suited & booted’ look of a high level lawyer. And although he doesn’t wear a tie often he does still show up in designer wear.

It was interesting to note how Nigel Farage was dressed as he embarked on his campaign trail. He had definitely sharpened up his suit and he’d teamed it with tie with butterflies on it. I see this as clever use of the butterfly symbol… the symbol of transformation; a message he’s trying to get across. Together with wearing blue suit and tie, the historic colours of the opposing party, again sends messages to the audience he is trying to reach.

I’d love to know your thoughts.