Making a statement… a fashion statement

The UK General Election top candidates Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May appear to be like chalk and cheese when it comes to their stances on Brexit, health, immigration, education, tax and spending. But their fashion styles may be just as clashing as their manifestos.

Corbyn during an interview with Newsnight in 1984 said: “Politics is not a fashion parade, it’s not a gentleman’s club, its not a banker’s institute, it’s a place where the people are represented.”

In this interview he sports his unruly hair and beard, a £1.50 undershirt from B&H Quality Underwear & Socks, and a sweater knitted by his mum that would make even Harry Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley cringe.

The Labour Party leader has not changed much in style over the years. His scruffy beard is ever-present, and having won the title of “Parliamentary beard of the year” seven times, it appears to be a keeper. Despite his apparent disregard for fashion, his nonchalant, approachable look has been picked up by the media and dubbed “leftie-chic”.

clothes from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Victor Camilo, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

His wardrobe features oversized blazers, ill-fitting suit jackets, cycling lycra, socks paired with sliders, and a general propensity to wear brown. Lately, however, he has been seen in a navy-blue suit. Tie-less for most of his career, Corbyn has been coaxed to wear a red tie on special occasions, perhaps after criticism from David Cameron, who suggested he should “wear a proper suit and do up his tie” during an exchange on the NHS last year. Another one of Corbyn’s props is his Breton flat-cap, a nod to socialism, reminiscent of Lenin and Che Guevara.

It is probably a conscious stance to stray away from suits, also labelled “the uniform of capitalism” by The Economist. Earlier this year, French right-wing electoral candidate François Fillon faced embarrassment after claims that a mystery benefactor paid nearly £45,000 worth of suits for him from an expensive made-to-measure clothing outlet in Paris.

On the other hand, May, sporting the power bob hairstyle (or ‘pob’) characteristic of women in power such as Hillary Clinton, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel, exudes fashion. Her go-to brands are high-end and include Hobbs, Anya Hindmarch, LK Bennett, Vivienne Westwood and Amanda Wakeley.

The Conservative Party leader can be seen dressing strikingly when she wants to make striking interventions. For example, while delivering a controversial speech about immigration, she wore a zip-back black dress by Roland Mouret.

Her penchant for shoes has been widely documented: she has revealed that shoes “are the greatest love of her life” and that the media’s focus on them gives her an excuse to add more to her collection. This includes knee-high boots, studded loafers, and her statement leopard-print kitten heels which she likes to combine to her serious, navy blue outfits.

Jeremy Corbyn from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 David Martyn Hunt, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

In addition, each pair seems to match the political message she wants to convey: in the tough keynote speech on Brexit she wore confident diamante-heeled brogues. May’s fashion sense seems to convey the message that she is modern, not bothered by what people think, cheeky, and feminine.

Political Sociology Professor Sarah Childs, while talking to the Daily Mail suggests that the sassy shoes are a carefully thought-through strategy: “Perhaps Theresa was more in control of her media image than some people recognise. I think she was quite astute with the shoes.”

As Corbyn tips his ‘man of the people’ Lenin-hat in the direction of raising minimum wage, and Theresa May puts down her kitten-heeled foot on Brexit, it appears the candidates’ fashion styles are indirectly perfectly suited to their political stances.

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