Americas - Issue 18 - Magazine | Monocle

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Style leaders: no. 15

Seeing red


Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez addresses his people at every opportunity, including on his live chat show, with lively rhetoric on social reform. He wears revolutionary red for the purpose, but his popularity is beginning to wane.

When Hugo Chávez first burst onto the political stage as a leader of a failed coup in 1992, he dressed in the olive green ­fatigues and red beret of his paratrooper days. Since coming to power almost a decade ago, Chávez has replaced the combats with a drab and ill-fitting jacket in an attempt to send a message to Venezuelans that he is “one of the people”. Chávez’s casual and unglamorous get-up harks back to his humble roots. The son of a school teacher and born in the dusty western cattle state of Barinas, the president is rarely to be seen sporting a suit and tie on his home turf. For a president who preaches about the evils of US imperialism, wearing a suit, the epitome of western style, is a no-no when he is addressing the masses.

Chávez, 54, and his counterparts in Ecuador and Bolivia have a penchant for traditional dress. Their favourite Sunday best is a linen tropical short-sleeved shirt, known as the guayabera. It’s a statement that says native dress rules and conveys that the indigenous people (Chávez has a mix of European and indigenous blood) are calling the shots – as opposed to the white oligarchy.

During his appearances on his live weekend chat show Aló Presidente, Chávez ­unfailingly dons a red shirt and t-shirt that has become his trademark ensemble. Wearing a hint of red is also a way for Venezuelans to differentiate themselves from the traditional ruling elite, which Chávez stands against, and is an instantly recognisable way for people to display their allegiances to the president.

But Chávez lost a key referendum last year and his falling approval ratings, which are hovering around 47 per cent, have led some to conclude that no amount of style diplomacy will guarantee him an overwhelming victory in the local elections in November. Perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of his mentor and like-minded revolutionary, Fidel Castro, and slip into an Adidas tracksuit on his retirement.

01 T-shirt – Any self-respecting leftist revolutionary needs a bit of red in their clothing. The colour has become a symbol of people power in Venezuela and a way for Chávez to connect with his supporters.
02 Jacket – Black trousers worn with a shirt-style jacket have become Chávez’s uniform.
03 Watch – Chávez likes to exude the humble look but he does have something of a weakness for chunky designer watches.
04 Shoes – He often opts for a comfy, basic black shoe but he also wears brown suede shoes, white trainers and, on the odd occasion, a more dressy black ankle boot.

Streetcar desire


In Los Angeles, where the car is king, an unlikely mode of public transport is making a comeback: the tram. Following the model set by cities such as Portland (pictured) and Seattle, which have reintroduced trams in recent years to great success, LA is planning to build a 5km system as part of an overall revitalisation of the city’s Broadway commercial corridor. Ironically, before highways crisscrossed southern California, LA had one of the largest tram systems in the world, with 20 lines, nearly 970km of track, and more than 1,200 trams. The system reached its peak in the 1930s and then faced a losing battle with the car, finally disappearing in 1963. The big question now is whether Angelenos will want to ditch their cars in favour of something greener.

Ding ding – US tram projects:

Cincinnati: 8 10-12km loop
4.5km system
Atlanta: Two lines and 16km of track
Miami: A 16km system that’s part of a €2bn redevelopment project
Austin: 24km linking airport and city

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