A daily bulletin of news & opinion

8 February 2012

We’re in a media age where politicians’ sporting prowess or domestic pet ownership can be as meticulously chewed over by the media as actual policy. Yet, in this quagmire of information, the reconnaissance that can be gathered from checking the colour of a man’s tie is a refreshingly simple guessing game.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s purple picks were often seen as a reflection of his party’s lurch to the centre from socialist red in the mid-1990s. And as newly selected Tory leader in 2006, David Cameron’s choice to be knotted in the freshness of lime green, was received as matching a perhaps more environmentally conscious, “hoodie-hugging” period of Conservative reform.

Today, Cameron rarely strays from a no-nonsense loyalist blue. Adversely, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s past affection for brazen banana yellow might now be too overt-a-nod to increasingly disillusioned Liberal Democrats.

In Britain, it appears the flexibility of political attire is still stiffer than a newly starched shirt. 

Across the pond, like the US political system itself, two tones still dominate. Early in his presidency, Barack Obama opted for red – typically the colour of his Republican rivals – it was seen as an unconventional, optimist move. But in recent months, the president has been painted as playing it safe, repeatedly donning a blue number. Republican Mitt Romney’s choice of wearing blue at 17 out of 18 public engagements has also drawn the speculation of US political pundits. 

Not even the lure of successful business figures can influence the stubbornly formal corridors of power. The Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg generations are now accustomed to opened-necked shirts and off-white linen. Black turtle-necks or post-grunge hooded-jumpers have softened these media messengers. Yet, more than a decade into the 21st-century, the decision to simply not wear a necktie is still seen as a radical yet calculated political gesture. 

Admittedly, media interest in male politicians’ fashion choices is nothing compared to the unrelenting attention given to their female counterparts. But is the predictably slick sheen of silk still a political obligation? The charm of textured yarn or the ribbed weave of a wool tie, perhaps in navy or russet brown, might still be a step too far.

In the politics of the tie, it seems that alternating between red or blue is still the only debate in town.


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