Worst in worsted? A critique of prime ministerial style by ERIC MUSGRAVE who spent 40 years writing about the fashion business, was launch editor of men’s style magazine For Him and is author of Sharp Suits, a photographic history of men’s tailoring now in its third edition.
THE TITLE OF ‘WORST UK POST-WAR PRIME MINSTER’ is coming down to a two-horse race between Boris Johnson and Anthony Eden.
Despite a posse of strong contenders from both major parties, the Tory Premier who took Britain into the Suez Canal debacle of 1956-57 is probably the only leader whose incompetence ranks with that of the current incumbent.
One title Boris Johnson already wears unopposed, however, is that of Worst DRESSED Post-War Prime Minister. With his ill-fitting, unpressed, scruffy suits, wayward shirt collars, clumsily-knotted neckwear and down-at-heel shoes – and let’s not forget that hair! – Boris looks a mess. An embarrassment to his country, his party and himself.
In this area he is the antithesis to the suave Eden, who was viewed suspiciously by fellow Tories during his career because of his particular devotion to appearance. In short, he was thought too well-dressed to be taken seriously.
JOHNSON WILL NEVER HAVE THAT PROBLEM.
A December pre-Brexit photograph of our PM with his chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost in Brussels alongside EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s main Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier illustrated the acute void between the teams personal presentation, leaving aside their political differences.
Barnier (right), a slim 70-year-old Frenchman, looked relaxed and elegant in a navy-blue suit that was fastened on one button without it pulling out of shape. Mme von der Leyden, a trim 62-year-old German, embraced a neat “smart casual” look with a light-coloured jacket and dark blouse and trousers.
The pair looked fit and efficient, competent and comfortable.
Alas! David Frost, 55, looked like as though he had enjoyed many a long business lunch without having traded up to the necessary larger-size suit. His jacket looked as though it had never been fastened and he has obviously never heard that the point of a necktie ought to end at the waistband, not several inches above it.
Frost, however, looked a sight better than our 56-year-old PM, who appeared to have slept in his suit. The secret of a well-fitting tailored jacket is to have it fit across the shoulders. Boris’s did not fit there and looked worse almost everywhere else.
Although he had closed it on one button – like Barnier – the PM’s jacket was pulled out of shape because it was too small for him and not cut for his portly shape. He appeared to have pushed something in his left side pocket – never a smart idea if you want to look smart – but even more bizarre his low-slung, over-long, trousers that looked like jodhpurs.
WHAT A SHAMBLES!
Luckily for the Churchill-worshipping Johnson, The Tailor & Cutter magazine ceased publication in the early 1970s. This weekly publication for the bespoke tailoring trade held appropriately conservative views on what comprised acceptable standards of dress for a gentleman.
In 1940 it ran a series of illustrated front covers that analysed both the political acumen and the sartorial standards of ‘Winnie’s’ wartime coalition cabinet. Despite the dark days of the conflict, the editors did not hold back in their criticism of the political leaders.
While Churchill was let off easily – “Jacket unlined, unbuttoned,
wings away at the back like a normal coat put on a man with head forward and rounded shoulders” – the economist Hugh Dalton (a post-WW2 Labour Chancellor) is put in his place with this delightful putdown: “A shade too restless, he is a boisterous visitor instead of being the peaceful occupier of a suit.”
The magazine summed up the rotund Minister of Labour and National Service, Ernest Bevin, in these terms: “Justice is not done him by clothes in photograph. Jacket fails to cover his ample frame.”
The dapper Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, Liberal leader in the Commons, met with the editors’ approval: “When in London… he creates the impression of speed. Trousers fly out at foot and make a
breeze. Bow tie has a distinct suggestion of an aeroplane. Wing collar makes for comparison with his work. He is the Flying Scot.”
Like Sinclair, Johnson was educated at Eton but lessons on dressing well had obviously been removed from the curriculum by Boris’s time.
It could be argued, of course, that one’s appearance is all surface stuff, a disguise that can mislead. Well-dressed does not mean clever, able or even well-intentioned.
Yet I cannot help feeling that Johnson’s untidy schoolboy demeanour is another sign of his innate laziness and selfishness.