In the Tory leadership race, there are no style winners
“Liz for chef!” “Ready for Rishi!” There is something rather budgetary in all this scramble to become the next Prime Minister. Of course, they didn’t have long to prepare their campaigns. Except, wait, they did.
Penny Mordaunt’s PM4PM website was registered in May 2019 and readyforrishi.com in December. And Liz Truss seems to have been preparing for this moment for years – at school she played Margaret Thatcher in her “elections” class. “I jumped at the chance and gave a heartfelt speech on the campaign trail but got no votes,” she told The Scotsman in 2018. History will repeat itself she this time?
Truss Thatcher’s Throwbacks
Admittedly, history repeats itself with Truss’ wardrobe, which has so many echoes of the former prime minister that it’s been dubbed “Thatcher cosplay.” During a visit to Russia in February, where she urged the Kremlin to defuse its aggression against Ukraine, Truss was photographed in Red Square wearing a black fur hat and coat that echoed the ensemble that Thatcher then wore in the Soviet Union in 1987. In In Estonia last November, she posed in a tank, with a military helmet and bulletproof vest, channeling Maggie in West Germany in 1986. It’s not only that choreographed Foreign Secretary muscle flex — about as subtle as rolling up your shirt and kissing your bicep — evokes Thatcher. The same goes for pussy-bow and cream silk blouses, as well as fitted suits and dresses in Tory blue and shipping box red.
It’s worth acknowledging that as a politician, Truss is in a tricky position when it comes to her wardrobe. Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and Theresa May have all had their style choices criticized. And in that context, though the stereotypical brightly colored power dresses might make you think of a Fox News anchor or a TV show runner-up The apprentice circa 2012, they tap into an established (and established) image of confident femininity. No female leader would get away with Boris Johnson’s brand of disarray.
Two of Truss’ favorite dresses appear to be Karen Millen’s Forever corset dress in bright blue – a fitted pencil dress with rather daring lacing up the sides, priced at £113 – and the similarly shaped Grace Miracle dress from Winser London. The British brand claims to offer designs that give “an instant boost of energy and confidence”. According to another of Truss’s slogans (more like the Post Office or DHL), it can be “trusted to deliver” – and judging by its audacity, it looks like these dresses are too. Caroline Long
Sunak’s elegant costumes
Whether or not Rishi Sunak represents a return to political seriousness after the tragifarce of the Johnson years, I have no idea. But the seriousness of the style comes naturally – too naturally, if anything – to the future Prime Minister.
This is not a revelation, but a relief. Johnson’s performative slobber went rancid before her politics. The latest insult to the idea that politics is serious, rather than the domain of private school boys having fun, was uttered in this year’s G7 family photo. Boris’ pants were so loose around the thighs that he looked like he was wearing jodhpurs. A subtle nod to imperial glory or equestrian nobility? No: a fat one who couldn’t be bothered.
Sunak takes the opposite view. Suit: very dark, thin lapels, low-waisted trousers and high bottoms, all very fitted. He’s small and thin, and it’s all calculated to stretch out, and succeeds as much as one could hope. Impeccable white shirt and fine tie, Windsor knot, in a discreet pattern. Black cap-toe brogues, shiny.
Britain’s GQ took a look at it all and declared Sunak an “unlikely style hero”. But the Sunak style is neither improbable nor heroic. This fits perfectly with the approach of armies of young men in the city of London. The Daily Mail assures me that the clothes are from “expensive designers”, which is probably true. Suits and shirts fit very well. It’s hard to cut clothes that close-fitting without them bunching or pulling, and Sunak’s don’t seem to. But there are no subtle points of expression here. It’s high-end presentability in its standardized, contemporary form.
If Sunak takes a risk, he seems too smooth and precise. Her clothes are handsome enough to threaten to accentuate the political problem of her extreme wealth, acquired through marriage. In America, most male politicians take the precaution of campaigning in obviously modest suits. It shows a bit of courage, it seems to me, that Sunak hasn’t let up on whether he’s buying his suits from Marks and Spencer or somewhere similar. It’s the obvious man of the people game, and I admire Sunak for jumping it. Voters can, however, charge for it.
While not aiming for the salt of the earth, Sunak periodically tries to be laid back. The results are clumsy. Giving a speech with an open collar, khaki pants and a V-neck cardigan under his jacket, he looks like a man who is making a huge effort. The famous shot of him typing on a keyboard in a (fitted!) sweatshirt is a masterpiece of tough PR. Sunak is a physically stiff person – good thing to be, as long as you don’t pretend to be something else. Just take off your jacket, roll up your shirt sleeves and keep going. UK endured an almost toxic dose of Johnson’s hard-knuckled Etonian sprezzatura. It’s time for something new. Robert Armstrong
Mordaunt Home Counties Appeal
Penny Mordaunt is a Royal Navy Reservist, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that for her political wardrobe, she loves. . . Marine! Lots of navy. When she launched her campaign, she went for head-to-toe color: a fitted blazer, wide-leg pleated-front pants and a slightly shimmery navy top.
For anyone looking for clues as to who Mordaunt really is, that wasn’t exactly revealing. Yet it was a safe and classic choice: the suit expresses efficiency, the blouse a hint of softness.
Mordaunt’s Instagram reveals a deep attachment to the look: sometimes the T-shirt is black, or the pants are swapped for a long skirt, but she’s not aiming for political Insta-influencer status, as Truss seems to do on its account. Her clothes are more of a blank canvas, allowing voters to project their own agendas onto her.
She imparts a kind of reassuring competence to Home Counties Brexiters – a candidate who would be as comfortable presenting the ‘biggest bull’ award at the local agricultural show as advocating for fuel VAT cuts in the Commons .
Mordaunt occasionally wears a necklace, sometimes discreet earrings, but who needs flashy accessories when you have such photogenic hair? It has the abundance of the Boris mop but instead seems more in control. Whether or not Mordaunt lands the top job, she has the best conservative braids since Michael Heseltine. Caroline Long
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