Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tommy Hilfiger & Michael Foot

I came across two gentlemen today. One was Tommy Hilfiger, the fashion designer, who strolled past my building. The other was Michael Foot, the leader of Britain's Labour Party in its most socialist days, who died today and is being mourned in parliamentary speeches.

Hilfiger and Foot have nothing in common, except the former's appearance, even on a morning errand, was rather natty. The latter was, somewhat famously, somewhat rumpled or even scruffy in appearance.

Foot's dress and sometimes his mane of hair got him into trouble in the press, particularly one one occasion when he was attending a Remembrance Sunday event to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph (veterans' memorial in London). He was accused of wearing a "donkey jacket", though he later said that the Queen Mother complimented him on his appearance. The incident became a campaign issue in the early 80's as Foot stood against Margaret Thatcher in the general election.

In some ways, the image of his less formal attire became an icon of Labour's troubles. Foot would have none of it, and in the pre-airbrushed age when male politicians wear make-up, he stood his ground on shabbiness, that he was a common man of the people. It turned out that the People did not want someone who dressed like they did to be Prime Minister. And so Foot was given a sound thrashing by the electorate and Thatcher was elected with a strong majority. There were other issues, like the nationalization of industry and the victory in the Falklands War, too...

Foot's passionate speeches are still studied, and his humor in parliamentary debate was famous. But in the end it was the clothes that did him in. History might have been different if Foot had been dressed by Hilfiger.

More recently, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, offended his Chinese counterparts in an Olympic ceremony (Beijing handing off the Olympics to London, symbolically) when Johnson did not button his suit jacket for a ceremony. It was thought to lack decorum and was perceived as disrespectful.

Do clothes make the man in our materialist, appearance conscious, image saturated age?