After decades of softening dress codes and 16 months of a pandemic there is still at least one place where a man has to wear a suit in the summer: the G7 summit. Leading the free world is, for at least a little longer, considered serious business.
I note with regret that the future of the suit did not make it on to the agenda at last week’s meeting. Presumably the topic got pushed aside by climate change or tax fairness, which reflects that inability to prioritise that is the downfall of international co-operation. It is left to me, then, to write the memo on the state of the suit in global diplomacy.
We turn, then, to the now notorious family photo of the group, in which (as more than one wit has already pointed out) the leaders of the seven look like Hunger Games contestants, or Star Trek crew members waiting to be beamed down to the surface of an unsuspecting planet.
The oldest rule of male power dressing still applies, and two of the veterans on the platform, Joe Biden and Mario Draghi, observe it. A man’s formal suit should be dark in colour and completely matte. So, far from having any silken shine, no more light should escape from it than from a black hole. The effect is flattering to every body type and conveys moral seriousness.
(I was sorry to see that Biden left his pocket handkerchief on the other side of the Atlantic. If he does manage to return the world economy to 1970s-style inflation, bringing back the white pocket hanky might be his only shot at a positive legacy.)
Two of the younger delegates, Emmanuel Macron of France and European Council President Charles Michel, wore suits of light grey wool, presumably hoping for something more seasonal and contemporary. A mistake. Light grey suits, even when well cut, tend to look shapeless and bureaucratic. There is only one known exception to this, which is light grey flannel, which looks lovely and soft rather than shapeless. I do not know how it achieves this effect. Good wool flannel is magical.
Macron — who is generally beautifully turned-out — compounds the error by wearing the dreaded peak-lapelled, single-breasted suit. Men have been trying this for many years now, hoping to make the suit look modern. It has not worked, and it is time to stop trying. Husbands, a French tailor that is doing as much as any brand to make the suit au courant again, does not sell this style, except in eveningwear. Take the hint from your countrymen, Emmanuel. A more pulled-together G7 would surely have sent Macron a sharply worded memo, if not an official communique, on this topic.
Michel’s problem is simpler. His suit does not fit. It is cut too tight, resulting in the tugging of fabric around the chest that is characteristic of middle-aged men who try to wear slim-fitting suits, as well as some rather unfortunate bunching up around the knees. In another photo, of the group sitting around a conference table, we get a look at Michel’s back, and it appears to have been shrink wrapped. Politicians, take note: a few extra square feet of cloth will not make you look old. It will make you look comfortable.
Justin Trudeau looks well in perfectly cut light blue. He always looks good, to the point of arousing suspicion. As I have argued before on behalf of bald men everywhere, you really can’t trust a politician whose hair is that good.
And now, alas, we must turn to the centre of the platform, and Boris Johnson, who even by his own disarrayed standards looks downright strange. His trousers are so large they make him look knock-kneed, and they appear to be falling down. The jacket fits like it’s borrowed from a hard-drinking uncle. His collar doesn’t want to lay down on his chest, and one cuff is sticking out erratically.
This is a guy who redecorated his apartment with a chunk of the bill initially paid by a party donor. Surely some agreeable Tory grandee would spring for a trip to Anderson & Sheppard? It would be a service to the nation and the world.
There is merit in a certain amount of gentlemanly dishevelment, in good clothes worn carelessly. There is also something to be said for the political power of nondescript or even unattractive clothes, which can convey a connection to the everyman voter as well as a focus on what really matters. I think Merkel’s plain dark trousers and monotone, boxy suits succeed at exactly this. She always radiates seriousness and authority, and the clothes help.
But Johnson, so far from pulling off a British version of Italian sprezzatura, conveys the feeling of a schoolboy busting into the classroom 10 minutes late, trailing rumpled homework papers. Clothes are fundamentally diplomatic. They show other people that we made an effort on their behalf. What is Johnson’s laundry-hamper style trying to tell the world?
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