Composite image. Clockwise from top left: Tony Ryall (Getty), Russel Norman (SNPA), John Key (SNPA), Winston Peters (SNPA)
Composite image. Clockwise from top left: Tony Ryall (Getty), Russel Norman (SNPA), John Key (SNPA), Winston Peters (SNPA)

Oh, humble suit, whatever happened to you?

I see nothing but black pinstripes and polyester, flapping hems, and sleeves down to the knuckles!

Maybe one day a dapper icon will return to save us all from the drudgery of blandness…

I certainly don’t yearn for conformity. There’s nothing worse than a sea of monochrome sheep. But I mourn a golden age when the suit, and tailored clothing in general, was once considered respectable dress for men, and men were proud of it.

This could easily become a screed against the shorts-and-tees society we live in. But what I would like to know is what on earth goes through a male politician’s mind when he gets dressed in the morning.

Does Russell Norman really think we don’t know what party he belongs to? That could be the only reason for his luminous green shirt AND tie combinations. And it’s incredibly dangerous for Health Minister Tony Ryall to strut about in his candy shop stripes, as he’s liable to being on epileptic fits wherever he goes.

As for the PM…well…he’s there in spirit.

We know for a fact that he gets his suits, often sober pinstripes, from RJB Design in Auckland – one of the few companies in the country to make full bespoke. But take one glance and you can see just how stuffed full of padding his shoulders are, making him appear hunched and boxy, instead of sleek and masculine.

I don’t blame these men entirely, though. The basic principles and elements of dressing well have been muffled over the years.

In previous decades, the only way to own a suit was to have it made bespoke, and it would last you for 10 years if taken care of. That way, the garment was cut to you, and to you alone. From the shoulders, to the chest, to the overall style, a jacket once flattered what was admirable about a man, and smoothed over what was undesirable.

As consumerism took over, tailored clothing became easy to mass-produce. With that came cheaper fabric, more generalised cuts to cater to a wider market, and a willingness to ride the tide of trends. It’s these points that created the stereotype of conformity and sameness.

Leaders of a country, either in business or in politics, are required by nature of their work to appear respectable in the public glare. Is a garish combination of stripes, checks, and plaids, or an off-the-rack black suit two sizes too big really the way to go about important affairs?

Imagine if Barack Obama (a fan of Hart, Schaffner and Marx) dressed like Paul Ryan, former Republican VP candidate. We would certainly think less of him.

There will always be those who insist that it shouldn’t matter one iota what a man wears to work, provided he does his job well, but I can speak from experience here: putting on a decent jacket, even a sober tie, can make all the difference not only to how other people see you, but how you see yourself.

So maybe I’m being wildly optimistic, but if the average politician put a well-cut suit on every morning, perhaps they might do their job better…

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