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Suit up, look sharp, do your job properly

jamesrobins December 6, 2012, 10:51 am
Composite image. Clockwise from top left: Tony Ryall (Getty), Russel Norman (SNPA), John Key (SNPA), Winston Peters (SNPA)

Multiple sources © Enlarge photo

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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  1. Bruce01:32pm Tuesday 18th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    'Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy! Rich not gaudy as apparel oft proclaims the man' From Hamlet.

  2. 11:39am Tuesday 18th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    Every girl crazy bout a sharp dressed man . .

  3. Perry05:29pm Monday 17th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    In reply to Roy...the well-known dictum has always been "Manners maketh the man".

  4. Hebe05:56pm Sunday 16th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    Successive Polls of 2.4%, 2.6%, 2.2% for Preferred Prime Minister of NZ suggests that nice clothes and a phD have done nothing to help Russel Norman get any traction in politics. Just shows how silly MMP is if he sneaks into a Colition Govt in 2014.

  5. 08:30am Saturday 15th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    A man in a well cut suit with a nice shirt and tie will always look very smart and sexy. Overalls just don't do it!

  6. ROY03:44pm Tuesday 11th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    I’m reminded of my own ‘Vestis Virum Facit’ experience, or that is to say for the uninitiated, that Erasmusian dictum,circa 1500AD on how ‘Clothes maketh the man’. As it turns out I found myself unemployed for some time a while ago, and in an act of desperation found myself taking on a warehousing job in a 3PL environment. I mean not that there’s anything wrong with the industry, it does offer a good balance between the cerebral and the phyisicality, as how anyone can sit on their rump all day behind a computer defies all logic in health. But anyway, conventional wisdom as any Human Resources boffin would have it, it is better to turn up to a job interview ‘over-dressed’ , as presumably first impressions do count. Now I don’t and never have owned a suit, thinking it best reserved for the likes of the ‘dandy about town’ , the butler, or better suited to the sartorial eloquence of the Duke. So anyhow, I managed to improvise and fronted up in something approximating one, replete with a fairly conservative looking cravat; you know something not too loud that doesn’t detract. As it was to transpire, this would set in motion a most unusual set of encounters with my new employer who as it turned out to be was not only the owner of the business, but much to my subsequent amusement the self styled ‘Alpha dog’ in the pack type. Anyhow, I quickly worked my way up the ranks, would reliably turn up on time without excuses for time off, but more particularly here, neatly dressed by comparison with my co-workers, all the more so because I was given an account that saw me interacting face to face with the client, a fairly classy dame in her own right. But as time went by it slowly became apparent the employer was increasingly becoming stand-offish to the point of hostile in my encounters with him. Now, my friends refer to me as ‘the shirt’ because well quite frankly as a bachelor I presumably have nothing better to spend my money on other than ‘that must have shirt’, so that I would turn up to work in a different one each day, even differentiating the choice according to the season of the day, factoring in mood swings, client meetings etc, etc; I know, life’s difficult decisions. But this stand offish-ness on the part of my employer so it seems was because I appeared to be ‘out-dressing’ him, as try as he seemed with his competitive choices ..... two toned pink striped long sleeved, light blue / black collar short was obvious who was ‘out smarting’ the other in this increasingly bizarre joust , as towards the end I was deliberately turning up in that ‘new shirt’....... and not just any old shirt, a designer label. This tete-a-tete went on for some time and even included an attempt to outdo me with the distribution of free company logo T-shirts for all, but to no avail, I stuck to my shirts, whilst the others expressed obsequious gratitude for his apparent gesture of munificence. Thinking this would go on like forever it all came to a head in an unexpected manner with the implementation of an onsite Occupational Health & Safety work place plan that saw us all having to be kitted out in high viz safety jackets and being hauled off to be fitted in safety boots. It seems he thought he’d finally put an end to his parvenu rival. Not quite. Whilst everyone else opted for the black sentry look in boot attire, thinking I was doing the employer a favour and paying myself a compliment at the same time, I chose the last of a pair of more heavily discounted and stylishly tan coloured hooves for my apparel. Well this was to be the final thrust, the ‘coup de grace’, in this bizarre joust as we were to lock horns so to speak for the last time as his eyes quickly shifted from my upper body to my feet in our final encounter in the warehouse. It was at that moment he let out an audible wimper, hastily shuffled past me, and with a resigned look on his face let out a resentful “good morning”. It was not long after that I left but not without availing myself of a short and terse written reference in hand for my effort, that read ..... “.......well presented and reliable....”

  7. Iona House03:23pm Tuesday 11th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    paula bennett might be on the worst dressed list but she would be on the best teeth list.

  8. Ninus-705:32pm Monday 10th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    Stripes with stripes is bad enough (& a sign of a low upbringing & no education) - stripes with stripes with stripes... well, how wonderful 'democracy' is - even the lowest of the lowest of clowns can become a politician, nowadays (in fact, it is a prerequisite that you are scum bereft of any moral fibre).

  9. westy07:36pm Sunday 09th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    Sorry can't see myself in a suit in a warehouse, or in the truck on building sites. Perhaps Polititians should try wearing coveralls and work boots then they would find what real work is and what we go without so others can have a nice mansion on Waiheke island. And get rid of the tie once and for all. what a reDICK ulus waste of material.

  10. ROY04:18pm Sunday 09th December 2012 NZDTReport Abuse

    As a private consultant I once felt no compulsion to subscribe to some prescribed professional dress code and would turn up to Council in a sports jacket and bootleg cut jeans. At the end of my tenure some few months later I couldn't help but notice though that most of the office boffins in the planning dept. had liberated themselves of their ties and drab suits for a more smart casual comfortable look. So although my contract wasn't renewed, I couldn't help but quietly leave with a wry smile and an oblique sense of fulfilment, that I had somehow profoundly influenced their sense of sartorial eloquence in local government.


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