When clothes do the talking for politicians

When clothes do the talking for politicians

Experts say simple clothes are a leader’s way of connecting with the voters.

Rahul Gandhi mostly sports a white kurta during his interactions with the public.

The elections see a magnifying glass held to each and every politician out to try their luck in the roulette of democracy. While aspiring leaders try to sway the electorate with their words and actions, they pay equal attention to their attire.

Every piece of clothing at every appearance they make outdoors has been carefully thought out and made to ensure that it matches with the overall personality the leader is trying to project.

The attention is not misplaced- remember the brouhaha over Rahul Gandhi’s Burberry jacket and PM Narendra Modi’s customised suit? This is proof that the people (and rival parties) are making a note of even the smallest of things.

So what are some of the unwritten sartorial codes in the world of Indian politics? Metrolife finds out...

Renju Joseph, who set up Ace Infiniti ten years ago, says that being well-dressed is almost always about wearing something which blends with one’s persona. Ace Infiniti is into image makeovers, among other things, and election season is among the busiest times for them as they help leaders from across the political spectrum make a statement.

Men have little options to play with compared to that of women, but it’s enough to still make a statement 

Citing the example of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Mount Carmel College in 2015, sporting a t-shirt (with collar) and jeans, he notes that one will never see the politician in Amethi like that.

He elaborates, “For men, it broadly boils down to ‘desi’ or ‘videsi’ first. Then the question is about the event or meeting one is attending and what will appeal to the audience. In Amethi, Gandhi had to appeal to the desi audience, and nothing can beat the kurta which is popular in the region.” 

 He adds, “Like food, clothing is a subconscious connector.” 

Priyanka Gandhi sticks to handloom saris, following in the footsteps of Indira Gandhi.
Priyanka Gandhi sticks to handloom saris,
 following in the footsteps of Indira Gandhi.

Women politicians are usually found blending traditional and modern attire, thanks to the wider range of options they have.

Renju says, “An Indian woman politician is often seen in salwar kameez (sometimes sported with a pair of jeans) or the traditional sari which unfortunately is not something you can blend, but you can change the style of wearing it, like the Bengali style sari.”

‘Not to pay too much attention to clothes’

NS Shankar, author and director, observes that politicians usually wear khadi as it is associated with the freedom struggle.

“After Independence, the first and second generation politicians wore khadi. Eventually, it became an identification for the masses. I am not sure if it still holds the same value now.”

Terming khadi as politicians’ uniform, he says that netas usually try to keep it simple with their attire.

He adds, “The top tier politicians invariably wear white or off-white clothes and avoid bright and pop colours.”

Talking about the women politicians’ style of adorning the Indian wear, he says, “It is easy to connect with people that way, or else their clothes will become a topic of discussion.”

As important as one’s attire is, it shouldn’t be given too much attention, suggests Shankar. “There are flashy dressers, but they don’t make it to the top level. If more importance and time are given to looks, then people might question their efficiency in administration.”

Why is there a preference for white among Indian politicians?

Shashi Tharoor is among the few politicians who doesn't shy away from wearing bright colours.
Shashi Tharoor is among the few politicians
who doesn't shy away from wearing bright colours.

This is mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, when Mahatma Gandhi urged Indians to wear only hand-spun khadi and boycott foreign goods, khadi became a symbol of self-rule and freedom. At that time, khadi wear was mostly white and that image is still stuck on in the electorate’s consciousness. 

Secondly, white has been associated with purity and righteousness, characteristics most voters want to see in their elected leaders (if ever there was wishful thinking, this is it!). So most of the senior politicians continue to wear white to pander to this thinking, though the younger lot is moving away from this unwritten dress code.

Some well-dressed politicians

Shankar considers Jawaharlal Nehru is the most fashionable, who initiated the waistcoat trend.

“The next line of politicians just followed his style,” he quips. 

The Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, is the most well-dressed new-age politician according to Renju.

“Considering her femininity, Swaraj pairs her sari with a half sweater or waistcoat, which has become her trademark. She has created her own style and that makes her unique,” he explains.

Some of the other current politicians who are at the top of the fashion game are Shashi Tharoor, MP for Thiruvananthapuram; Vasundhara Raje, former Chief Minister of Rajasthan; Sachin Pilot, Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Renuka Chowdhury, former Union minister and member of Congress and Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of AICC in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh.