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Would the Pope look good in suite and tie? Fashion, elegance and the uniformity of power

Updated on July 21, 2010
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, French President Nicolas Sarkosy, Russian President Dmitriy Medvevdev and US President Barack Obama
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, French President Nicolas Sarkosy, Russian President Dmitriy Medvevdev and US President Barack Obama

How do the leading politicians of the most industrialized countries dress? It is enough to look at the pictures of the world leaders in a G8 meeting. (The last one was in Canada in Muskoka, fairly recently.) They all dress the same. They all dress boringly the same. They all dress uglily the same. They all wear a Westernized, insipid, uninteresting, clerical uniform. Typically, it is composed of a suit, in blue or some dark color, along with a tie, which could be reddish or of some dark/blueish color. No exception. It applies to the leaders of China, of the United States and of Europe. For instance, in the video below, President Obama and Chinese presiden Hu are dressed exactly the same, with a red tie and a dark blue suit. Maybe a concession to the "blue" of Capitalism and to "red" of Communist?

Maybe the time when the Pope will wear a suite and a tie isn't too far ahead!

But when I say that world leaders all dress the same, this isn't true, and fortunately so! Among others, an interesting example is Gheddafi, the leader of Libia, a very enigmatic and controversial figure. Even next to Western political leaders, he always asserts his identity and independence. This should be praised, although it does not translate into a full approval of his policy and regime. Still, one has to recognize his independence at the symbolic level.

Gheddafi in a beautiful dress
Gheddafi in a beautiful dress
Muammar al-Gheddafi next to (from left to right), French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Us President Barack Obama, and former Japanese  PM Taro Aso
Muammar al-Gheddafi next to (from left to right), French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Us President Barack Obama, and former Japanese PM Taro Aso

Standardization and uniformity aren't bad in themselves, and one could say, dismissively: Come on -- who cares about how the world leaders are dressed as long as they tackle the pressing issues of our time (sustainable development, poverty, economic stability and public debt, etc.). That they are tackling the pressing issues of our time isn't for me to say (though I think they are not, really), yet the uniformity and lack of originality in the way they dress is a signal of a bigger problem. This problem is called one-way thinking, not-thinking-outside-the-box, etc. And this affects dangerously each of us, from the world leaders to the laymen.

I believe that the way one dresses is a way to assert a certain identity -- political, national, cultural and ideological. If all world leaders dress the same, this means that they have given up asserting their political and national identity. This means they are no longer serving the interest of their country and of the people they represent. Marx would say that they are serving the interest of Capital (whatever that could mean..).

Indeed, this is all confined to the symbolic level. But the symbolic level isn't just facade and surface. Reading a certain logic of power behind the way one dresses isn't too speculative I think. Throughout history kings and high state officials defined their power and their authority through signs that were visible and recognizable (a crown, a certain uniform, a certain vest, certain combinations of colors, etc.).

Contemporary world leaders have given up the language that combines the logic of power and the logic of fashion. Contemporary world leaders tend to dress as the average man. They dress like clerks, with a suite and a tie, without too much care and attention for details, colors, matching, and all this jazz. I believe that this decadence in terms of fashion by world political leaders is a decadence in leadership, a decadence in ideas, and ultimately a decadence in humanity. I do acknowledge I have made a quite strong claim without much substance and argument, but this is just a place for conjectures, no?

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