The Labour Party in the UK has a new leader – voted in by an excited one person, one vote party. Until last week he was a rebellious back bencher. Now he is in charge, MPs are having to come to terms with him (a man many have never spoken to). For students of UK politics it will be interesting to see if he compromises in order to find a workable arrangement with Labour MPs, or sticks to his principles that have endeared him to his party.
Who cares about the politics – what about the clothes? Here we have the new leader leaving his Victorian north London home on the way to the House of Commons. He is wearing a vest. Over that, a dark shirt and casual trousers with a beige cotton jacket that maybe a little bit big for his slim frame (a cycling vegetarian). Over one shoulder he wears a big bag with all his important parliamentary papers in it. He is a nice looking 66 years old. He has always worn a beard – harking back to when it was somewhat rebellious to do so. Today of course the beard is mainstream. He looks like a middle class, middle aged, comfortable weekender. Not necessarily someone who wants to impress his authority on Parliament or the country. For a contrast with the previous Labour leadership, see this post.
In a nutshell he normally wears a shirt, over a vest, with trousers, and a jacket that doesn’t match, Not-a-Suit. Often the jacket is casual, like this Harrington jacket – good for keeping off the rain, and suitable for use on a bike or public transport. In his youth he wore brightly coloured jackets – green to indicate sympathy with Irish Repulicanism, red to indicate socialist opposition to the Royal family. These days he is Mr Beige.
The other signifier that Corbyn would wear, certainly in the past, was the Leninist hat, coupled sometimes with a white Peace poppy rather than the traditional Red one. This is the guy who won’t sing the national anthem either (as a Royalist song). In this sense he was following the tradition of the first leader of the Labour Party in Parliament Keir Hardie, who refused to wear a silk top hat favoured by the “gentlemen” in government. As a Scot he actually wore something more similar to a deerstalker than the “flat cap” favoured by both Corbyn and Lenin.
To a certain extent this is all a breath of fresh air – a change from spin-doctoring and image consultants. But for all his dishevelled, careless choices he is saying something striking and important. “I am authentic, I think for myself, I am a man of the people before I am an MP. I want to stay connected. My politics are principled and I will not conform to the “traditions” which keep the ruling class in power, even if they are trivial like wearing a dark suit and a silk tie.”
The funny thing about his clothes are that he reminds me of Boris Johnson, who also cultivates an individualistic look. Those who are strongly confident of their own standing can break the rules. As Corbyn is forced, as the Labour leader, to do more and more things he may find uncomfortable we will have to see which way he goes – conforming, or rebelling.
Certainly worth watching his wardrobe selections, to see if anything changes.