Threads of Trust


Written by Jared Lynn
13 Monday 13th September 2010
Successful politicians rely on creating a sense of trust in the electorate. What is it about appearance that alters our perception of who we trust and what they stand for? The western world relies on sharp suits and clean cuts, but is the demand for flash style dimming the light on our already fading view of politicians?
Appearance creates our first impression of a person. Society has nailed into our heads the meanings of certain looks, engraining onto us pre-judgements based on clothing, style and grooming. You wear a shoddy Stone Island jacket and you’re an ASBO ridden chav; you have scarecrow hair creeping down to a shaggy beard which frames a stained and torn jumper and you’re labelled a tramp. On looks alone you wouldn’t trust either to run the country: this is why politics and the development of trust rely on appearance.
Barrack Obama has brought political image to the fore but he’s no revolutionary, he exists in an age of glossy magazines which scrutinise every shirt, hair, sock and pore of the famous. Political fashion extends back to the very beginnings of leadership. Fine threads were not just a symbol of wealth for a king; they were a sign of power. On looks alone would you trust the peasant or the individual dressed in purple velvet and adorned with gold and jewels? These luxuries are symbols of success, suggesting (rightly or wrongly) that they are competent and could one day achieve the same success for the public.
We’ve seen glamour politicians before with mixed success. JFK was arguably the first of the modern day leaders to take his position as a cultural style icon; handsome, sharp and effortless: JFK became a brand connoting quality. His appearance and confident style helped voters breeze over his young age and his political influence and style thrives today. In the UK Tony Blair is the most obvious mention; in 1997 he clinched the youth vote by immersing himself in the ideas of Britpop. A glance across the Channel to France and we can see Nicolas Sarkozy align himself alongside the world’s best dressed men; up there with David Beckham according to Vanity Fair. Political style is everywhere, but in the current climate it might not be helping the politicians.
The timeline of political scandal – from Watergate to MPs expenses (to name but a few) – has left us with a cynically soured view of politicians. We no longer trust politicians as we continually await the next breaking scandal. So is the emphasis on style and expensive taste helping the politicians or has the sense of trust from a flash suit been replaced by an aura of smug as we question pay scales and wonder just how much that suit was and quite where it came from.
Politicians are desperate to connect with the electorate and if they fail to form a relationship then they cannot be successful. History suggests that appearance does generate trust and it is important but politicians are close to being overrun by their own fascination with looks. By looking suave they are attempting to create a connection with the electorate but in reality they are pushing voters away. The general public cannot relate to someone in an Ozwald Boateng suit worth thousands of pounds because we don’t feel we know anything about them; we don’t know their world and they don’t know ours.
Looking at key figures in the history of world politics clarifies the point. Individuals like Che Guevara have become fashion and political icons with youths growing up dreaming of revolution as their bedroom walls are adorned with a Che poster. He is connectable because dressed in a military jacket and a pair of slacks he seems normal. There is a sense we could talk to the man which is what today’s expensive suit conceals from politicians. But Che can only work in certain extreme environments and circumstances; voters wouldn’t be keen if Downing Street turned into the Hacienda.
This is the predicament; would we trust David Cameron to run the country if he went to Parliament wearing a military jacket, or what about Nick Clegg rolling into Downing Street on a motorcycle? We wouldn’t, and imagine the headlines for good old Dave ‘Guevara’ Cameron if that did happen. The man almost got lynched for cycling to work and once got torn apart for wearing a casual ‘Terminator’ style outfit when out with his wife: he would be absolutely slaughtered.
The crisp and presentable style is certainly required in Western politics but politicians must tread a fine line if they want to win back the trust of voters. Thousand pound designer suits and glossy magazine dress-ups offer needless ammunition for the cynics. Tone down the flair and the voters might start believing in politicians again.

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