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28 May 2001

How to dress if you are seeking office

Election 2001 - Annalisa Barbieri, our election fashion correspondent, imagines Prescott in

By Annalisa Barbieri

There comes a time, after an intense period of observing the same group of people, when you start having slight fantasies. Not sexual ones (although, more of those later). Rather, fantasies of the “How should they dress, then?” variety.

Just as we have Fantasy Politics, we now have Fantasy-Dress Politicians. But first, it’s a prerequisite of politics to declare an interest, isn’t it? And so I must declare mine. I have a crush on Jack Straw, so he is disqualified until further notice.

What would I dress John “Ali” Prescott in? Clearly something made of Kevlar, the material of which police bulletproof vests are made, and with which motorcycle suits are strengthened. Kevlar is abrasion, knock and flame resistant, self-extinguishing, protects the wearer in explosions, reduces the weight of a garment while extending its life, and it had been around for years before recently getting a name for itself.

Despite his imminent departure, there is still time to clothe Alastair Campbell in something creaseproof – all that spinning can sure muck up a garment. Maybe Tencel. It “handles” beautifully, has the ability to mix with almost any other fibre and improve it, and can make even denim seem soft like silk.

The Greens? Well, anything they can get a refund on, really. I’d particularly recommend Marks & Spencer, as it is very good at giving money back without asking too many questions, although most shops nowadays will give a full refund if you return the garment within 28 days. Just enough time to fit in an election.

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At the Conservative press conference on crime, Michael Portillo was doing the glasses on/off/on/off thing again. This is a classic actor’s trick to hog the camera: the viewer’s eye is automatically attracted to movement and away from the speaker (in this case William Hague, who was sporting an orange tie – orange is a longer wavelength colour, and one that attracts the immature). This “prop” ploy was often used by James Dean (whose hair Porty models his own on); rent Giant and watch Dean silently steal the table scene – supposed to be Carroll Baker’s big moment – from under her nose. But for Porty, a little something coated in Teflon perhaps – an invisible coating used in raincoats and trousers to repel stains and grease.

At the same conference, what was Hague’s nanny, Ann Widdecombe, a woman you can tell has “neck waddle” just by listening to her, thinking? Standing against a background motif that declared “Common Sense on Crime”, Widdecombe was guilty of a crime against common sense – she wore a madras-check, collarless jacket. And rings on her middle fingers! Way too soul-girl, Ann. She clearly likes this jacket, because she wore it again two days later in Dover, with a blue rosette the size of a plate adorning her right breast. I’m at a loss as to what I’d put her in, so I would get her a gay boy-best-friend – a Rupert Everett to her Madonna, say. Something sartorially exciting would then be sure to happen to her!

Tony Blair was born to wear a Tactel shirt. Nothing in the history of fashion beats Tactel for spin and marketing. Tactel is the brand name of a fibre – nylon – that lost its way after the 1970s, and which we avoided for its unfortunate associates. Yet repackaged as Tactel, it is fashionable, coveted and trendy. It is also, depending on what it’s mixed with, wonderfully floppy, strong, soft, tough, stretchy, slinky. A modern fibre, with new properties and the ability to be all things to all people. A people’s fibre, if you will.

Enough fantasy, it’s time for points. Charles Kennedy keeps his points for continuing to look good – boring, but good. Just as well, because the rest of his team are letting him down badly. Menzies Campbell loses points ‘cos he needs a haircut. Matthew Taylor’s tie knot was unforgivably off-centre at the Liberal Democrat manifesto launch, when Baroness Northover was also looking very unkempt (haircut!). Lord Razzall picks up a few points for his team by looking quite good, but he should ditch the green tie.

Talking of which, the Greens go into minus fashion points for all wearing shades of green at their manifesto launch. Green was the new black two years ago, and Mike Woodin needs to get an eyebrow pencil (no one without eyebrows has ever been voted to anything).

Orange is the new black this season, so Hague wins points for that tie, but he loses them all immediately for allowing the camera, while in Dover, to shoot him from the ground looking up at him. Not even the chiselled features of Kate Moss look good at that angle. Blair gets points for the nice raspberry tie he wore to address healthcare workers in Norwich, but loses them, plus some others, for appearing with “Grant Mitchell”. Fashion is about who you’re seen with as much as what you’re seen in.

So this week’s winner is Jack Straw. Disqualified? That was a faux pledge, darling.

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