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21 May 2001

When a gentleman’s skin is too pale

Election 2001 - Annalisa Barbieri, our election fashion correspondent, finds only Charles K

By Annalisa Barbieri

Oh dear. William Hague was so ahead in the sartorial polls, but now he’s gone and blown it. He decided on a change of shirt colour to launch the party’s Welsh manifesto. Instead of the blue shirt he normally wears, he opted for a white one. A white shirt may once have been the sign of a gentleman – it meant he did not earn his living by anything that involved physical labour and sweating – but not now. That’s not to say that white shirts aren’t terribly nice, but on pale-skinned men they can look a wash-out.

This is what happened with Hague. There he was, repeating “Eight billion is the figure we’ve quoted and the only figure we’ve quoted”, but all I could think of was “pasty”. That, coupled with his head needing the clippers’ attention (the 72-hour growth of hair had the effect of a halo when backlit), means Hague, hitherto the supermodel of the political catwalk, has lost points. Even Mrs H, with the collars of her pinky-coloured shirt so artfully placed over her jacket, couldn’t help him, as I’m not counting the style input of partners. (That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t comment upon it: in which case, Cherie, get out of those long-line jackets. Leave them to Cilla.)

And Blair. What was he thinking of, announcing the date of the election in his shirtsleeves? I’ve a pretty good idea – he always wanted to be a rock star, and perhaps stripping off in front of a school full of screaming young girls is as close as he’ll get to knee-surfing on stage with a guitar over his privates. (He has just turned 48 and, if this is as far as his mid-life fashion crisis is to go, then we should be grateful.) The white shirt was favoured by another charismatic leader, John F Kennedy. Thankfully, Blair didn’t make the mistake Kennedy often did, which was of appearing in his shirtsleeves with the “fold” marks of the shirt clearly visible. Kennedy’s skin, however – unlike Blair’s – could take a white shirt. He governed a country where it was possible, at least in parts, to get a bit of sun to reduce the pallor from which so many Caucasian politicians suffer, especially on the election trail. Chatting to “ordinary people” in a coffee shop on day three of the campaign, Blair did toy with a blue shirt. And he looked so much better for it.

Charles Kennedy is an exception. Although pale, he looks much better in a crisp white shirt than a blue one. He looks even better when he also wears a gold-coloured tie, which brings out his colouring. Hague looks best in blue ties and Blair in a dark red one. Funny how they seem to suit their political colours best.

As for Portillo, the man is becoming so transparent that clothes will soon not be necessary. Blair makes headline news by wearing glasses, so Porty bandies his specs about – on, off, on, off, in the hope that someone will notice – at the launch of his party’s manifesto. Blair takes his jacket off to mass female hysteria; Porty does the same, only this time surrounding himself with Asian boys and posing with a fish. (Photo-op tip: never pose with something less slimy than yourself.) What he doesn’t seem to realise is that Blair makes headlines because he’s leader of the country . . . and Porty, well, isn’t.

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Now to award points. John Prescott’s had his hair cut. Despite other failings, Blair was spotted with his jacket done up – the only one of the main players to do so (the top two buttons; remember what I said last week?) – when on walkabout duty. Ann Widdecombe, at the Tory manifesto launch, wore a fairly simple, high-necked blue dress: it wouldn’t have Alexander McQueen scrambling to design for her, but at least it was elegant. And she wore it with patent high shoes, showing not unshapely legs.

The Greens’ Julia Stephenson, you may think, should get some points for the green crocheted dress and tan leather boots she wore at the launch of her party’s manifesto – except that both are so last season. If you’re going to make a fashion statement, it needs to be a bit more up to date than that.

So it’s time to declare a winner. All things considered, it’s the Liberal Democrats. Apart from wearing a green sweatshirt to appear “naval”, and the too-wide ties I mentioned last week, Kennedy hasn’t put a fashion foot wrong. So far.

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