Belfast Telegraph

Why it is now all up for grabs in the political world of quiffs and make-up

By Rosamund Urwin

Gorgeous George has a rival. When the Chancellor delivered the final Budget of this parliament on Wednesday, he looked as fashion-forward as any man with the red box ever has: there was the Antonio Banderas hair, the three-button suit with the high lapels, and those shortened trousers. There were even whispers that he was wearing make-up.

But across the despatch box was another man who seemed uncharacteristically stylish: Miliband 2.0. Wallace is dead; long live Elegant Ed.

The unfortunate crop of yesteryear ("resembling a North Korean border guard," said one supposed ally) is gone. Now the Mili locks are bouffant (big hair equals big ideas) and boast a grey streak; the effect is silver fox meets badger.

Meanwhile, the scratchy, estate agent cast-offs have gone, making way for a sharper, more statesmanlike suit.

In the sartorial war, Red Ed was deemed victorious over blue-blooded George. The BBC's economics editor, Robert Peston, tweeted: "@Ed_Miliband suit exceptionally well cut, outsuits @George_Osborne."

What does it all signify? Is Osborne's suit an economic bellwether? And can a makeover really convince the electorate the Labour leader is ready for No 10?

Miliband's suit was Richard James; he gets them off the peg and then has them taken in. For smarter occasions, there's midnight blue Ozwald Boateng. "You know it's a big day when he's got the Boateng on," says one hack.

"There's the old maxim of dressing for success and politicians often smarten up in the run-up to elections," says sartorial expert Nick Foulkes.

"If you're delivering a message about an upbeat economy, you wouldn't want to do it in a shabby suit."

Economists have long talked about the "hemline index" as an economic indicator: markets rising and falling with skirt length. Osborne seems to have taken that approach with his trousers. "Britain is walking tall again," he declared, perhaps explaining why he was flashing so much ankle.

The wider Osborne makeover of the past two years - new hair, slimmer frame thanks to the 5:2 diet - has been credited to his special adviser Thea Rogers. She reportedly chose his haircut (half-mod, half-Caesar) without telling him before he got to the salon.

After five years in office - presiding over sweeping cuts - there's also a chance the real George (Gideon?) is finally coming through. In his biography The Austerity Chancellor, Janan Ganesh quotes an Oxford contemporary of Osborne: "He was an Oscar Wilde character, a type of dandy."

Style guru Nicky Haslam, author of A Designer's Life, believes male politicians in general have smartened up.

"For a long time, they wanted to look like the blokey guy on the street, their core constituents. Now everyone looks smarter, the whole country has had an upturn. I'm not sure politicians always know they're doing it, it's just in the air."

Osborne favours suits by the tailor Timothy Everest, who also dresses Tom Cruise. Cameron likes Richard James but he was lampooned for wearing a single-breasted suit by him at the party conference before the 2010 election (price tag, around £3,500; Sam Cam had to make do with a £65 dress from M&S).

Subsequent briefing from Tory spinners that Cameron received a hefty discount and was measured by James personally at the Commons didn't spare his embarrassment.

Do voters really care whether their politician is in Savile Row, or M&S? "The old answer is that dressing well shows respect for the electorate," says Foulkes. "Now, the goal is to dress neatly so you show respect, but also unostentatiously to show you're profound enough not to care about clothes too deeply. As a person who cares deeply about the most superficial of things, I am always disappointed the golden age of political dressing is behind us."

The fashion choice for men is "dandy" or "too cool to care". One politician in the latter camp is Boris Johnson.

A former colleague at The Spectator says Johnson's tailor once used a tailor called Chadha of Delhi. "Boris would introduce him to his friends, I think it got him a discount.

"It wasn't exactly Savile Row, more shonky, pseudo-bespoke, paid for cash in hand. I think he's upgraded now."

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