It’s hardly breaking fashion news that ties are no longer mandatory in the House of Commons. Frankly, what took MPs so long? But at least yesterday’s announcement by the Speaker, John Bercow – that MPs should wear “business-like attire” in the house, but ties were no longer essential – suggests that even Westminster is not entirely immune to a progressive wardrobe.
Inside and outside politics, ties have for some time felt stuffy and old-fashioned. They look a bit uptight, awkward. To me – someone who hasn’t worn one in so long I can’t recall it – the idea of wearing something that basically knots at your neck like a tourniquet seems like the road to madness. Jeremy Corbyn during the last election campaign never looked entirely convinced when he was wearing that sliver of red silk around his neck; here’s a politician who persuaded the young to come out to vote in droves. He also, surprisingly, knows how to look convincing in a tracksuit.
Having attended the menswear shows in London, Florence, Milan and Paris, I can report that sightings of ties for spring/summer 2018 were relatively rare. In the fashion capital of Paris, the big names Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton and Hermès managed to show a total of zero ties between them. Instead, suits appeared dressed down, styled with a fine-gauge sweater, a zip-up top or, at Vuitton, a Hawaiian shirt or a grandad collar – finished with the kind of beaded necklace Leonardo DiCaprio wore in The Beach.
But then the overwhelming menswear narrative of the last decade has been all about dressing down. We’ve seen the rise of haute tracksuits, hoodies in place of shirts, trainers being worn with literally anything. The survival of the classic suit – the politician’s wardrobe linchpin – has been regularly called into question, with the sighting of an actual tie on any runway increasingly feeling like a jolt to the system.
In January Balenciaga, a label considered to be the height of directional style, opened its men’s show with a classic overcoat, shirt collar and tie. It provided said jolt. But then the designer, Demna Gvasalia, cited the office worker as his inspiration, and in traditional office environments the tie is still very much considered a key sartorial tradition, a symbol of masculine authority, something that can say you’ve dressed for business. This, of course, is also true at certain events, such as weddings, where a tie will always add a certain flourish of pattern, colour and jolliness.
Barack Obama was a president who made fashion headlines by rolling up his sleeves and opening up his collar. Photographed with the likes of David Cameron (who was always desperately trying to look like a man of the people), Obama made the art of dressing down appear nothing less than breezy. On his Instagram account, he posted an image of himself with Michelle during Halloween that screams effortlessness in the way so few political figures have ever truly mustered. He is wearing a V-neck sweater – a piece of clothing that is staging a major comeback this autumn, thanks to the likes of Prada – styled with an open collar, casual trousers and shoes. It’s a look that all male politicians should study. It’s modern but not contrived, relaxed but not scruffy. And, crucially, he’s wearing the clothes; they’re not wearing him.
With ties exiting Westminster, it certainly paves the way for a new era of male political fashion: will we finally see politicians embracing clothes beyond the conservative realms of tailored two-pieces and stiff collars? Wouldn’t it be glorious if up-and-coming male politicians backed some of our brilliant homegrown designers instead of simply sticking on something from Savile Row because they always have. Personally, I’d like nothing more than seeing the likes of Sadiq Khan wearing a dash of Craig Green, the brilliantly talented British menswear designer of the year, whose aesthetic is based around a simple workwear jacket. Just imagine how fabulous that might be?