I’m known for wearing tweed jackets, khaki pants and suede shoes. I’ve only worn a suit in parliament under duress, when I was on the front bench. I’ve dressed like this for a while, but only recently realised that it’s pretty much the same way my dad, Tony, dressed when I was growing up. In the early 80s, he went from being a factory worker to a trade union official, going overnight from being a shop steward to driving a car, having a briefcase and travelling around the country as a district officer, and he would wear tweedy type jackets, a shirt, a tie, trousers and comfortable shoes. Me dressing like him is nothing new, though – I was nicking my dad’s shoes and trousers as a teenager. I used to wear his Farah trousers to school, and I remember kids going: “Bloody hell, Lewis, where did you get Farahs from?’
When I was growing up, my dad wore a lot of browns and greens – darker colours, autumnal colours. When I was on the BBC news trainee scheme, around the turn of the millennium, we had someone come in and talk to us about what you wear on television, and I was told that khakis, greens and browns went very well with my skin tone. It was something I liked, so I’ve often worn those colours, but maybe I was influenced by my dad as well.
In his 40s, my dad refound his youth a bit, and started going to the West Indian club in Northampton, where I’m from, where the West Indian diaspora would go to socialise on a Friday night, and have a drink and a dance to soca and the like. Would I have said there was a West Indian flavour to what he wore, though? Not really. I’ve got uncles who wore garish stuff, you know, electric blue polyester suits, and they carried it off. But my dad never went down that path, he has never been into loud stuff. His style was fashionable, but never sharp. Having said that, when he was growing up in Grenada a bus driver did nickname him “iron shirt” because his clothes were so starched. I’ve seen pictures of him at Sunday school, too, with his siblings and cousins, with their knee socks, shiny shoes and crisp white shirts, partings in their hair. But his style was never overly preened or perfect. Even so, to this day, he still takes care of his appearance. He wears a lot of comfortwear now, but he likes good stuff, quality brands.
I remember the first time I appeared on the BBC, on the regional news, I phoned him up and said: ‘What do you think?’ The first thing he said was: ‘Why didn’t you do your tie up properly?’ I just sat there going: ‘What the hell?’ My dad was more interested in how I looked; he thought that was really important. And I was like, what about what I said? It was a very “West Indian parent” reaction. He has taught me about certain faux pas, too. I remember I was wearing jogging bottoms with what I thought were trainers, but my dad thought looked like shoes, and he laughed and said you can’t wear shoes with jogging bottoms. His rule was trainers with shorts and jogging bottoms, never shoes. Shoes only went with trousers and jeans. It might seem a bit obvious, but it does look really weird if you don’t follow it.
With him being a single dad, we were very close. Our relationship was established at a critical age when I was a teenager, and there was a level of respect that was garnered over those years that at the time I probably didn’t appreciate. He had my best interests at heart – and taught me how to look good, too. As I approach my first Father’s Day with a child of my own, I can fully appreciate it.
- Clive Lewis is Labour MP for Norwich South