Fashion and duty: The politics of style

It has been yet another overheated pre-election campaign: eurozone exit fears vs memorandum renegotiation, established players vs younger blood, shirt-and-tie vs no tie at all.

As Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and contender for the post of premier in the upcoming June 17 election, moves in and out of the local and international spotlight, his disengagement from the signature male fashion accessory signifies a broader change. This is a case of sartorial codes reflecting a political agenda.

?Tsipras wears two uniforms; on the one hand is the rebel look, while on the other he realizes that when abroad he has to be more within the EU style spirit. It would be interesting to see what he would wear for his first meeting with the Brussels status quo,? said Stella Rapti, publishing director at Attica Media Publications, whose magazine portfolio includes titles such as Madame Figaro. ?His rival, New Democracy?s Antonis Samaras, is the smoothest evolution of the college boy: safe stylistic choices with no particular flair or personality.?

There have been but a few turning-point fashion moments in the history of modern Greece, such as socialist PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou, whose early turtleneck look emerged as an emblem of the left in the post-junta era.     

?Overall, Greek politicians don?t understand the power of image; they don?t pay attention to this kind of potential,? noted Alexandra Katsaiti, a stylist and imagemaker whose clients include singer Despina Vandi and previously local idol Sakis Rouvas and American model-turned-actress Carmen Electra. ?Everybody ought to be interested in how they look. You dress like yourself to be happier and especially when you?re addressing other people, you have to do so like a normal person.?

In this rapidly changing environment of new sociopolitical identities, the ongoing recession has resulted in the lines between the private and the public domain becoming more and more blurred as far as local politicos are concerned.

?We are living at a time when Greek politicians can?t even venture outside. They are being verbally, if not physically, abused and are therefore keeping a low profile. It?s provocative to pay attention to aesthetics right now; these matters are important when people are accepted in society and right now this is the last thing on their minds,? argued Nikos Giannetos, of the Giannetos family of tailors, a company originally established in 1907.

An increasingly inward-looking local political establishment has meant less business for Giannetos, whose company has over the years developed special ties with the local political community by acting as tailor to a string of Greek prime ministers since the early 1980s, including Andreas Papandreou — working on the Socialist leader?s sartorial transition from the polo neck to the power suit — Costas Karamanlis and George Papandreou. ?During the last election, held on May 6, we had a few fresh faces who came to us, new candidates who needed appropriate attire, but not many,? said Giannetos.

Meanwhile, bling is moving to the back burner as more reserved behavior takes center stage in a debt-crisis stricken Europe — out with Nicolas Sarkozy?s celebratory dining at Parisian Fouquet?s and in with a new train passenger, President Francois Hollande. Yet in contrast to countries like Britain, where images of Queen Elizabeth II?s Diamond Jubilee were a reminder of the importance of tradition, Greece is a country which does not adhere to stiff protocol.  

?We Greeks are a very emotional and no-frills people. This has its positive aspects, but on the other hand we lose out on a certain quality of life,? said Giannetos.

That is not to say that the local political system has failed to develop its own stylistic rules.

?When you?re on the left of the political spectrum you are allowed something more bohemian, but if you?re on the right you have to go for the skirt-and-blouse or blazer-with-jeans look,? noted Rapti.

Hairstyles and glasses are two key issues plaguing the local political scene, according to Katsaiti, who argues that Samaras could benefit from a frame-and-hair revamp and come across as less stiff.

Ties, the stylist says, are another issue on the fashion agenda. Vassilis Bourtsalas agrees. ?You come across classic ties or very eccentric pieces which don?t complement the rest of the outfit,? said the founder and owner of sur mesure menswear store Bespoke Athens, who also added sleeve length to the list of sartorial concerns. ?There is a lack of combination; local politicians see things separately, when dressing is a combination of factors and has to be in sync with one?s personality.?

According to Bourtsalas, ND politician Kostis Hatzidakis?s choice of Neapolitan-style lapels is refreshing on the local level, while Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy?s noticeable sartorial progress recently echoed similar amelioration in the appearance of Turkey?s Premier Recep Tayyip Ergodan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Back in Greece, Evangelos Venizelos appears to have acquired a better fit when it comes to suits in the last few years. ?His style is in tune with his personality and his rhetoric,? noted Giannetos with regard to the PASOK chief?s apparel choices, while Katsaiti suggested that Venizelos should stick to dark colors and wider ties for more symmetry.

The imagemaker also singled out Dora Bakoyannis, the Democratic Alliance founder who recently returned to New Democracy?s ranks, for her conservative yet elegant look, along with the minimalist fashion stance of PASOK?s Anna Diamantopoulou. In the case of Aleka Papariga, Katsaiti noted that the Greek Communist Party chief should realize that this is the year 2012 and that refined, affordable solutions exist.

?It?s all about being simple and approachable, nothing more. Men are more difficult because, besides George Papandreou, who was more up to speed and seemed more aware of his image, they make the mistake of repetition. You can wear a conservative suit with a modern cut; it?s easy and affordable,? said Katsaiti, whose list of better-dressed personalities includes the IMF?s Christine Lagarde and Sarkozy.

As Greece reflects on its position within Europe, memories of a visionary statesman who is credited with securing a European Community spot for Greece arise. ?Constantine Karamanlis wore sloped shoulders, as opposed to structured, high-shoulder jackets. This is something which showed authority and strictness, but because of his personality it worked,? noted Bourtsalas.

When it comes to local political affairs, the sense of style has rarely matched the notion of duty and purpose.

?Greek politicians have never been big spenders with regard to their image,? noted Giannetos. ?Even during the recent so-called ?bubble? era, they didn?t spend a lot. If our survival depended on local politicians alone, we would have gone out of business a long time ago.?

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