While a tie-less politician was hardly breaking news in Greece this week, Costas Karamanlis’s relaxed appearance at the Parliament’s swearing-in ceremony created some buzz on Thursday. The former premier is a conservative, after all, while the no-tie credo rightfully belongs to the ruling leftist SYRIZA party.
In sartorial terms, the last time the Greek political scene experienced such a challenge was during the 1821-32 War of Independence, a time when the traditional pleated “foustanella” for men was gradually replaced by more European attire, signaling the newly independent country’s Western orientation. Little has changed, for Greece and its relationship with the rest of Europe is still very much the main issue. Incidentally, a century and a half later, the foustanella served as inspiration to forward-thinking fashion designers including Jean Paul Gaultier.
Meanwhile, the latest Greek style revolution had been long in the making, starting years before freshly appointed Premier Alexis Tsipras embarked on his European quest for a new Greek deal in a round of meetings which kicked off with European Parliament chief Martin Schulz (who swiftly pointed to the absence of the necktie on the Greek PM) followed by his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi (who gave him a tie as a gift).
Tsipras’s current signature look – dark suit, light-colored shirt – was cemented on the day he took a civil oath as the country’s youngest prime minister since 1865 (that was the year Epameinondas Deligiorgis rose to the premiership at the age of 36, most likely in a bow tie).
The split with tradition continued the day after Tsipras took over at Maximos Mansion, when the new cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony pointed to the already relaxed Greek protocol taking a definitive second place. Besides the religious vs civil oath aspect, it was also the day the new government spokesman and former Athens Mayor candidate Gavriil Sakellaridis turned up at the Presidential Mansion in a major symbol of casual wear: jeans. Interestingly, the day’s attention-grabber turned out to be House Speaker-to-be Zoi Constantopoulou, thanks to her bold color combination which included a bright yellow coat-jacket.
Following years of recession and austerity, Greeks seem to care less about what their politicians wear. They do make an exception, however, for Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, the radical economics professor turned postmodern lone ranger of style taking on a rigid European establishment. News reports in Greece and elsewhere analyze the color of his shirts before moving on to the subject of possible debt relief – a first for a male politician. The Varoufakis dress code – untucked shirt, one hand in a pocket while the other shakes hands, boots – has generated plenty of commentary. In the Guardian, Imogen Fox described the Greek minister’s meeting with his British counterpart George Osborne earlier this week as “a bit of a fashion moment,” while Simon Jenkins, also on the subject of the 11 Downing Street encounter, argued that Greece had “a finance minister who looks like a normal human being.”
At the same time the global fashion industry has also taken an interest in Greek developments with the digital version of US Vogue suggesting handpicked pieces for the wardrobe of the country’s new first lady, Tsipras’s partner Betty Baziana, including garments by houses such as Alexander McQueen, Prada and Athens-born designer Mary Katrantzou.
Generally speaking, local politicians have rarely shown a particular flair for matters of style, while there have only been a few occasions when a fashion statement pointed to changes on the political agenda. This was the case of socialist PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou, whose turtleneck looks, originally symbolizing the left in post-junta Greece, eventually gave way to the power suit.
As the no-tie mantra takes its place in the new chapter of Greek political history, the verdict is out there. Will the new generation of local politicians keep their rule-bending sartorial codes to the very end or will they cave in to international pressure? You know what they say: Fashion is temporary, but style is forever.