John Bercow will be missed for many things: his barking of ‘Ordeh’ mid-sentence, his idiosyncratic use of the English language, and a no-nonsense attitude that is vital in that chair and wasn’t there from his genteel predecessor. There are also things that shall not be missed, and I am not referring to accusations of impartiality; I am referring to his clothes.
It is not in my nature to trust a man who eschews the gilded robes that are on offer for the speaker of the house. It is even more egregious when replaced with not just the lacklustre teachers gown, but a seemingly endless collection of ill-chosen ties. His outfits neither flatter or become him as speaker and you only need to look back to Betty Boothroyd to see how a uniform of state is much like ceremonial uniform in the army, it may be impractical for the modern world, but it symbolizes that it is a man taking on an office, not an office taking on a man, which you disregard at your peril. Most crucially, for all these choices, they are totally unsuitable for someone as short as Bercow is.
To be short is not necessarily a handicap for stylishness, in fact the opposite is true. The Duke of Windsor was incredibly short but his daintiness hasn’t stopped him from being a sartorial deity. Especially with footwear, if you are short and under size 10, I envy you. Shoes are remarkable, fascinating items of clothing. The shoemaker’s job is to manipulate the lines and silhouettes of a man’s foot to look as elegant as possible, and when you have size 12s like me, it all becomes that much less straight forward to not look like a clown.
As a result I have more or less stopped wearing lace ups as the pure bulk of leather can be clumsy looking unless I have had the good foresight and sense to visit Terry Haste to have some wider-legged trousers made or more ready-to-wear brands like Kit Blake. Should you have size 8-10 feet, take advantage of it, wear full brogues, Derbys, Oxfords, and take advantage of how much focus ready to wear shoemakers pay to the largest chunk of the market.
As for suits, again, designers make all jackets far too short – the correct length is to the bottom of the ‘seat’ so if you are shorter, you will benefit from this. The now-departed speaker sometimes gives a coquettish peak into what he is wearing under his robes when one shoulder slides away when most animated or bored, giving a glimpse at a fairly inoffensive navy suit. The problem with the robe is that from a silhouette point of view, any strong shoulder – better for short men as it created stature and any good tailor will nip in the waist to reduce boxiness – is disguised and he just looks round. Pattered suits for shorter men is absolutely fine but I would go for a check over pinstripe. Pinstripes will just accentuate your height, not flatter it, as a windowpane or Prince of Wales check will.
From a ties point of view, the market for colourful ties is traditionally for the slightly mad dandies of Soho that refuse to admit the seventies are over. John Bercow is not a mad dandy of Soho and therefore his decision to wear these ties is still shrouded in mystery. Though I have a preference for smaller tie knots, I appreciate his consistency and many brilliantly dressed men have pulled off large tie knots (Paul Feig, Prince Michael of Kent) and so for that he can be commended, though every ounce of goodwill is exsanguinated at the altar of abysmal patterns and jolly colours.
A tie is an accessory, not a protagonist. Use it to complement the suit and match with other aspects of the outfit, socks or pocket square usually. For example I have a grey flannel blazer with a blue windowpane check that I match with a grey and blue tie and blue socks. Coordination is key, it’s not there to make a statement, and certainly not to replace the eccentricity and ostentatiousness of the garments of state.
Don’t get me wrong; this is a fond farewell to the speaker. The next in line has big, bellowing shoes to fill and the Lord’s beckons a great public servant. Let’s just hope that this time round the lure of ermine is too strong to be replaced by nattily patterned socks and pastel shirts. But you never know with John Bercow.