I tuned into Boris’s latest speech at the JCB headquarters, and I have to admit I quite liked what I saw; the louche, slightly undone tie, the complimentary blue shirt without the lab-tech breast pocket, and the more flattering jawline. The whole ‘Scruffy Boris’ thing has become a bit of a cliché, that being said, there are a ton of reasons why a proper evaluation of Boris’s appearance is necessary at this point in time.
Pre-JCB speech Boris had all the sartorial dexterity of an estate agent, and there is a perfectly plausible theory that he does it on purpose. The bumbling Brit act is a successful and charming export, but this doesn’t comply with Boris’ new epoch, with new relationship and new momentum towards leadership (when it seemed to have slipped away) and ultimately, premiership. To these ends he needs to look more the part. But there are some creases that need ironing out, so to speak, if his efforts to smarten up are to be effective.
First and foremost is the suit. In 2013 Boris proclaimed that London is to the suit what Parma is to Parmesan. Unfortunately for such a jingoist he has clearly not availed himself of this national treasure, and he really needs to. Only a dullard assumes that pulling off a suit requires a svelte frame. Anthony Eden, a man of excellent bearing, may be the best dressed politician of all time, but not far off is Winston Churchill, who would be the first to admit his calisthenics routine went about as far as cigar smoking. So Boris has no excuses either. Even though he has lost some weight, his suits are terribly pressed, and overegg the concept of ‘drape’.
There are a few simple solutions to this, cut, cloth and colour. The latter is actually something he gets right, as he exclusively wears navy or grey and this is correct for the modern statesman. Cut is complicated. He currently opts for single-breasted (all too often unbuttoned) suits, with a soft shoulder (meaning it falls over the shoulder with little padding or structure), a three and three-quarter-inch notched lapel and flat-fronted trousers. By every degree, for someone like Boris, this doesn’t work. For a Shane-Warneesque turnaround in the style stakes, he should consider a shift from single-breasted to double-breasted.
There is an argument that portly men should avoid this cut, especially if they aren’t that tall. This is where stronger shoulders can come to the rescue. A padded and roped shoulder, which you can find best exhibited at somewhere like Henry Poole on Savile Row, gives that military, more angular silhouette that he desperately needs. As he has a penchant for unbuttoning his jacket, at the very least we could do without seeing his midriff. There is also a tailoring trick called doppiopetto transformible, where the jacket can be buttoned both on the top button or rolled down to the lower button, perhaps a little nerdy but at least he has options. Pleats on trousers have the advantage of being both roomy and very much in fashion at the moment. It is an antediluvian affectation that has been refined and is featuring heavily in major menswear brand collections.
Choice of cloth is absolutely vital, and for the sake of Boris being on brand, he should go British. Fox Brothers is make the finest flannel in the world, so as the mercury dips, any of their 12 ounce or above fabrics will hold their shape and keep him warm for outdoor photo ops and redo’s of Olympic opening ceremonies. A lot of R&D is being developed at the moment for ‘travel’ fabrics, a truly breathable construction that is lightweight and also strong so modern businessmen can travel and emerge on the other end as uncreased and professional looking as they’d like to. An example of this is called Fresco by Huddersfield textiles. It is a high twist fabric that breathes beautifully but at the same time yeilds a firm structure and refuses to crease no matter what punishment you give it.
It goes without saying that Boris’ best next move is to go to a tailor. There is a reverse snobbery about politicians using tailors but it should be ignored for the sake of supporting British craft and manufacturing. Masters like Terry Haste of Kent, Haste & Lachter take a 2D length of cloth and make it manifest in 3D in a process that can only be described as engineering meeting sorcery. They manipulate what the eye is drawn to, to create a garment that flatters and distracts what needs distracting from.
For shirts and accessories, the more he sticks to two fold cotton (a weave that has more structure to it) and keeps as far away from breast pockets as he can, he need only wear a tie and pair of socks that match for some serious kudos in the style columns of the national media, and hey presto we have a multi-faceted PR boon that meanders round the bad press he has brought upon himself lately. Shoes needn’t be complicated, a cap-toe oxford in black will do fine, so long as he polishes them well. Brands like Crockett & Jones or Cleverley will provide the best last shape for someone with his measurements and again, it’s a home-grown smartening up.
So for his next big speech, we should encourage him as best we can to seize the opportunity to depart from his usual brand and elevate his statesmanship. We can rely on the James Forsyths and Isabel Hardmans of this world to say how this might be done politically. But, sartorially speaking at least, he has started to take a step in the right direction.