What’s in a suit?

2014-04-27 06:00

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Next time you see a male politician in a dark suit, remember this: he may be trying to scare you and show you he’s powerful.

Gail Cameron, managing director of the Image Excellence Group, says an “international dress code” for politicians emerged during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the US.

Studies at the time revealed the psychology of clothing.

Clinton often donned a dark suit and a powder-blue shirt.

“The dark colour of the suit symbolically harks back to one’s childhood,” says Cameron. “The darkness at night was frightening and all powerful.”

The colour of Clinton’s shirt was proved to have a soothing neurological effect that made people feel more relaxed.

When Cameron dresses her political clients, she uses variations of the Clinton model, always accounting for what effect a particular colour or cut might have on an audience.

Cameron says it is still important for politicians to “hang on to some of their idiosyncrasies” to create a genuine brand.

But she urges caution: if EFF leader Julius Malema started wearing his infamous R250 000 Breitling watch again, this individual touch may alienate people who think it illustrates greed and a distance from ordinary South Africans.

Cameron’s colleague, executive voice, speech and image coach Kim Street, says different voters may be drawn to diverse images.

“If we compare Barack Obama with Nelson Mandela, for example, they marketed themselves very differently – Obama in his business suits and Mandela in his patterned shirts,” says Street.

“Female politicians often feel like they have to conform to the more masculine image in order to more effectively assert their authority,” Street says – like wearing dark, tailored suits.

“However, it’s also important to have some of those feminine elements come through.”

A consultant handles everything from wardrobe to speech, to how clients conduct themselves in public.

“It’s important to have at least one consultant ... to get another perspective and to bounce ideas off.”

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