The Politics of Fashion

Dressing appropriately can be a minefield, whether it be for business or leisure, and in particular for politicians. Having made the journey from MP to being a CEO in the fashion industry, I know that I prefer the choice and freedom that comes with my new life in business.

Pity the politician, always under scrutiny when in the public eye. For female politicians it is of course far, far worse, as indeed it is for wives of high profile and not so high profile politicians.

I look back with little fondness at those days when I always had to wear a tie in Chambers. Taking one's tie off outside Chambers made one a moderniser within seconds!

The life of a politician is nothing but varied and the unwritten dress code can at times prove of little help. Faced with attending a village fête on a warm summer's day, does one dare to dress in shorts like everyone else and show a leg while handing out prizes for the best preserves and pumpkins?! Berlusconi might have been ridiculed for his holiday bandana, but the sight of a British politician sporting even the most conservative of shorts and sensible deck shoes is still guaranteed to generate a headline or two. And why does our Prime Minister wear black work shoes on holiday? Looking at the sartorial sense of the G8 leaders at the recent Summit, surprisingly Putin did smart casual best with his jeans/jacket combo.

When it came to foreign travel the rigid uniform of the politician was at times unbearable. Travel to Africa meant enduring the sweltering heat dressed in a suit, the only acceptable garb as visiting VIP. Frequent flying, even long haul, demanded one emerge crisp and pristine in a suit as there was never an opportunity to change before being swept straight into an official reception (or on one occasion straight into a desert outside Dubai to sit in the sand for discussions with a crown prince).

Being in the public eye also meant that anyone and everyone felt they could comment on your appearance. Nothing was off limits and comments would range from weight, hair (or lack of it) and skin to one's choice of outfit for any given TV showing. Even having experts on board advising on what colour to wear for gravitas (or whatever emotion the situation required), did nothing to lessen the comments.

Now as a CEO in the fashion world the pressures are quite different. I've made the transition from classic and conservative with a little c, to having to look appropriately on trend. My role representing every aspect of the global fur trade on an international platform means mixing with everyone involved in this fascinating industry, but the ever-present red thread is fashion. And doing fashion after so many years in politics comes with its own challenges -- but challenges that I am happy to rise to -- though the excitement is sometimes tinged with panic. How young can one dress? Are skinny jeans acceptable? What about Converse? Well I love the latter but have eschewed the former in favour of Zara slim fit, a great on-trend choice for the middle-aged man who might be eating too much.

Yet the most difficult part of the whole look is the question of facial grooming. To stubble or not to stubble? As a politician, the clean shaven look was a given. You can count the number of truly successful politicians with beards on one hand -- actually less than that! My job these days means I spend a third of my time flying. The stubble started as a practical response to not wanting to cart round different bottles and razors in my luggage. Now it's become designer stubble, but I still struggle with the fine balance between smart and scruffy. The answer can sometimes lie in a single millimeter of growth -- that nonchalant designer-stubble look actually takes a lot of hard work to carry off!

And to return full circle, what, you might ask, has become of the tie that represented my years as a politician? Most are happily spending time in charity shops now. I'm pleased to report that I haven't actually worn one in my day-to-day business life in over three years!