what do your clothes say about you?

what do your clothes say about you?

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As Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss prepare to become the next leader of the Tories, it’s not just what they say is gaining inches. Their sartorial statements also speak volumes.

Last week, stories about what candidates were wearing took them to opposite corners, with very different budgets. Claire’s Accessories’ £ 4.50 Truss earrings contrasted Sunak’s high-budget style choices, including a pair of £ 450 Prada loafers and a £ 3,500 tailored suit.

If politicians’ clothes are always analyzed – think Theresa May’s extravagant leopard-print heels or Barack Obama’s rolled-up sleeves – the debate over what Sunak and Truss wear comes against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis. It focuses on the price and status that these articles attempt to report. The question arises: how do style status symbols work in 2022?

Liz Truss arrives for the BBC Conservative Party leadership debate last week

Liz Truss last week. Nadine Dorries highlighted her choice of earrings. Photograph: Reuters

Even during a cost-of-living crisis, fashion’s expensive status symbols retain power and remain popular with consumers. Financial results for the fashion brands were released last week for the first half of 2022. Revenues increased 48% from Moncler, where a short down jacket with bear logo on the sleeve costs £ 1,235. At conglomerate LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, revenues in the second quarter of 2022 increased by 19%, with luxury bags accredited. A classic Louis Vuitton Speedy with monogram costs £ 1,030. Meanwhile, Sunak’s favorite, Prada, saw first-half sales increase by 22%. Her popular Cleo crossbody bag, with the Prada triangle logo, costs £ 1,800.

“Clothing has been deeply rooted in status for millennia because clothing is a social language,” says Emma McClendon, fashion historian and author of Power Mode: the power of fashion. “It’s how we make our bodies socially legible.” Symbols change over time. “The way you show strength and power may be different in 2022 than in 2016 or 2012,” she explains.

The status symbols of each moment are defined by the appearance of the ruling elite. In the digital age, this is the super rich of Silicon Valley, figures who are more likely to wear hoodies and trainers than traditional establishment clothes. Mark Zuckerberg, certainly not a style icon in the conventional sense, came up with this change. McClendon argues that his casual clothes were “a real attack on Wall Street’s sense of success. Because, ultimately, it’s about how any given era or any given individual is trying to define success and power.”

Some public figures gather working-class tropes to align with something that feels more authentic

Daniel Rodgers

Sunak accepted the Silicon Valley definition. For photos of him working on budget at the height of the pandemic in 2020, he was pictured wearing a hoodie from Californian brand Everlane, a choice destined to frame him as a poster boy of contemporary success and prosperity.

The discussion on status symbols also involves the class and who is “authorized” to wear these coveted objects. This also changes over time. Twenty years ago, Danniella Westbrook was on the cover of The Sun in the Burberry check from head to toe, causing outrage – and the fashion house to reduce the amount of checks it used for fear of alienating its upper-class customer base. Daniel Rodgers, a fashion writer who wrote about the impact of the Westbrook outfit, says the look would be less disruptive now. “It is increasingly difficult to tell whether someone’s middle class, working class or upper class is because of the way the internet and social media have blurred all of these indicators.”

Kim Kardashian at Paris Fashion Week in early July.

Kim Kardashian at Paris Fashion Week in early July. Photograph: Pierre Suu / Getty Images

However, he sees women in the public eye continuing to provoke outrage for stepping out of their perceived boundaries. “Kim Kardashian is an example,” she says. “Before Kanye, when she was starting to dress up in luxury houses like Givenchy, people were saying, ‘why basically does this girl from Page Three have access to this?’ She really replaces a lot of people [ideas of] class. It’s something so ingrained within us, so for some to cross those boundaries, for many people, it’s offensive, [because it’s] not respecting the kind of natural order in the world ”.

The signifiers are further complicated by the fact that status can now derive from the “cool” and authenticity often linked to working-class culture. “There are pop stars or public figures trying to pick up the tropes of the working class and align with something that feels more authentic,” says Rodgers.

Rachel Worth, author of the 2020 book Fashion and Class, says it’s nothing new. He points to the French Revolution when “it became dangerous to wear high-class fabrics such as silk. While it seemed casual, the working class has become politically correct ”.

Worth, whose next book is focused on sustainability, also argues that the current state may come from signaling that you are aware of your carbon footprint. “These things go in cycles,” he says. “In the 19th century, used was far superior, even for workers. It’s like we’re back on that “.

“It is fashionable to be a conscious consumer,” agrees Caroline Stevenson, head of cultural and historical studies at London College of Fashion, “to know where your clothes come from, to look after your wardrobe and to show appreciation for the finest things in the world. life.”

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In the public eye, this is – as with the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex – demonstrated through the rewearing of dresses or, as with Carrie Johnson, the renting of a dress. Last year, she wore a rented suit to marry the prime minister. In this context, Sunak and Truss’s conspicuous consumption of new items, both fast fashion and high-end, could be seen as bad form, in the same way that Kylie Jenner’s boast of using her own private jet to travel 17 minutes between two Californian airports triggered the brand as a “climate criminal” in a viral tweet.

McClendon says what the two candidates are wearing communicates different interpretations of status. If Sunak’s are “classic symbols of wealth – the tailored suit, the designer clothes”, Truss’s earrings are “a sort of reverse status [symbol] … There is a sense of status, of power within a democratic system, which represents the people “.

Charlie Porter, the author of What the artists wear, believes in Truss’s choice to wear fast fashion music boxes with its cheap thrill policies. “[She] is campaigning to cut taxes for short-term welfare, “he says.” The promise is of more disposable income in the face of rising fuel and grocery bills. Disposable income usually means shopping. shopping makes people feel good in the short term, often at the expense of what might be good for them in the long run. “Sunak’s luxury items, meanwhile,” can be used to skewer the rich, while being objects of desire and aspiration “.

He adds: “I think we are in a really complicated time with wealth because there is both the protracted pandemic, inflation, financial problems, but also sustainability. This makes aspiration really complicated.” Style status symbols are alive and well in 2022 but, as always, it’s anything but simple.

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