Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hey how about you sell me one of those fancy-ass ties you used to wear? I'll give you two bucks and you can go buy ten more shares of Lehman Bros. to throw on the worthless, stupid pile.

The decision to wear a tie can be a sartorial minefield for politicians and the public alike, says historian David Cannadine.

The former governor of the state of New York, Mario Cuomo, once observed that in a modern democracy "you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose".

Translated from speech to dress, the attire of Britain's party leaders for the televised debates during the general election of 2010, or of the candidates currently seeking the Republican Party's nomination, or of President Barack Obama when he goes out on the stump, suggests that you campaign wearing an open neck shirt, but govern wearing a tie.

To press the flesh and get yourself elected, it seems essential to dress down and appear casual, like ordinary voters, rather than be buttoned up or formal.

But to undertake the very different task of running a country, it's still expected that politicians will wear what is termed business attire, which means a suit (whether you are a man or a woman) and also a tie (if you're a man, or if you were Margaret Thatcher as depicted in her caricature from the television series Spitting Image).

But the conventions as to when it's essential to wear a tie and when it's acceptable not to, have often been a sartorial minefield, as I discovered to my cost during the late spring of 1974, when I was finishing a year as a graduate student in the United States.

Luckily for me, my stay had coincided with the enthralling drama of what became known as the Watergate scandal, which had begun with the arrest of five men for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, as part of a campaign mounted by some Republican zealots to ensure the re-election of President Richard Nixon.

That had occurred in the autumn of 1972, but it was later alleged that Nixon had known about the burglary, and was complicit in the cover-up that followed, and as a result he was compelled to resign the presidency in August 1974. {Read on}