Elly Schlein’s color match opens the debate on the relationship between fashion and politics

Elly Schlein's color match opens the debate on the relationship between fashion and politics
Elly Schlein's color match opens the debate on the relationship between fashion and politics

Elly Schlein has been at the center of a controversy that has been raging on the web for a few days, for the declaration in which she claims to be followed by an armochromist.

To open the diatribe, the accusation of having dealt with apparently voluptuous topics in a prestigious fashion magazine, in addition to the fact that the interview given by Elly Schlein to Federico Chiara was the first after her appointment as secretary of the Democratic Party and is granted to Vogue Italia and not to a foreign newspaper or popular weekly. Although it was a fashion magazine, the interview embraced the most varied topics, from foreign policy to environmental problems, from leadership to nationalisms, from inequalities to the question of wages, but the one and only question on power dressing aroused embarrassment, to which Elly Schlein replied like this: “So, if I knew what it is, I could answer you! Seriously, my clothing choices definitely depend on the situation I’m in. Sometimes I’m unconventional, other times more formal. In general, I say yes to the colors and advice of an armocromist, Enrica Chicchio.”

The importance of ideas

After this declaration, many felt authorized to intervene to dispute whether a politician, but above all a woman who holds the most important political office of the PD (one of the main opposition parties), could be the object of criticism for her choices of styling. The controversies leveled against Schlein focused on the apparent contradiction between being a spokesperson for left-wing policies and taking care of one’s appearance and on the Secretary’s choice to contact and pay an image consultant for her looks. Elly Schlein responded to the controversy thus: “I am struck to see everyone passionate about color harmony; however, I would not like attention to be drawn away from the rest of the things I am saying even in that interview of 30 questions, of which one emerged. I am a person who understands nothing about clothes and makeup and has no problem admitting it. It has never been my field, I don’t have time to devote to it and above all I don’t think that one of the problems of the country is the fact that I have turned to a friend who does it for a living. Women are often talked about more about their looks than about their ideas. But we are here to talk about our ideas”.

Non-verbal communication

An inconvenient truth highlighted by Schlein, whose work has been overshadowed only for having admitted to being helped by an armochromist. In reality it is clearly known that there are many politicians who make use of consultancy for their wardrobe and make-up, precisely to highlight how fundamental non-verbal communication is for building a character. Chicchio, Schlein’s armochromist, in an interview for La Repubblica declared that he had replaced the parka with a tailored trench coat, to move away from the stereotyped image of the left-wing militant, thus allowing Schlein to present himself in public in a more charismatic.

The relationship between fashion and politics

Fashion and politics have always been intrinsically connected, although their relationship is controversial. Changing through historical periods and political contexts, institutional leaders have always shown a particular attention to the details of their clothes, starting from Louis XIV to Elizabeth I, from Gandhi to Zelensky, from Angela Merkel to Donald Trump. Their stylistic choices are symbolic representations of power, which refer to shared codes in their respective reference contexts and which tell something of the complex relationship between fashion and politics. Fashion has to do with the process of social stratification and responds, as Georg Simmel points out, to the need for integration and/or differentiation of individuals within society. It pertains to the dimension of surface manifestations which, however, often know how to render the depth of human behavior more effectively. Politics has to do with the regulation of associated living and as an expression of power, it needs to activate processes of legitimation, which often draw on the symbolic dimension, of which fashion is a fundamental manifestation.

The symbology of the dress

Thus the President of Ukraine Zelensky, in the face of the terrible situation that the country is experiencing, has adopted military clothing, characterized by a sweatshirt with a small Ukrainian trident sewn near the neckline, cargo pants and task force boots. The choice of the Ukrainian leader is not dictated only by practicality, but is part of a sophisticated narrative that carries on with speeches, with proxemics, even with clothes. Zelensky has renounced civilian clothes, dressing like a soldier, to communicate a very clear message to the population: “I am with you, I am one of you”. Fifty years ago, when stylistic choices were a mere political statement, factions of left and right recognized each other between those who wore parkas and jeans and those who preferred leather jackets and sunglasses, until 1979 when Bettino Craxi showed up at the Quirinale wearing a pair of jeans, inappropriate according to the then President of the Republic Sandro Pertini. Society was starting to change and with it politics: if the formal suit has long represented the most recurring stylistic choice for a political figure, some details, such as the tie, were associated with the most démodé aspect of the man of power’s wardrobe . Today, politics continues to adopt the fashion to communicate messages: Donald Trump, during his presidency, has never shown himself in public without his tie, intent on echoing the glories of the 80s tycoons – including himself .

The formalism of women in politics

The question remains very formal if one thinks of women in politics: all female institutional figures, from Margaret Thatcher to Angela Merkel, from Christine Lagarde to Giorgia Meloni, have always preferred rigorous and clean outfits. Someone says that clothes don’t make a monk, but it is also true that politics is also made with clothes and the new Italian Prime Minister knows this very well, who, aware of the power of communication, has set aside his logoed and expensive bags for less popular made in Italy models; he replaced the pastel-colored blouses with Giorgio Armani blue suits and the décolletées with more comfortable men’s lace-ups. Those of Giorgia Meloni seem uniform: she has chosen the most iconic designer of Italian fashion and has given vigor to her looks, opting for classic garments with masculine cuts. The power of those who hold institutional positions lies in the possibility of being able to fight injustices from within, of whatever type they are, and to change the system so that it adapts better to the contemporary world. Fashion often intervenes, adopted in the most pragmatic way, to make communication easier.