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Obama Untied From Tradition

Posted: 09/11/2012 00:00

Barack, where's your tie? It was intriguing to watch Barack Obama tear around the last few days US Election without a tie on. There are very few acts on the political stage that aren't considered and focus group tested so this is clearly a signal of societal change.

Politicians dressing down isn't wholly new. George W Bush loved his bomber jacket so much that he gifted Gordon Brown a matching copy on one his last visits. I like to imagine Gordon wearing it on his trip down to the Kirkaldy Working Men's Club this lunchtime. But it normally signalled 'down time'. But there's never been a politician who did half of his campaign in open-necked shirt sleeves.

The tieless change suggests the day of tie is coming to an end. Within 10 years we will get used to politicians not wearing them for any but the most sober occasions.

Does it really matter? Well it signals that we are getting used to informality as the default setting in life. A world which is less obsessed with status and hierarchy and position - and more interested in substance and authenticity.

Of course you can play the system. Tony Blair used to come outside Downing Street for shots for the TV news holding a mug of tea. This calculated act was meant to frame Blair as one of us. We were meant to summon the image of Tony hollering to Cherie to make him "a cup of builders" before he went out to natter about his meeting with the EU. Emotionally he seemed closer to being a real person. If this trend continues we can look forward to Boris Johnson slurping a Pot Noodle as he enters Number 10.

Clothing is the most important signal that we give to the world around us. My favourite stage of hideous black tie events is the moment when coffee arrives. This is when is it permitted for men to drape their undone bowties around their lapels. This act is meant to signal a raffish abandon. A maverick act akin to singing the chorus of Killing in the Name of in the face in the face of The Man. If you're so rebellious how about not wearing a bowtie in the first place, sir?

Clothing is one of the most visible signals of this for English speaking countries. In the wider world language gives us more clues. The use of social media in France is seeing the decline of the formal 'vous' in favour of the informal 'tu'. The formality of the past seems too buttoned up and restrained.

Obama winning tieless is a big thing. It suggests that his team identified that ties no longer signal trust they now signal conformity. In a world beset by relentless, accelerating change then conservative conformity is no longer what we reach for in our leaders. In 10 years the tie will be gone, a relic of the past. Discarded to formal dinners and weddings. A world of informality, unbound by signs of status.

 

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