You cannot judge a book by its cover or so the old saying goes. But what about a politician? Can you know just by looking at a person whether he or she would be fit to run for a political position? Or would you rather be impressed by what they do and say than what they wear?
Politicians can be role models not just by their principles and policies, but also by what they wear.
Politicians are public officials and their lives are just that- public and physical appearance is an important non-verbal communication for public officials.
Dress and selection of clothes are part of politics and a particularly important factor in the presentation of an appropriate image as they are often in the public eye.
Politicians are not expected to be style icons, but the more fashionable you are, the more the likelihood of acceptance.
In 2015, some youths voted President Muhammadu Buhari simply because of his gap tooth and eccentric fashion sense. Seun Johnson recalled with nostalgia “I always admire Ambode on suit even during his electioneering. Still remember those billboards. Baba can dress o.”
The power of acceptance is something that Western politicians have known and used to their advantage.
From the 1960’s till early 90’s, Nigeria was very much influenced by the European fashion, and more specifically the British fashion since the British colonised her.
Nigeria has had politicians since then who promote not the country, but also its culture, through the choice of their clothes, the likes of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Okotie-Eboh, Sardauna of Sokoto and other leaders are some examples.
While there are no set dress code for government officials, some modern Nigerian politicians wear fitted suits, others love their traditional attires to promote their cultural heritage like former governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amaechi, who consistently represents the Niger Delta region with his iconic style and signature cap. Also, Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege.
The most important thing about appearance is the ability of a politician to dress in both political and popular culture. Dressing appropriately is imperative.
A candidate who is able to properly dress for the occasion demonstrates his or her understanding of cultural cues, and is thus able to identify with the constituents.
People aren’t necessarily looking for leaders who are better than them to vote for, but constituents are looking for politicians to whom they can relate.
There is a demand to know more about politicians and humanise them and there will naturally be an interest in a politician’s private life or their choice of dress.
Many Nigerian politicians exude dapper demeanour and it’s great to see personality, but perception of wealth must not interfere with personality.
It was evident when Senator Dino Melaye was criticised by Nigerians for his gangster style of dressing that many consider inappropriate for a lawmaker. A politician’s choice of clothing should not be so eye-catching and should not speak louder than him or her else it becomes the total subject of the conversation.
With campaign season around the corner, a candidates’ message and body language will be highly monitored while relaying to his or her constituents on the reasons why they should be elected.
Such messages are usually verbal and non-verbal. At this time of smart phones and instant imagery, and more people on a visual medium like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, politicians should be aware of how they present themselves and not ignore the role image can play in positioning.
Subconscious bias certainly plays a role in election campaigns. For the older voters and few youth, appearance do not influence rather ideologies. But there are a high percentage of youths demographic who look at fashion and style very differently, thus appearance goes a long way to determine the viability of a candidate.
A larger percentage of electorates in Nigeria still vote based on religion, ethnicity, looks and physical appearance. Ever noticed how Nigerian political candidates’ clothing is strategically modified to coordinate with certain regions during campaigns and certain events?
For example, President Muhammadu Buhari detoured from his Northern signature traditional wears for an Igbo attire, Isiagu, during a visit to Ebonyi state in 2017.
While the ability to serve should not be ignored, politicians must not forget that how they dress always has a great impact. And they can use the opportunity to project a positive image.
Dipo Awojide, a career coach and founder BTDT Hub once said on Twitter “if we are rating governors based on dressing performance, Ambode will win hands down”. Attractive people, we seem to believe, make good leaders.
Speaking with Owei-Tongu Bosman, an indigene of Bayelsa State on how a politicians style can influence decisions, he said “former Governor Timipre Sylva is my style icon.
He is always on white and he influenced me to wear white outfits without even knowing”. No doubt, as a politician, how you present yourself matters.