That Suit And That Suit

They’re heads-of-state; they don’t have to dress like you and I. They can look worse


By Ray Zhang

As you know, even if you’re not a suit wearer, there are suits and there are suits. You probably also noted that none were more unremarkable and unfashionable than those worn by the key players of the Singapore Summit just two days ago.

At one of the most important meetings of modern times and one that, at least on the surface, was “historic”, as Channel NewsAsia repeatedly and annoyingly reminded us, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump faced-off in what I saw were decidedly old-world clothes. Sure, this was not the IHT Luxury Conference, but neither was it the getting together of village elders. Yet one sensedI didthat although optics did matter, clothing did not. The handshake was what cameras zoomed into and what the media was effusive about.

Despite the 21st Century setting (in contrast, Capella, the hotel in which the meeting was conducted, is housed in a 19th Century building), the two men reminded me of the time, in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter signed diplomatic agreements between China and the US. Like Mr Deng at the White House that day, Mr Kim—41 years younger—wore a dark Mao suit. His partner in the making of history Mr Trump wore a business suit not unlike what Mr Carter wore when the latter jointly signed those agreement papers with his Chinese counterpart. Thirty-nine years later, when new mass production and a renewed interest in bespoke both meant better-made clothes, the leaders of one of the last few communist states and the world’s most powerful democracy adopted fashion that spoke of another era.

I am not sure how we should read this or even attempt to read it. Should fashion, like the church, be separated from the state? Despite judgmental attitudes towards how we view each other in terms of dress, many of us still do not consider sartorial savvy an important part of a politician’s appeal. In fact, I believe many of us still view a nattily dressed MP with suspicion—can the people’s representative spend enough time on policy when he/she takes time to shop, to pick clothes, to groom? Perhaps dubious dress choices make finer politics. Perhaps a dated suit shows a more modern mind or conservative incline. Perhaps a dreadfully long necktie indicates the length in which a president makes strides to better his country and promote world peace. What do I know?

Photo: AP/Susan Walsh, Pool