Why Chuka Umunna's Sense Of Style Is Long Overdue In British Politics

The Labour candidate is often dismissed for looking sharp. Nonsense, says Teo van den Broeke

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In the painful aftermath of electoral defeat, many Labour supporters are pinning their hopes on Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary who this week announced his bid for the party leadership.

Politically, his New Labour outlook aligns him with Tony Blair, while his good looks, easy charm and mixed-race background have long seen him labeled ‘Britain’s Barack Obama’, meaning he fits the bill of ‘political saviour’ quite nicely for a traumatised party looking for a bright new future.

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Nevertheless there is scepticism surrounding the 36-year-old, who is viewed as ‘too slick’ or ‘media savvy’ for some people’s tastes. Central to this is the irrefutable fact that Umunna dresses well – very well, in fact, for a member of his tribe.

It will be no surprise to hear that at Esquire, we don’t consider sartorial flair to be a bad thing for anyone, and certainly not a man aspiring to lead the country.

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It’s difficult to overstate how refreshing it is to be faced with a politician who actually takes pride in his appearance, a politician who can seemingly dress himself (and dress himself well) without the assistance of a ‘lifestyle guru’ and whose suits – which Ummuna has made by Savile Row bespoke tailor Alexandra Wood – don’t drown his frame.

It goes without saying that it would be foolish to pin all our hopes on one politician over another just because he’s got a better tailor – but it’s also true that taking care of one’s appearance expresses more than mere vanity.

Attention to detail is one of the most important characteristics the future leader of our country must possess – and nothing expresses attention to detail better than a properly tied four-in-one knot tie (something Ummuna does rather well).

What’s more, how can we expect our important global allies to take our leader seriously if he looks as though he bought his suit from the long and tall section of Primark? Dressing well is as much an indication of diplomatic nouse and social shrewdness as it is of good taste.

The idea that being well-dressed is somehow indicative of a lack of substance or seriousness in a person is refuted by countless towering thinkers, artists and businessmen in human history who also knew how to pick and fold a good pocket square. It’s an accusation leveled by people who can’t be bothered to take pride in their own appearance, so sneer at those that do.

Ummuna himself says dressing well is a habit he picked up from his Nigerian father.

“I get quite bemused by the comments made about what I wear because, for African people, how you dress is very important,” he told the Guardian in an interview this year.

“My father, when he arrived in this country, found it difficult. People would make immediate judgments about him based on the colour of his skin, whereas he did everything to make a good impression and this was a cultural thing.”

Reading this, it makes even more jarring that some members of the political elite criticise Ummuna for caring about what he wears. It’s a reminder that putting no effort into your appearance is a luxury more readily afforded the privileged than anyone else.

So Chuka, if you’re reading; keep those lapels perfectly pressed, the skirt of your jacket just flared enough and your trouser hems kissing the tops of your shoes. It may not make you the saviour of the British left on its own, but it’s certainly a good start.