Rishi Sunak represents many firsts: he is the first prime minister of South Asian origin, the first to hold an MBA, and the first, perhaps, to be wealthier than the sovereign who invited him to form a government. But he is also unusual for a male prime minister in being acutely conscious of style and fashion.
If Thatcherism was encapsulated by the contrast collars and red braces of Wall Street, then perhaps the next few years will be the age of City chic.
Boris Johnson, of course, had a carefully cultivated public persona. His unkempt hair, creased and ill-fitting suits and perennially untucked shirts were as carefully calculated as the sharp tailoring would have been, and they contributed to a shambling, amiable character, as authentic as a Wodehouse creation, whom many voters took to their hearts.
But Sunak brings something more contemporary in the sartorial stakes. The main hailing from Southampton first rose to public attention in February 2020 when he was promoted to chancellor of the exchequer. Then, his winning smile made headlines – but I’d been noticing his carefully tailored suits. Sunak prefers closely fitting and short in the leg, paired with slim-fit shirts and skinny ties.
He is a slender man and his clothes show off his physique, though it is a distinctly modern look. At least some of his suits are bought from Henry Herbert of Bloomsbury and they do not come cheaply: a tailored piece will cost at least £3,500. I confess that I don’t much like the style of the prime minister’s suits, but I am older than him and more old-fashioned in tastes. There is no doubt, however, that Sunak takes care over his appearance.
Rishi Sunak likes luxury brands, and as a former hedge fund manager he has enjoyed the income to support it, notwithstanding his wife’s vast wealth. On a visit to a building site on Teesside earlier this year, he was criticised and lampooned for wearing a £490 pair of Prada suede loafers, which some felt was an inappropriate choice. Then he donned a £95 pair of sliders while he prepared for the budget.
Sunak, born in 1980, is arguably our first millennial premier, and his appearance is consistent with that
I doubt he understood the criticism around such choices. For him, these loud shoes will have been comfortable and non-formal choices, possibly not an especially new pair. Off duty in Downing Street, he sported trainers by cult brand Common Projects, a New York designer favoured by Jay-Z, Drake and Kanye West. They come in at over £300 and aim to provide comfort and style without an outsized logo (an effort perhaps undermined by the ease with which the paparazzi identified them).
The truth is that Rishi Sunak’s liking for high-end brands is hardly unforgivable in a rich man, let alone one in the public eye. We must also remember that Sunak, born in 1980, is arguably our first millennial premier, and his appearance is consistent with that. If Thatcherism was encapsulated by the contrast collars and red braces of Wall Street, then perhaps the next few years will be the age of City chic.