Monday, October 15, 2007

Leadership and fashion in Latin America

Through Juventud Rebelde we learn that Fidel is looking OK and is hanging out with Hugo Chávez—here is a link to the video, which begins with Chávez singing (not half bad, actually, and apparently he has released a CD).

That encounter prompted me to ask the critical question, “Why do some leaders wear the same clothes all the time?” With Fidel I can understand, it’s habit. Back in the day, he wanted to keep up the guerrilla vibe so wore fatigues all the time, so now he segued easily into eternal Adidas. Chávez wears a red shirt in pretty much every picture I’ve seen for years, save perhaps major speeches at the UN.

The list of same-clothes leaders isn’t one you’d want to be on. Kim Jong Il with his big glasses and plain dark gray suit, Ahmadenijad with the tieless light suit, or go back to Mobutu with the leopard-skin hat. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. Before long, it becomes schtick.

Granted, just wearing a suit and changing the tie color like everyone else can be pretty dull. But Chávez should get out of that rut, and take a cue from Evo Morales—the colorful sweaters are his trademark but it’s not obsessive and he mixes it up.

Are there any political theories about leadership and fashion? Probably not.


Justin Delacour 2:17 PM  

The list of same-clothes leaders isn’t one you’d want to be on. Kim Jong Il with his big glasses and plain dark gray suit, Ahmadenijad with the tieless light suit, or go back to Mobutu with the leopard-skin hat.

Is this what passes as political analysis at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte?

I hope you can do a little bit better than that, Greg.

Greg Weeks 3:53 PM  

Maybe eating habits? Choice of pets? I have endless ideas.

Justin Delacour 4:06 PM  

Yeah, well, be sure to incorporate the "never-changes-color-of-shirt" variable as an independent variable in your next data set on the determinants of democracy. Your theoretical takeover of the sub-field will be imminent.

Miguel Centellas 4:37 PM  

Social science analysis of dress has a long history, and not just in anthropology (my wife’s field). A short list:

Jean Marrie Allman (ed). 2004. Fashioning Africa: Power and Politics of Dress. Indiana University Press.

Diane Crane. 2001. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. University of Chicago Press.

Steven Zdatny. 2006. Fashion, Work, and Politics in Modern France. Palgrave.

Elizabeth Wilson. 2003. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Rutgers University Press.

Joanne Entwistle. 2000. The Fashioned Body: Fasion, Dress and Modern Social Theory. Polity.

Malcolm Barnard. 2002. Fashion as Communication. Routledge.

Wickramasinghe Nira. 2003. Dressing the Colonised Body: Politics, Clothing and Identity in Colonial Sri Lanka. Orient Longman.

Justin Delacour 5:18 PM  

Go get 'em, fellas.

Like I said, knock the discipline dead with the "leader-never-changes-color-of-shirt" variable.

Greg Weeks 5:35 PM  

That's cool, and more than I would've expected (having zero anthropology background). Actually, it makes me wonder (more seriously than in my original post) the degree to which clothing has tended to define political movements and why.

Miguel Centellas 10:10 PM  

Clothing its into the "symbolic politics" literature. There's been a lot of work on the specific clothing choices made by socialist (and also fascist) leaders in the 1920s-1930s.

Some of those who have a very, very, very narrow view of what "social science" is might scoff. But the discipline is quite broad in what constitutes a "variable" (pretty much anything that can be operationalized). I remember a very enjoyable panel at 2005 APSA on humor in politics. One study found that Jay Leno monologues played a very important role in shaping public opinion in the runnup to Schwartzeneger's gubernatorial election.

Anonymous,  10:47 PM  

Funny post Greg.
Did you know about Colombia's bullet-proof tailor?
This is a guy who designs bullet-proof shirts. By the way, Chavez is his customer (red shirt of course).

Anonymous,  11:20 PM  

While I think Greg intended this to be tongue-in-cheek, I'd agree with Centellas that dress (in other words, "image") has a great influence on public perception of leaders. Many examples to look back upon:

Nixon sweating up a storm against Kennedy

Clinton's college sweatshirts during the 92 campaign

Reagan's perpetually dark brown hair in spite of his 70+ years

Teddy Roosevelt's round glasses

Those furry hats all the Russian leaders used to wear while watching military parades at Red Square

Senator Paul Simon's bowtie

For a geographically relevant (and current) example, take a look at Kirchner's wife (Senora K) and tell me she is not using fashion to her advantage during the current campaign.

Greg Weeks 7:48 AM  

I was joking about dictators like Mobutu, but the Paul Simon reference is really the same--he never took off the bow tie. It becomes like a brand name, though I am not sure what other conclusions we might be able to draw.

Justin Delacour 4:45 PM  

But the discipline is quite broad in what constitutes a "variable" (pretty much anything that can be operationalized).

Who ever said that the "leader-never-changes-color-of-shirt" variable couldn't be quantified and tested as a dummy variable? Oodles of things can be quantified, Miguel. The question is whether the variable is at all predictive of the kinds of outcomes that political scientists are typically interested in studying.

As far as I can tell, Greg hasn't presented any theory of causality; he has simply implied that Mobutu's leopard-skin hat and Chavez's ubiquitous red shirt are somehow related. (Where does Daniel Ortega's 1980s Ray-Bans fit into all of this? Stalwart neo-McCarthyites are dying to know).

I'm still waiting on Greg's undoubtedly oh-so-enlightening insights about the correlation between the "leader-never-changes-color-of-shirt" variable and "other-leader-wears-leopard-skin-hat" variable.

You see, generally speaking, we first try to explain how one thing might relate to another before attempting to test the relationship.

Oh, but what's a man of "science" like Miguel to do? So many variables, so little time. Better start counting hats and shirts, Miguel.

Greg Weeks 4:48 PM  

Does Ortega always wear Ray-Bans? Awesome, add him to the list with Paul Simon. I know we can come up with a theory.

Miguel Centellas 6:57 PM  

Hey, political scientists know how to probit!

Miguel Centellas 6:57 PM  

How ordinary are your least squares, baby?

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