Nothing on the Green party, but last week’s advice from its candidate for Hayes and Harlington, Alick Munro, that volunteers canvassing the green message should dress mainstream floored us. How, pray, does one interpret mainstream when it comes to political clothing: dress more like David Cameron? Dress nothing like David Cameron? We asked five fashion experts to help define the term.
Robert Johnston, style director, GQ
In our mind’s eye, most of us think we can picture what is mainstream. But to put it succinctly, it’s about dressing to please others rather than ourselves. In this context [canvassing], it’s about playing it safe – especially if you imagine you’re meeting people you don’t know. They’re essentially saying: don’t wear a poncho or sandals, don’t dress like Swampy.
To a lot of us, mainstream means trainers, maybe Air Jordans or high tops, a clean shirt or T-shirt and maybe a smart jacket. I guess that’s the main difference between what you’d normally wear and this – smartness. If you’re dressing to please someone, you’ll usually make more of an effort. We have to work on the assumption that people consider what they’re putting on, that they’ve worn something on purpose, so, if you meet someone who is wearing a dirty T-shirt that they’ve picked up from the bathroom floor, that suggests [they] don’t really give a shit. If you wear something brash and provocative, the same applies – that’s what you’re trying to do.
If it were me pavement pounding, I’d go for safe and comfortable – I always wear Onitsuka Tiger trainers, so those with jeans, a white T-shirt and a navy blazer. I had a friend who worked for Cameron when he was in opposition. [My friend] was going to an event in Clapham Junction and turned up in shorts and a polo shirt – and got a dressing down from Cameron. Fair dos really – even if it’s safe and inoffensive, there’s a time and a place for wearing that sort of thing.
A mainstream look to me is something that translates up and down the country as being relatively “on trend”. It usually refers to looks that have been around for a good few seasons that people feel comfortable buying into, and which make the wearer feel they look current. For women, this could be skinny jeans and skate shoes. For men, logo T-shirts and turned-up chinos. For SS15 the 70s hippy trend is bound to be something that girls everywhere will buy into – it will be on every high street (and in every weekly magazine once festival season kicks off). Also: having been a mainstay in past seasons, it doesn’t feel unwearable and scary.
There’s a difference between mainstream looks for the fashion-conscious masses and mainstream style for this political environment. For example, jumpsuits have switched from a relatively outgoing choice to a regular shop-floor fixture – but is that a practical option for a party member? I would imagine that in political “mainstream style” we’re talking about smart and not casual: suiting, sombre colours, nothing too outré, trend-driven or revealing – but that’s all fairly standard officewear stuff. Jeans, T-shirts and sneakers are beyond mainstream, they are that staple, but I very much doubt such items will be OKd for action. These guidelines avoid wardrobe malfunctions and presumably the potential for anyone to be judged on their appearance. But is that really the case? For all we know, voters are looking for candidates with a bit of verve and personality – and one instant way to translate this is undeniably via clothing.
Johnny Davis, deputy editor, Esquire
It’s a nonsense term. By “mainstream”, they presumably mean “not overly trendy”. But the line between trendy and high street has evaporated: you could now wander blindfold into any high-street clothes shop and what you came out with would still be on trend, a big difference from my teenage years, when you could spot the kids dressed by their mum from CA a mile off.
It’s also really, really hard not to be “on trend” these days, because the same type of stuff is sold everywhere. The difference is in quality and cut: if a canvassing politician wants to appear approachable, comfortable, etc, and also look good, then he could do worse than wear a navy suit, a block-colour shirt and a crew-neck navy jumper. That might sound “mainstream” or conservative with a small c, but if his suit is from Gieves Hawkes and his jumper from John Smedley, he won’t be mainstream, he’ll be wearing classics that will last him for ever – whether he gets elected or not.
There are perjorative connotations to “mainstream” style – and it’s certainly about a lack of imagination. Slavishly following trends is “mainstream”, as is wearing brands which are ubiquitous but not “classic”. A Chanel 2.55 handbag will never be mainstream, nor will a white shirt or cashmere sweater. The whole normcore thing was about anonymity through wearing mass-brands, but the relevant labels – like Levi’s and Converse – have such a strong narrative that they have become icons. What mainstream brands lack is a credible narrative – there’s no heritage or “soul” to the products, they are just popular right now. Basically, “mainstream” is mall-bought, populist and so of the moment you can date your photo album by when your wore it. There’s no longevity or originality.