Fashion experts Dan Ahwa and Emma Gleason analyse what New Zealand’s new Government ministers wore for the swearing-in of Parliament, and rate who has the best style.
They say never judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to politics, our public-facing leaders should know full well the power of dress as a shortcut, a signal and an (underused) tool for effective communication.
At the swearing-in of ministers this week, our newly anointed leaders put their best feet forward with a range of formal looks that signalled a sense of individuality. Why someone would choose a pink tie over a blue tie might be an inane decision for some people, but small details can unlock a wider understanding of someone’s ability to lean into their creative right brain in times of pressure.
Yes, I know, some may argue politics and fashion do not mix, but what we choose to put on our backs is a political statement in itself.
It was there when pioneering politician Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan acutely understood the power of public image through her choice of spotlighting indigenous fashion as the youngest woman to be elected to Parliament in 1967, and it’s evident every time Winston Peters selects a statement tie from his wardrobe; whether it’s one emblazoned with the term “TGIF” or the subtle flourish of a silk handkerchief peeking out of one of his pinstriped suits.
For this week’s swearing-in with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro at Government House in Wellington, we take a look at some of the outfits that made a subtle impression. Do politicians have any sense of style?
Do our leaders understand the value of public image as a modern-day politician? Perhaps these new Cabinet ministers do. Emma Gleason and I took to task rating some of the looks that piqued our interest, with Gleason noting “from the style of politics to the politics of style, everything feels polarised now. The big question on many observant minds for next year: how do you dress when the vibe truly shifts?”
Nicola Willis, Finance Minister
Finance Minster Nicola Willis’s choice of a Maggie Marilyn checkerboard-print blazer is a promising display of support for our struggling local fashion industry, but maybe not for her. As someone with a tall task of managing our finances - starting with controversially scrapping our smoke-free laws - it’s not the best optics in a cost of living crisis when the blazer retails for $1495. By all means, this is not a critique on the blazer itself. It’s joyful, optimistic and fun (fun at Parliament!?), but maybe Nicola could have read the room here and opted for one that wasn’t so distinctive. — Dan Ahwa, Viva fashion and creative director.
I must say, I didn’t expect to see glitter at Parliament, and certainly not from a National MP — the party that positions itself as consisting of serious, sensible businesspeople — so it’s nice to see a bit of frivolity, as Dan says. And with all the strategic manoeuvring of coalition negotiations (and surely more to come), the checkerboard print feels rather apt. — Emma Gleason, NZ Herald Lifestyle deputy editor and Viva writer.
David Seymour, Regulation Minister
Seymour went for a tie reminiscent of a candy wrapper, which plays up his boyish features even more and thus renders him slightly juvenile in this photo. The subtle check suit is smart, though, and is a nice tonic to the garish choice of tie. Sorry to whoever made this tie. — DA.
That tie keeps me up at night. Where did he buy it? Was it a bespoke order in all of the Act Party’s signature colours? — EG.
Simon Watts, Climate Change Minister
It’s not always simple to find the right blue suit and blue tie, but this combination works well. Bonus points for a tie that has a well-balanced knot that’s not too broad. Luxon should take note. — DA.
I don’t love a cutaway collar - they can often look a little meagre. Also, I do want to flag the “sometimes, always, never” button rule here, which would have prevented that peekaboo moment above the belt. — EG.
Brooke van Velden, Internal Affairs Minister
Van Velden continues to display her unique brand of straight-laced conservatism with this straight-laced, monochromatic ensemble. A safe choice with a classic black dress and a cream jacket. — DA.
This reminds me of Selina Meyer, the embattled lead character of Veep, who demonstrated how a shift dress provides women in politics with a safe uniform. — EG.
Nicole McKee, Courts Minister
Courts Minster Nicole McKee looks terrific in her kākahu with a black collarless blazer and a printed dress. Adding some interest to the occasion, the pounamu drop earrings are a great touch that speak volumes about her sense of identity and pride. — DA.
A nice visual interplay here with the kākahu and the print motif on the dress. — EG.
Matt Doocey, ACC Minister
There’s only so much male politicians can do when it comes to looking sharp and professional, and a classic suit is a shortcut to telling the world that you’re the sort of reliable and respectable person people need in power. Rather than toe the company line in a predictable blue tie, this pale pink choice stood out amongst a sea of other middle-aged white men in suits for its originality. — DA.
Pastel pink! It works well with the navy suit, and would look good with a grey too. — EG.
Melissa Lee, Economic Development Minister
Melissa Lee is known for her love of a bold, printed suit. While her personality and love of design is displayed in the print of this textile, there’s something a little Mildred Pierce about the cut of this jacket which makes it feel slightly incongruous in a modern-day context, and perhaps renders you a little nervous at first glance. Maybe it’s the spectacles. Although coloured frames are de rigueur in Wellington, right? — DA.
Nice to see an interesting shoulder here, rather than a typical broad, bossy line. The slight puff feels rather theatrical — good for all the drama of politics lately! — EG.
For more fashion news, analysis and profiles, see viva.co.nz.