How Rishi Sunak became an unlikely style icon

Chloe Street
·4 min read
<p>Rishi Sunak</p> (HM Treasury)

Rishi Sunak

(HM Treasury)

While everyone is poring over Rishi Sunak’s spending review, the discerning among us are preoccupied with the finer details — what the Chancellor’s latest working portrait reveals. It is beautifully lit and shows him hard at work wearing... a hoodie over a shirt and tie. Is this acceptable? And is the hoodie cashmere?

The photo has strong head-boy-doing-his-homework vibes but somehow it works. In fact, Sunak is a man who absolutely knows how to dress. From luxe jumpers to perfectly on-point tailoring, his wardrobe is a quietly confident exercise in understated elegance.

But does it matter if a politician is well dressed? No, in the sense that a badly dressed politician can do a perfectly good job, it doesn’t.

And yet Margaret Thatcher’s power suits, Michael Foot’s donkey jacket, Jeremy Corbyn’s cap and Theresa May’s leopard print kitten heels are all proof we notice if our political leaders can work a wardrobe. And Sunak is exceptionally well dressed.

POOL/AFP via Getty Images
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Let’s start with the tailoring. Sunak has taken the humble navy suit, the quotidian uniform of men the world over, and imbued it with such finesse as to make it a political power piece, exuding strength, stability and style. Combined with his unwavering uniform of crisp, slim-fit white shirts (always white) and army of skinny pastel ties, his business attire exudes a refreshing sartorial savoir-faire quite at odds with the rest of Westminster, and one that places him in a canon, sartorially at least, with the likes of Macron, Trudeau and Obama.

“Rishi always strikes me as a details man in his interviews and I think that’s reflected in what he wears,” notes the Standard’s political reporter Sophia Sleigh. This is a man who knows his notch lapels from his peaks; no bad thing for someone spending £55 billion of public money before breakfast.

As GQ’s Chief Content Officer Jonathan Heaf puts it: “Sunak is a man in charge of things that have to be neat - spreadsheets, long equations, pie charts - and his attention to detail gives one confidence he might be a dab hand at long division.”

But arguably it’s in the casualwear department that Sunak really excels, with an off-duty wardrobe of expensive-looking, elegant basics that quietly attest to an appreciation of quality.

The image released in March featuring him WFH wearing a grey sports hoodie was the photo that spawned a thousand “Dishi Rishi” memes. It marked the start of a series of politician-off-duty casualwear (let’s call it chancellor chic?) Instagram posts featuring Sunak in a luxey wardrobe of superfine grey crewneck jumpers, navy cashmere hoodies and grey tracksuit bottoms (tracksuit bottoms! On a chancellor!), culminating in this week’s latest image released by the Treasury on Tuesday of Sunak beavering away in his office wearing another grey hoodie (possibly Loro Piana or Brunello Cucinelli) thrown over his shirt and tie. A contrived image? Almost certainly. And yet, strangely likeable.

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

“It’s the smart casual look that is always the hardest part of the wardrobe. It’s easy to wear a suit and it’s easy to do a t-shirt on holiday, but it’s that in-between look that’s difficult,” says Isabel Spearman, a stylist and ex-adviser to Samantha Cameron. “He’s nailed the aesthetic that every single politician wants to nail. He always looks slick and presentable.”

But while both those things, Sunak has gone to great lengths not to appear too slick. He’s a Star Wars lover with gap year-esque leather bracelets peeping out from his shirt cuffs. He drinks coffee from a ‘smart mug’ and has a Peloton bike. Sunak is a cool geek, and he wants us to know it.

As Sleigh notes: “It was clever comms from the Treasury to share photos of Sunak wearing a hoodie while prepping his spending review. The point was we were all sharing the images. It all adds to his likeability factor.” And that’s just it. While those around him are all messy hair, dodgy gilets and ill-fitting suits, Sunak’s quietly confident mastery of his wardrobe communicates a wider assuredness that the country is so desperately craving in a leader right now.

“If you are going to come even vaguely close to having the trust of the nation, then looking pulled together and caring about what’s on the outside is as important as the way that your brain works,” says Daniel Marks, co-founder of fashion communications agency Sciencemagic.inc. “And I think it’s often something that’s missing in British politics.”

There’s talk of the Chancellor as a potential future Tory leader. Whether he’s up to the job remains to be seen but he certainly looks the part — hoodie and all.