Fashion, Politics and Personality: The rise of Personalit-ocracy


Two things have had me thinking lately –

  1. Julia Gillard’s quote in her pre-spill interview “we all know politics isn’t about personality”.
  2. The role that personality plays over policy in contemporary politics.

I recently started an internship at an image consultancy firm, and it re-ignited my train of thought. As something of a politically and fashionably aware person – depending on the day, I pride myself on one over the other, these days perhaps more the latter [!]

What I’m learning through my internship so far is that image is not just physical image – your fashion sense, personal presentation; but that it relies very largely on personality. Fun fact for the day – it takes 3 seconds to make a first impression. Meaning, you’ve really only got to look at someone and you essentially judge them, whether they speak to you or not – Which leaves politicians in a sticky predicament! Most people only encounter politicians briefly through T.V, Radio and maybe social media – the carefully crafted and spliced together to convey a certain way of thinking about them, positively or negatively; so they don’t get much a of a chance to make a good impression with the vast majority of voters. Combined with media saturation, image is a lot to grapple with.

Over several pages of notes, I have condensed my thoughts into a few points:

  1. In Politics, fashion is a fairly rigid medium; not necessarily one of self-expression.
  2. Democracy has fostered the notion of personality over policy – voting has become a decision of who you *like* better, not so much who has the better/more viable policy.

Fashioning an Image:

The House of Representatives and the House of Prada have nothing in common. In politics, fashion is not about self-expression. It’s not a fashion blogger’s dream sphere; no studs/spikes/fresh florals/whimsical polka dots/bold colour blocking/dashes of fluoro or a flash of animal print. It is an interesting psychological point of thought – while the way in which politicians dress can affect their likeability in some cases [Julia Gillard]. Moreover, politicians dress appropriately for a corporate profession – sophisticated and subtle, but we end up thinking about them like this:


Fashion and politics are not well suited, but you need to be well suited to be in politics.

Personality over Policy?

Abraham Lincoln sums up Democracy pretty nicely:

Government of the people, by the people, for the people”

The interpreted sentiment of this quote is that elected representatives will serve the interest of those who elect them; and this Government will be well liked and be politically efficient in producing policies that benefit everyone.

Democracy is flawed. Not except in highly exceptional circumstances, does one single candidate receive unanimous support of their entire electorate. An MP is elected by the majority, Governments are then made by the party or coalition who form the *majority* in the Lower House.

People will vote for ideas they agree with, different ideas exist, therefore not everyone will vote the same.

Therefore, Politicians need an ace up their sleeve – an extra way to appeal to “the people”.

Cue: Personality.

It adds an extra facet to party policy/their election campaign that no-one else can precisely mimic. We’re taught inherently by figures like our parents that individuality is an asset. Our lassiez-faire global economy welcomes and rewards [at your own risk] individual investment. Contemporary [Capitalist] society values the role of the individual.

Karl Marx, famous for his beard and his left-wing tendencies, agrees that Capitalism fosters individualism. But for him, it is zero-sum – one idea/person/group will benefit at the cost of another; while one individual benefits, it is at the cost of another individual or a group. At election time, candidates aim to distinguish themselves at the cost of the others in order to get elected – the same idea applies to political parties on a group level.

Democracy is very much zero sum, and appears cruel; but all candidates who attempt to enter, not just the ones that win into the institution of Parliament know that there can only be one winner regardless if it’s two of them or ten of them in the running. Although veiled by a competitive nature, Democracy encourages participation and group decision-making, unlike authoritarian systems. When I hear people whinging about the “state of politics in Australia!!” I remind them of their privilege to vote and the upcoming election [whenever it ends up being, Kevin?] – we have the choice to vote how we please, others don’t.

As seen in Stalinist Russia, Hitler’s Germany, The Kim Dynasty in North Korea and the Lee’s in Singapore – there was an emphasis on the personality of the leader as an almighty, near-celestial, all present, all-knowing, revered figure.

Democracy is based on a similar notion – personality as a more flexible tool to generate appeal. Between the aforementioned examples, there is a differing degree of intensity in authoritarianism. All political ideas are based on varying degrees/emphases on authority – Democracy falls into a lesser category when compared to Stalinist Russia.

Personality is more flexible and subjective – certain parts of someone’s personality can be marketed, whereas others can be hidden. I.e. Kevin Rudd’s ability to speak Mandarin enhancing his competency for foreign affairs or appeal to Asian voters [against John Howard]:

Alternatively, his temper was tactically ‘hidden’ – then this video appeared:

It’s all very clever marketing don’t you think?

Obama’s “Yes We Can”, Kevin ’07, “It’s Time” with Gough Whitlam, Julia Gillard’s “Moving Forward” — we all remember them well by having them repeated to us constantly through the media, but do we remember the detail of the policies?

Food for thought:

Since Kevin Rudd rolled Julia Gillard, he’s trying to re-invent his image to appeal to disillusioned ALP voters and attract new voters [at the cost of the Liberals]. He recently posted this photo:

He’s forcefully campaigning his personality, his individuality – not his policies?

– Considering personality in politics, how does Abraham Lincoln’s quote change? Does it look like this:

Government of people, delivered by personality, with the interest of getting elected


When we do get an election date, don’t miss the forest for the trees.

Vote wisely, this is the one-in-three year opportunity where politicians are fully accountable to us, the voters.

Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing!



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