In September, Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who recently resigned after nearly six years in the roleShe did something government leaders rarely do: she modeled in a fashion show.
Wearing a high-necked cape glittering with what looked like electrified seed pods over a blue maxi dress and barefoot, she stood on a catwalk for the inaugural event of World of Wearable Art, an annual international design competition in Wellington, the capital. from New Zealand. , which was restarting after a two-year pandemic hiatus. She looked like some sort of alien priestess from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also like she was no big deal.
Ardern may have been known for many things as a leader, but her wardrobe was rarely among them. She was known, for example, for successfully getting her country through COVID; for his skillful handling of a mass shooting at two mosques; for defending the “politics of kindness”; for becoming, at 37, one of the youngest prime ministers ever elected in New Zealand; for having a baby while she was in office; and now, for being one of the rare officials who resigned of her own free will.
Yet throughout her time in office, she also understood that fashion is a political tool, one that she wielded so easily and subtly in the service of her agenda that most people didn’t even realize it was happening. .
In doing so, she spearheaded a new generation of women in politics, including Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in her denim and leather garments and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her hoops and earrings. reds. lipstick, which have eschewed the uniform equality of the women who came before. These include politicians like Angela Merkel, Kamala Harris (currently taking refuge in a series of dark pantsuits) and even Margaret Thatcher, with her bow on her pussy. Instead, younger women are developing their own idiosyncratic leadership style, one that treats image-making as an opportunity rather than a responsibility.
One that recognizes that in the visual age, it’s as much a part of a communication strategy as any official statement, and that “personal appearance” doesn’t mean just showing up.
It’s quite a significant change.
For decades, after all, women in politics have been on the defensive when it comes to clothing, viewing it as a gender banner often used to paint them as shallow and less substantial than their male counterparts. The solution was to adopt, or adapt, the male uniform. Affirm, if asked, that they “never think about clothes”. And then use pretty much the same thing day after day.
But from the start of her tenure in 2017, Ardern took a different approach, one that weaponized her wardrobe for her own purposes rather than allowing it to be used against her. He used fashion as a form of outreach, not just as a way to support and market the local industry (although he did that too), but as a way to connect with his constituents on a personal level.
“She showed that women in leadership positions could be approachable,” said Emilia Wickstead, a London-based New Zealand-born designer whose dress Ardern wore when she visited Boris Johnson, then prime minister, on a trip to Britain. last year. And she did it partly through her clothes.
He wore New Zealand designers almost exclusively from his first election night, when he donned a burgundy jacket and matching shirt from New Zealand label Maaike. And not just one label: many. (A short list includes Juliette Hogan, Kate Sylvester, Ingrid Starnes, Karen Walker, Jessica McCormack, and Wickstead.) She wore them when she was photographed for American Vogue; when Meghan Markle chose her for the cover of British Vogue, she was a guest editor; and for the cover of Time magazine. She wore a bright pink Juliette Hogan outfit on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
And he defined “New Zealand designers” as broadly as possible, wearing a traditional Maori kahu huruhuru feathered cape, a symbol of power and respect, at the Commonwealth Dinner at Buckingham Palace in 2018, and wearing a feather stole for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. II in September, bespoke by Maori designer Kiri Nathan. She (she also wore the feather cloak for her last official speech to the country as prime minister, given in honor of the 150th birthday of the Tahupotiki prophet Wiremu Ratana, the Maori spiritual leader).
The depiction and symbolism, in two events most of the world experienced only in photos, make a point.
But perhaps most memorable is that he wore a black headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims after an Australian gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, transforming what was often seen as a lightning rod for the public debate and bias in a community statement. .
When Ardern reopened the borders to Australians in April as the pandemic abated and showed up at the airport to welcome them, she told a news program that she had deliberately worn a green dress because green and gold are the colors Australian nationals. He laughed about it, but that didn’t make it any less revealing. Or cash. In fact, making fun of his clothes became one of his trademarks. He told The New Yorker in 2018 that he was wearing two pairs of Spanx when he appeared on “The Late Show.” In 2020, he posted a close-up of a pink jacket on Instagram with the note: “Why is it only when you’re as far away from a change of clothes as possible that you realize you have diaper cream on it?”
After being isolated by COVID, she posted a photo with the caption: “Somehow I’m still ending the night in the same hoodie I’ve been wearing for days.”