Personal grooming and fashion play an important role in politics

Vice President William Ruto with President Uhuru Kenyatta during the election campaign in Nairobi, September 2017. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Appearance, dress and character are some of the salient characteristics that we tend to overlook and ultimately assume that they seldom count in the choice of our political leaders.

Still, it’s important to note that the physical appearance, or outward appearance of election candidates, matters most in campaigns and political results.

By physical appearance, I do not mean beauty or physical attractiveness, but the competence of the perceived physical setting which can be the source of such an electoral advantage. Neat, alert, daring and good-looking candidates tend to gain more votes in the world.

As such, many political leaders go the extra mile to ensure that they present the best image to the public as well as in their day-to-day endeavors.

On the other hand, voters can judge candidates based on their personal characteristics such as the candidates’ compassion, honesty, competence, character, and leadership ability.

Oddly enough, dress has become an imperative vehicle through which power can be defined, sustained, negotiated, or even strengthened. Allman’s work on Shaping Africa: Power and Clothing Politics shows how power is represented, constituted, articulated and contested through dress in Africa.

From this book we learn that dress is an expression of identity since dress is an easily accessible, visible and easily modifiable indicator of an individual identity, character and status, which can facilitate the affirmation of identity and power.

For politicians and other notable figures, fashion sense plays a crucial role in how people perceive them. Many make sure everything goes down to the basics, from clothing design and hairstyle to accessories like jewelry, shoes and ties.

Shaking hands

Barack Obama, for example, flaunted the greatest mix of physique and attire in a way that crowds would not only want to see him talk to them, but touch and shake his hand as well.

Obama has not only become one of the most respected politicians in world history, but also the best dressed US president in a generation.

Obama knew very well not only how and when to wear a suit, but also whether he was wearing it well. During his campaigns he was seen in jeans and casual T-shirts, but in the office he was bound to wear those clothes that evoke an elegant image with a flavor of honor. Her favorite colors were dark suits and white shirts combined with a tie.

In our case here, the once young duo, Uhuru and Ruto, captured the imaginations of Kenyans through their fashionable dress styles.

For them, 2007 was the dawn of a time when they made their electoral credo resonate around what they called a struggle between “the old and the new”. … Like twins, they coded to the audience that they were a team.

They sparked excitement on social media with images of two young men in their dress codes; including ties, white shirts and no coats. This has been interpreted as a sign of a hard working couple.

Uhuru and Ruto were thus sending powerful messages to the nation that they were united in hard work.

While inspiring Kenyans, the ‘young’ digital couple wore uniform clothing and were defined in modern terms.

Daniel arap Moi, too, was always very conscious of his appearance and appearance in public, or appeared decently in front of the public and was well known for his good taste for fashion. He stood in public putting on trendy shoes, suits and ties that stood out.

Rumor had it that Moi hired foreign designers to work on her colorful suits and ties. This uniqueness caused people to clearly consider him above his contemporaries.

As a result, he developed an inner confidence which in turn strengthened his hold on power, thereby eliciting broad awe and deep fear responses in equal measure. He was bursting with power and those around him could feel it.

For some, he was not just a simple president, but someone who quickly assumed the status of a deity.

He has taught many politicians the importance of good grooming. His (rungu) popularly known as “fimbo ya nyayo” was his authoritative witness.

Legal language

Our main presidential contenders, especially Raila and Ruto, should now realize that Kenyan voters tend to create certain mental images of particular candidates that they would prefer to lead them.

These perceptions are important because they influence voting patterns and outcomes.

Unlike in the past, Kenyans no longer seek provisions of ritual and ethnic comfort from these candidates. An important aspect of personal character that they constantly seek is the perceived honesty and trustworthiness of applicants – what one might in our legal parlance call integrity – and this can easily be detected from the way in which candidates behave, speak and dress.

Voters are looking for trendy disciplined candidates. Those who provide a particular dress code as a signature.

About Allen L. Campbell

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