If you came of age in the mid-Noughties, there’s a high chance that your musical icons dressed like they’d put the entire contents of Burton on an overly aggressive spin-cycle. Indie bands wore shrunken suits, paired with ties so thin as to almost appear two-dimensional. The overall effect conspired to make them look like sixth formers who’d grown out of the formal gear bought by their mums. It was, surely we can all agree, a dark time, sartorially speaking. So riddle me this: why is our prime minister trying to single-handedly bring back this cursed trend?
When Rishi Sunak burst onto our collective radar in 2020 in his capacity as the chancellor tasked with overseeing the Covid pandemic, his tailoring was pretty widely praised. After all, it was a major departure from the shambolic, “dressed in the dark” aesthetic pioneered by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, a man whose home was swathed in gold wallpaper but apparently lacked a single full-length mirror. “Forget the budget – who is Rishi Sunak’s tailor?” gushed The Spectator. “Not since the days of Winston Churchill and latterly Michael Heseltine has a Conservative politician looked so good on the job,” posited GQ (upon reading that sentence, Michael Portillo presumably wiped away a tear, before getting back to the serious business of cataloguing his many rainbow-hued suits).
But gradually, Sunak’s trouser legs have started creeping upwards, prompting his fashion stock to plummet. In 2021, when he was photographed sitting on a sofa while Zooming with Gordon Ramsay, his hems rose up so high they practically sat mid-calf, leaving him resembling less a top-level politician, more some sort of Victorian princeling in pantaloons. The following year, he wore a pair of suede Prada loafers to a building site: they might have been on-trend, but they didn’t exactly scream “in touch” (he later overcompensated by donning some hefty boots while delivering his “stop the boats” message at Dover; his footwear choice only led to inevitable “stop the boots” jibes on social media). Then, perched on a chair during a visit to Jaguar Land Rover this summer, his trousers once again came up short; the rogue sliver of shin on display dominated his photo opportunity.
And now, he is at it again: as he sprung out of a prime ministerial Audi to give evidence at the Covid Inquiry earlier this week, he ended up flashing several inches of sock. At least when he was being grilled, his truncated trousers couldn’t be seen (much like his pandemic WhatsApp messages). So why does the PM, who is one half of a couple worth a rumoured £529 million, dress like he’s auditioning for a coveted spot on the NME Awards Tour circa 2005? Surely he can afford a few extra inches of fabric – and if he’s getting his suits custom made, why is the fit so unusual?
It’s a conundrum that has drawn the attention of menswear expert Derek Guy, whose posts summing up the good, the bad and the ugly of tailoring regularly do the rounds on Twitter/X. In an interview with The Guardian, Guy described Sunak’s suiting vibe as characteristic of “guys in their forties who were wearing trendy clothes 20 years ago”. Savage. There has also been plenty of speculation that his penchant for a cropped trouser is all about creating an optical illusion, an attempt to make the 5ft 6in Sunak look a little taller. If so, we can surely all agree that it has backfired: if anything, the shrunk-in-the-wash suits only draw attention to his diminutive frame, by throwing his proportions all off kilter.
“I would say [the trousers are] a little bit too small, a little bit too slim, a little bit too cropped, compared to what we’re used to making,” says Savile Row trained tailor Holly Robins, who specialises in making trousers. The hem, she explains, “should always touch the front of the shoe” – a turn-up trouser “would be worn slightly shorter, but again, the front would still just kiss the shoe. You might get a tiny glimpse of sock, but nothing compared to what [Sunak] is doing.” And “if he wants to look taller, he should wear high waisted trousers.”
But – call off the fashion police – Sunak’s style does have its supporters. For men’s personal stylist and image coach Nick Hems, the PM is simply “more contemporary than he is classic with his suits”. He describes Sunak’s aesthetic as “very minimalist, but current,” noting that his wife, the heiress and former fashion designer Akshata Murty, might have influenced his look. “I think that Sunak is very, very purposeful. Everything fits in the way he wants it, [down] to the millimetre.” In other words, the cropped trousers are a carefully calibrated choice, not the result of some mess-up with the tape measure.
The look, Hems adds, is reminiscent of “a slightly younger City boy” (a nostalgic throwback to Sunak’s days at Goldman Sachs, perhaps?). Robins agrees: “It’s what we would consider more of a classic young, City worker’s uniform: that made to measure navy blue suit,” she says. “Maybe it’s to make him look younger and trendier.” Sunak is thought to buy some of his suits at London tailors Henry Herbert, and earlier this year, owner Alexander Dickinson told the Evening Standard that “if you are a young guy in the city, you are looking for something more cropped and slimmer on the bottom” (the brand declined to comment for this piece). Sunak, Hems suggests, “wants to be seen as one of the guys as well – someone that is in fashion and gets it”.
If you head into a city centre pub after work, you probably will spot plenty of exposed, slightly chilly ankles a la Rishi. And when you turn on a show like Love Island, you’ll see that these pedal-pusher proportions are inexplicably popular when it comes to casualwear too, with the show’s male contestants sporting jeans with hems that hover around the shins. Maybe Sunak’s strange silhouettes are just an attempt to tell us all that despite the multi-million fortune, he’s just one of the lads. But I’m not entirely convinced that his efforts are fooling anyone.