Fifty shades of parliament

Fifty shades of parliament

How does a “badass motherf..ker” decide on an outfit?

Are cobalt and coral now the colours one wears to serve up a supersize smackdown?

Julia Gillard on the fashion attack.

Julia Gillard on the fashion attack.Credit:Andrew Meares

In recent times, the leaders of our land girt by sea would been forgiven for wearing hazmat suits up on Capital Hill, given the fireworks that have erupted and venom that’s flown around the House of Representatives, but instead they continue to show their true colours (think Cyndi Lauper not outlaw motor cycle gang).

Rather than black and other colours traditionally associated with power, shades of turquoise, dusty rose and even some grey (insert winky face) dominated the front bench last week as Julia Gillard presented one of her most rousing performances as PM.


This look into Question Time style isn’t a “who wore it best” fashion attack, it’s about an alternative therapy called “colour psychology” and investigating what sartorial choices say about the state of our politicians rather than their policies.

Image consultants adhere to the psychological responses stimulated by colour. Many say being strategic when selecting a shirt/tie/dress in the morning can strongly influence perception and there are big advantages to gain if certain rules of colour are applied correctly.

Dr Zena O’Connor, who is a colour theory lecturer at the University of New South Wales and College of Fine Arts, says the psychology behind colour choices can be subtle nuances that make a big impact.

“Colour associations, which are learned rather than hard-wired, can be used quite effectively in certain contexts,” she said.

“Notions about colour “psychology” have often been branded trivial but some statesmen have used colour and colour branding to great effect such as Napoleon.”

Closer to home and Gillard’s royal blue blazer, which she donned on the day of reckoning, as well as Tony Abbott’s tie and beige bouclé as seen on Julie Bishop, all caught the attention of colour, style and image experts.

Dr O’Connor suggested Gillard’s blue hue helped her align with profitable companies as well as US President Barack Obama.

“Blue is a colour that often features in the corporate identities and logos of some of the largest and most profitable companies of the 21st century like Facebook and Google. Cobalt blue is also a colour worn by Barack Obama on his neckties. It was a clever choice,” she added.

How does a “badass motherf..ker” decide on an outfit?

“Gillard often wears red jackets, however this colour would have come across as too aggressive given the nature of the debate in parliament. She often tends to wear colours that are strong like red, cobalt and emerald green and she rarely wears pastel colours. My thoughts are that these stronger colours help to convey the strength of her character and her resolve as a politician.”

Founding director of image management consultancy EGAMI, Natasha Di Ciano, says there was a lot of strategy at play when Gillard clashed red and blue last week.

“Red portrays courage and strength and is considered a more masculine colour while blue projects professionalism and trust. In parliament, her colour choices are designed to position her with influence,” Ms Di Ciano said.

She added Ms Gillard’s front bench buddies including Jenny Macklin who rocked a similar coral-cobalt combo, Wayne Swan’s stripy blue tie and Tanya Plibersek who worked in some blue to offset her “neutral” grey pant suit presented more of a personable look.

“They presented an image that is less traditional and more personalised with regards to style. The use of warm based colours also suggests approachability.”

Abbott’s ties spoke louder than he did according to Di Ciano.

“It was the cool temperature of his tie that projected the strongest message. The icy-blue drew on the more insensitive side associated with blue and created perceptions such as logic, coldness and lack of emotion.”

Strictly sartorially speaking stylist and e-retailer, Zara Bryson, has noticed a “race for the White House” type approach is taking place by the ladies of the lower House.

While Gillard, with her ill-fitting blazers projects an Ann Romney style look (although I’m yet to see her shop at Costco), Deputy Leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop is the fashion front runner.

“She appears to be channeling a ‘First Lady’ look a la Michelle Obama, as opposed to fostering a fierce leader vibe like Julia,” Ms Bryson said.

“Whether it echoes her, or lack of, leadership ambitions or not is yet to be seen, but she is definitely dressing like a deputy in a supporting role. She goes for flattering tones of cream and beige in bouclé Chanel-esque skirt suits with a nipped in waist. This is a classic, chic look for an upper class woman and she wears it well.”

Unlike the image specialists, Bryson argues Abbott’s baby blue tie was a “nod to his feminine side” and when it comes to dressing he’s snappier than a crocodile.


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tony have a fashion fail, aside from the Speedos, but he does have a very easy figure to dress and likes his suits well tailored.”

Imagine if AC Nielson had a fashion poll? Call it trash, call it trite but at least there would be more employment for creative types.

Jenna Clarke is fashion and lifestyle writer/editor with Fairfax Media.

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