28 February 2011

Thinking Paper # 1 - Why so Blue, Dave?

By Ron Ford-Golightly

  • Abstract
Clothes are one of the few instant messaging tools that exist in politics aside from twitter, RSS feeds etc (which I love). The aim of this paper is to explain Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to limit his suit, tie and shirt combination to blue, blue and white respectively. Why blue? Why just blue? Why now?


  • The history and symbolic language of Blue
According to Wikipedia, blue is a colour. The perception of which is evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 440–490 nm. It is considered one of the additive primary colours. On the HSV Colour Wheel, the complement of blue is yellow; that is, a colour corresponding to an equal mixture of red and green light. On a colour wheel based on traditional colour theory (RYB), the complementary colour to blue is considered to be orange (based on the Munsell colour wheel – you know... the Munsell wheel). The word itself is derived from the Old French word bleu.

Blue can represent happiness and optimism or misery and sadness depending on which part of the world you come from, which creation story and related religion you buy into or how bored you get reading about the colour blue on Wikipedia.

Most importantly for us, blue is commonly used in the Western hemisphere to symbolise the male gender in contrast to pink used for females. I shall return to this point later in the paper.

  • The tie wearing history of David Cameron
In the run-up to his election as Conservative leader in 2005, Cameron’s ties spanned the colour spectrum from red to green to silver with a strong focus on lime green which was his predominant choice following his election as Conservative leader. In 2005 David Cameron became Chameleon Dave (remember that?), in 2007 British GQ magazine named him as one of the UK’s best-dressed men and in May 2010 he became Prime Minister. Since becoming Prime Minister, Cameron’s approach to ties has been to wear his favourite dark blue day after day after day.

  • The psychology of ties
According to a study carried out by psychologist Dr Ludwig Lowenstein, of Southern England Psychological Services in Hampshire, tie colours and designs are associated with certain types of people. These findings are also supported by a study by McGullion and Jones et al (Journal of Political clothing 2010).

Gordon Brown’s purple and lilac tie wearing during his reign denoted arrogance and gaudiness. Green ties suggest the wearer is greedy, jealous, unlucky and a bit of a chancer (Cameron in his early days?). Red denotes strength, energy, ambition and leadership (Gordon Brown before he was Prime Minister?). Printed novelty ties do not require comment. Yellow ties are worn by out of the ordinary individuals with a mind of their own - like writer and comedian Stephen Fry. Nick Clegg’s adoption of the yellow tie as Deputy Prime Minister suggests that the study has flaws.

Safe ground for tie wearers were blue, red and maroon, which give the impression of being solid, powerful and calm.

  • Why blue Dave?
We might never know for sure why the Prime Minister dresses the way he does but we can offer the following explanations:

1. Rule #1 of the playground (dress like the cool kid)

The blue suit with blue tie and white shirt is the power uniform in Washington, DC and the favourite combination of one President Obama. Cameron’s attempt to echo his wardrobe, theoretically at least, creates a subconscious connection between the American and himself.

2. The safety in routine

There is a degree of safety and an air of comfort zone in his decision to dress the same every day. Routine is safe and protects us, at least to some extent, from nasty surprises that the world might throw at us. When the Prime Minister was in opposition he merely had to decide where the popular vote was heading to inform his decisions. As Prime Minister he has lost the distance from reality that being in opposition creates and has had to adapt and harden to the realities of government. A possible consequence of this instability is his shift to routine which is played out by his reliance on his lovely dark blue tie.

3. The Chameleon is dead, long live the Chameleon

As noted above, Cameron’s choice of tie was wide and varied during his days as leader of the opposition. During this period, Cameron had to work very hard to “detoxify” the Conservative brand and shift the party away from its traditional roots. Arguably, one method of doing so was through clothing – he shopped in Gap, he didn’t button his shirt to the top, he rolled his sleeves up – just like you lot. He was cool, he was normal, he was one of us. Chameleon Dave had to be all colours to all people. Upon entering (striding) into Downing Street this was less necessary. The tie thus symbolises his inner shift back to true self, blue to the core (too far, too fast!)

4. Bulk buying

In times of austerity (too far, too fast!) one has to cut back and look to save where one can. For example, I bought a 10kg bag of rice from an African shop on Rye Lane (SE15) back in July and I’m yet to even dent half of the bag – it only cost £5. The website www.Ties4Him.co.uk offers a bulk buy offer of 20 dark blue ties for £49.95 – that’s all I’m saying.

5. Orthodoxy

The single colour tie has become something dangerously akin to orthodoxy in the political class. Leading politicians rarely wear anything else other than a single colour tie with a white shirt, as though something terrible would happen in the minds of voters if they glimpsed a tie with spots or a cartoon dog on it. Cameron never deviates from the single colour tie policy. Gordon Brown was the same (red in the old days, mauve or lilac as Prime Minister).

6. Baldness

As already mentioned, blue is synonymous with masculinity in the Western hemisphere. Is it mere chance that Cameron’s adoption of a blue tie coincides with his emasculating loss of hair? The contemporary expert on Cameron’s hair loss and resulting comb back is Guardian parliamentary sketch writer, Simon Hoggart. Hoggart has been monitoring Cameron’s hairline for months now and regularly reports on the clear sea of skin upon the old Estonian’s bonce. Cameron is said to be “terrified” of doing a “William Hague” and is reported to have recruited a mathematician to work out new ways of maintaining a comb over. Could it be that he is intentionally employing the strength of blue to ensure that his metaphorical testicles remain public, shiny and potent? I’m just asking, that is all.

  • Conclusion
In line with other academic papers, I think that the answer lies in all of the above, but of course it may not. Perhaps it needs more research funding and in-depth study. My hunch if you will is that it’s because he’s going bald. I’m going bald as well and I’m terrified of also doing a “William Hague” and I find it hard to believe that Cameron is any different from any other man in the land. Perhaps for this he deserves our sympathy and should be supported in outing himself publicly as a “baldy”. I for one would support this move and congratulate him on it. Regardless of any of this, it is interesting to think that through his choice of tie, Cameron is able to communicate to the public his fear of balding, his fear of castration, his instability, insecurity, willingness to follow and lack of imagination. Just saying.

^Picture by The Prime Minister's Office, used under Creative Commons^