It is often suggested that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson uses his distinctive hair as a political tool. His trademark indomitable mane disarms critics and belies his powerful position. A quick ruffle when the cameras are on enables Johnson to assume the role of a casual “people’s man,” especially when the look is completed with a rumpled suit and barely-tucked-in shirt.
His style sets him apart from other politicians, most of whom put a lot of effort into appearing perfectly dressed for the TV cameras. It is useful for a person who tries to be popular among the masses and can also be called a populist. There is a school of political thought that focuses on the idea of belonging to the “people” and questions the traditionally well-dressed “elite”, so why not use its full form to express it?
It is a technique that dates back to the 18th century when dandy care in dress, intended to evoke cosmopolitan sophistication, was often ridiculed as being elitist and un-British. The protests of these historical fashion victims help us understand Boris as scruff.
Style your hair, lose your head
In the years before and after the French Revolution in the late 18th century, Charles James Fox (1749–1806) was a prominent figure in British progressive politics, exceptional for his positive response to events in France, and a leading advocate . Why slavery? He was widely satirized as a bloated and raucous self-proclaimed “voice of the people”.
Fox didn’t always look like this. In his youth, he had shown a taste for Parisian high fashion. When he was 14, his wealthy father arranged for him to go there to learn the art of gambling and sleeping with prostitutes. He was to be mocked back home for developing red heels, gorgeous suits, blue powder-dyed hair and a trace of a French accent.
In his early years in politics he was associated with a group of dandies called macaroni because they ate Italian pasta instead of British beef. It was widely considered seditious and dangerous to health in England at the time.
Macaroni combined such eccentricities with a taste for French fashion, gambling and drinking. He was initially laughed at for being chaste and failing with women because he was only obsessed with his appearance. But a series of sodomy scandals resulted in macaroni being linked to sexual perversion, most notably one related to Robert Jones, a socialite and army officer who was sentenced to death in 1772.
Aspiring politicians like Fox took cues. Her style quickly transformed from a fashionista to someone who enjoyed freedom from the tyranny of style. By the time of the Revolution fashion was becoming less elaborate, but Fox went far ahead in its developing disregard not only for style but also for basic cleanliness.
When, because of his radical policies he was accused of being in league with Britain’s revolutionary opponents, he defended himself by condemning his rivals as elitist and emphasizing his fellow feeling with ordinary Britons.
Fox leads the Whig Party in opposition to the Tories, so he was in the political camp opposed to Boris Johnson’s modern day Conservatives. But his behavior, and the attention he received, made him, like Johnson, one of the most satirical and parody politicians of the era. And her story shines a light on Johnson’s artificially bad hair days.
Photographs from Johnson’s early years give rise to Dandism, particularly photographs taken at the Bullingdon Club during his years as a student at the University of Oxford. He sits in front of a row of young men all dressed in the evening dress of the socially elite club.
But as Johnson’s political career developed, he became famous not only for dressing badly but for allegedly doing so out of care and deliberation. There are a lot of reports of Johnson intentionally spoiling his hair before he appeared on television. Whats up? Has he just become a slob, or has he intentionally pretended to be one?
He is a posh Englishman with an aristocratic education and a group of ultra-rich friends. But he also had ambitions to win over Labor’s electorate. Alexander Boris de Pfeiffel Johnson is the perfect name for a nerdy dandy, so he has broadened his appeal by dropping the elitist form and rebranding himself as “Boris”, which is the quintessentially loveable English rhetoric. He stands by you as your hair refuses to style itself like style gurus recommend.
His messy style is a calculated performance. He’s kind of “anti-dandy,” like Fox in front of him. Johnson’s signature husky style hides privilege by pretending to thumb his nose at her.