Dress code means politics in Greece too

Dress code means politics in Greece too

Approaching the final days of this year and getting caught in the laziness of a prolonged festive season, I was seriously pondering whether I should offer you a sequel on the chaotic atmosphere in Greece ahead of a second vote for the Presidential elections this Wednesday.

But then my eyes fell upon Hürriyet’s front page article by Şebnem Turhan yesterday on the “loosening of ties in Turkey.” It was like a breath of fresh air in an environment of chokingly depressing news coming out from both countries; an environment in which a journalist feels at a loss, cannot see things clearly, cannot forecast correctly and cannot be sure of the impact of the present on the future. 

So, the “tie” saved my day. Not exactly the tie, but another male fashion accessory which had a deep impact on Greek politics some time ago; so much so that even today it defines somebody’s political identity.

When Andreas Papandreou returned to Greece in August 1974, he was welcomed by ecstatic crowds at the airport. They saw him as a new socialist leader who would revive their country after a seven-year military rule. And the message that he was going to be the leader who would guide Greece towards a new era became apparent to the Greeks from the moment he stepped out of his plane. He was wearing a black leather jacket, sported long sideburns, longish hair and a wide modern watch on his wrist.

The person his followers saw that evening was in complete contrast to his image in the early 60s, when he was photographed in a dark suit and tie as Minister of Economic Coordination in his father George Papandreou’s centrist government. And when on the 3rd of September, 1974, Andreas Papandreou announced the foundation of his new Socialist Party in a hotel in central Athens, he again broke political taboos when he chose not to announce the event in a dark suit and tie, but rather in a casual outfit with an open shirt.

But for a party leader who touted “allaghi” (change) as the main motto of his modern party and knocked over the political traditions in Greece, his dress code came to symbolize modernity and a break from the past.  

Andreas Papandreou was the first Greek political leader who was addressed by his first name by his people. His casual style of dress reminded more of a progressive academic than a classical politician. A highly popular and populist leader who dominated Greek politics until his death in 1996, he managed to have a huge impact on his massive following, who imitated his style.

Few in Greece in the early 70s would have imagined their prime minister as a man who would not deliver a major speech in parliament without a tie. Andreas did so, and people loved this as a message of liberation and a ticket to the modern world. But it was his “turtleneck” tops which became the absolute symbol of his era. His ministers, party executives, party members, or simple voters imitated their leader to such an extent that the “turtleneck” (known as zhivago) became synonymous with PASOK politics.

However, if Andreas Papandreou’s turtleneck was meant to be a statement for a new socialist vision from the outset, the eventual decline of the party to a populist political movement gave the turtleneck a bad name, especially after several of those ministers wearing it were found to be involved in deep corruption.

In spite of that, strong symbols die hard in the popular memory. When the leader of the leftist opposition in Greece, Alexis Tsipras - aspiring to become the next prime minister - chose to wear a turtleneck last year at a public appearance, he became the focus of strong attacks from his political opponents for wanting to become “the new Andreas.” To the members of the newly-revamped PASOK, for whom the image of their old leader has not faded, for any other politician to wear a turtleneck top is almost a blasphemy. “In order to become Andreas Papandreou, it is not enough to wear a turtleneck top,” cried one former minister in the Parliament.  

Tsipras has not been seen with a turtleneck since then, but he has introduced a new casual dress code: he has never been seen wearing a tie and prefers white shirts. The new image of tie-less, white-shirted politicians is now the dress code of most Syriza members.

A short note: George Papandreou’s short-lived government was not enough to allow his own dress code to spread, although you could still see his political friends choosing a long, fashionable scarf for their daily outfit.