The Quasi-Uniform of Angela Merkel: Impact, Intension and Public Perception of the German Chancellor’s Sartorial Choice in the Reflection of its Problematic Nature

One could argue that the variety of political women who shine in today’s spotlight is wide regardless of the fact that often, referring to their position in power, they play very different roles.

From former First Ladies Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who ‘regularly make the news’ to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, celebrity turned politicians are a popular choice for gossiping (Behnke, 2017).

What they do have in common is that they attract the people’s attention and fascinate with the way they look. Their fitness, their health, their overall appearance and in addition, the way they dress – or are being dressed – is both commented on and judged, interpreted immediately for commercial purpose. Connotations are born that echo within society. Drawn is a picture that per se is usually black or white. Positive, critical or even cynical voices make their way after public performances and exposure. Regardless of their appearance, arguably each of these women gets the plenty of attention because society still seems to be very surprised, stuck with outdated, yet specific gender stereotypes that define what a women should and should not do, confused by seeing an authoritarian, liberated and outspoken female sex at the forefront of world politics in the 21st century. Whereas there are women indeed, who embellish their seemingly dominant, male counterpart – that happens to be a political leader or women, who decorate a whole country performing a predominantly representative role such as Queen Elizabeth II, now there are women who are active political leaders and sit at the ultimate positions of state control.

Angela Merkel is only one of them and her choice of clothing often consists of a classical two piece suit that reflects on formal, male dress. Since clothing ‘may be a means by which women are able to externalise their intensions in order to impact the will of others’ (Woodward 2007, p. 82), this body of work has the aim to enlist a variety of possible and likely reasons as to why the German Chancellor choses to wear what she wears and to research what influences her decision to select a specific attire.

As Christopher Breward depicts in his book The Suit, a ‘suit is usually characterised by a long-sleeved, buttoned jacket with lapels and pockets, a sleeveless waistcoat or vest worn underneath the jacket (if three-piece) and long trousers’ (2016 p. 10).

It is quintessential to take a brief look at the suit itself and some corner stones along its history, since it ‘is a complex, enduring vessel of meaning whose form raises questions about identity’ and secondly, because it is in ‘association with particular social groups and forms of labour’ (Breward, 2016 p. 35).

Even though the focus lies on women and their relationship with the suit, it is necessary to look at both sexes to draw a justifiable conclusion and interpret the results for the protagonist Angela Merkel in hindsight.

Gender has always played a predominant role in allocating garments to their wearer. After dressing up effeminate  and exuberant has been popular in England from around 1666 for both sexes, it became more fashionable for British men to dress modest , sober and develop a taste for classical, uniformly clothing, such as the original three-piece suit of 1666, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. By doing so men formed a polar opposite to the still accepted luxurious female clothing standard. It was argued that whilst men have the chance to prove themselves and their values working in ‘employments by which honour is usually gained’ such as politics, women ‘needed to achieve honour by other means’ and  hence dressed to impress – which was seen as legitimate (Kuchta, 2002 pp. 121-126).

It can be noted that dating back as far as the 17th century, gender roles were bipolar in fact and clearly defined with the authoritarian man performing the administrative, political role and the  self-embellishing women practicing domestic work, both sexes attached firmly to a specific dress-code. The concept that gender determines, justifies or prohibits a certain way of dressing and ultimately living, is deeply rooted in our history and may still resonate within conservative societies that celebrate the past.

Traveling further in time to the end of the 19th century, Breward writes about characters such as Oscar Wilde or Max Beerbohm. He briefly reflects on their dandyesk way of dressing in direct relation to their eccentric, queer lifestyles, in contrast the ‘sober suit, in this context, signifie[s] adherence to the rules and values of the mainstream’ and is furthermore described as a ‘badge of conformity at Court and in business’ (2016 p. 116-118).

On the same note, he stresses how this ‘uniform of power’ served as a ‘vehicle for dissidence and disruption’ for people who life on the edge of the patriarchal centre – which did include women at the time (Breward, 2016 p.116). This point is revisited later, when the German Chancellor surprises the public by choosing an unexpected colour for one of her suits indeed.

It is crucial to observe the original associations that came along with a traditionally worn suit in order to comment on the latter in modern day and age, with the goal to analyse it’s deeper meaning and wordless, intuitive communication with the spectator.

Of course, originally the suit was introduced as a menswear garment. But it has been appropriated by women since early on, and ‘[t]ailored garments fashioned for the needs of newly active women, but adapted from the cut of men’s military and sporting costumes, had been a familiar part of the affluent Western woman’s wardrobe since the 1860’s (and could be traced further back, to the riding habits of the late seventeenth century)’ (Breward, 2016 p. 158).

But whereas, as the above passage indicates, this use of menswear clothing as an early form of activewear was fairly conventional, some women did ‘adopt masculine styles not for the reasons of disguise or functional ease, but as a means of asserting a counter-cultural identity and deriving pleasure from the resulting dissonance’ (Breward, 2016 p.161).

Concluding from this excerpt, along with the masculine style seems to go an identity which stems from certain characteristics that are associated with the idealised wearer of the suit, who is a man. Which is a phantasy in its own right.

However this identity seems to be subverted and used for an act of quiet, intellectual rebellion against the male dominated, patriarchal centre and for gender equality, when a women makes it her own. It comes as both a surprise and shock when it happens for the first time, for this very centre, because the female sex is naively expected to ‘share[ ] in a ‘primitive’ fascination for bright, ephemeral and intricate surfaces’. On the contrary, ‘men’s suits provide[ ] a rational and ordered metaphor for stability and civilisation’, but are now picked up by women (Breward, 2016 p. 170).

An early example for a women who appropriated men’s dressing habits for the sake of the style and vessel-effect, rather than the functionality, is Radclyffe Hall, a queer author and ‘pioneer of the tailored look for women’ – who can be seen in the photograph in Fig. 1, which dates back to 1928 (Breward, 2016 p. 160 – 161):

‘The man’s suit, in all of its supposed solidity, provided a remarkably unstable and thus suitably malleable vessel for such incendiary developments, which continued to smoulder through out the remainder of the twentieth century’ – writes Breward, summarising the retrospect of the 20th century in reference to the uniform of power (2016 p. 162).

On top of that, in the second half of the 20th century designers such as Yves Saint Laurent helped to promote the image of the suit for women within mainstream society and made the latter more acceptable, as his work was published in the popular fashion magazine Vogue. With an interpretation of the men’s formal dinner suit as a womenswear look in 1966, named Le Smoking, the lines between gender-stereotypical dress-codes began to blur even more. A development that asymptotically continues to this day. In addition, Christopher Breward explains figuratively, that ‘postmodernism exploded the sense of a situated identity and rendered the agency of dandyism obsolete’. Which, to sum up, made room for a new, reformed and more liberal chapter of dressing   (2016 p.162).

A chapter that witnesses the career of 1954 born Angela Dorothea Merkel and with that her rise as a politician, becoming Germanys first female chancellor at the head of a grand coalition indeed, that consisted of the centre-right Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union plus the  centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany following the 2005 federal elections (‘Angela Merkel’, 2019).

In fact, coming back to Angela’s suit, she is seen in a specific outfit throughout her public life in a repetitive manner that reminds of a uniform. More precisely, the trousers of choice are  interchangeable and primarily black with straight legs. The jacket however, that has been created by German designer Bettina Schoenbach when Angela became Chancellorette initially, comes in more variations but is based on one very pattern regardless. In the course of the years, it developed from a straight contour with a single breasted three-button fastening to a slightly shorter, more bulky version, sometimes even collarless. There are other minor differences in details that do occur, but on the whole the changes are so minimal that the according “signature-silhouette” is striking and ever persistent (Böker, 2018).

Because ‘the influence of [ ] uniforms on civilian fashion has been “back and forth”’ as an excerpt from the book Uniforms Exposed, composed by Jennifer Craik, highlights – here referring especially to military uniforms – it is inevitable to analyse uniforms in the broadest sense. They are historically interwoven with the suit (2005, p.48).

To begin with, it is questionable whether the term uniform is justifiable for this study. Is it right to call what the German wears a uniform of power, the words that Breward chose to describe his suit?

Taking a brief look at the explanations of Nathan Joseph, who is referenced in Uniforms Exposed,

it is hinted by the former that ‘[u]niformed and quasi-uniformed bodies (people dressed individually but in similar ways – e.g. business people, clubbers, sports spectators) constantly proclaim a uniformed self (Joseph, 1986 cited in Craik,  2005 p. 4)

Since Joseph summarises that both uniformed and quasi-uniformed human beings convey a very similar picture of themselves, this allows to name what the Chancellor wears a uniform or more fittingly a quasi-uniform. Similar to somebody who works in the field of business or finance, a suit worn by a politician is perceived as a quasi-uniform and succumbs the codes of uniforms and their effects on the public in a very similar manner – in this body of work without further need for a deeper-rooted differentiation. After all a suit is the attire of choice for most male politicians at work who dress in similar ways, even though there might be minor differences in colour or cut.

In addition, Lawrence Langner, who himself is cited in the book, refers to individuals when he talks about uniforms. Uniforms which, according to Jennifer Craik, often are associated with quantities of people, where they ‘embody[ ] sameness, unity, regulation, hierarchy, status, roles’ which again makes the reference of Angela’s individual outfit as a quasi-uniform passable (2005 p. 5).

Langner notes that uniforms are tools to ‘demonstrate the authority of individuals or groups and [ ] transform this authority into the power of government’ – a statement that coincides fittingly and chronologically with the events of the election night of 2005, another point that is revisited later in the text (Langner, 1965 cited in Craik, 2005 p. 5).

It is striking how the suit itself is a vessel filled with information due its history and heritage, but that on top of this, it functions as a quasi-uniform. A quasi-uniform that standing alone is a very impactful, meaningful device and that ‘refer[s] to modes of dress that are consensually imposed as appropriate’ (Craik, 2005 p. 17).

Merkel’s outfit translates to a complex brace of information in disguise that becomes even richer in content, because she is a women.

Even though a suit on the body of a women, worn in traditional fashion, is by no means unexpected or shocking anymore, in the 21st century of central Europe and western society, one could argue that there are garments more suitable, more comfortable, more feminine, more individual and at the same time not less acceptable. For example the Kostüm – a coordinated combination of coat or jacket and skirt that is popular amongst business women.

So why is Madam Chancellor opting for the two-piece suit as a quasi-uniform? Uniforms in  general are strongly linked to attributes of the wearer and undoubtedly she takes advantage of this certainty.

Being a persona that operates under the public-eye and that is subjected to a positive resonance of votes, voters and the people, it makes sense that she ad hoc aims for the optimum in self-representation. In parts, this can be achieved by a specific look that comes with positive connotations. The outfit may represent ‘control not only of the social self but also of the inner self and its formation’ and in her position, Angela is a women who has to handle a lot of control (Craik, 2005 p.4).

Likewise, she is somebody with lots of responsibilities and consequently needs to come across convincing and trustworthy in order to be and remain successful.

After all, which other options are there? Dressing feminine and potentially more fashionable could be ‘labelled frivolous, (…) seem to … downplay the life of the mind’ (Steele, 1991 cited in Behnke 2017 p. 1)

But why are uniforms as well as quasi-uniforms communicating specific, appreciable character traits of the wearer? ‘Almost all uniforms we see nowadays in whole or part derive form traditional military or ecclesiastical uniforms and dress’ and now there are countless designs of uniforms in today’s society that reflect on their military heritage. Looking at quasi-uniforms, examples include ‘men’s “white-collar” suits; white or khaki “safari” suits in subtropical and tropical colonies; professional photographer’s multi-pocket vests and trousers; and professional women’s suits’ (Craik, 2005 pp. 21-22).

The answer to this question seems to lie in the following example: taking a look back at the Thirty Years’ War between 1618 and 1648, where France undoubtedly stood as the victorious nation, this desirable connotation of success that came along with the victorious uniform, a long woollen coat, the justaucorps, in effect made soldiers in the whole of Europe appropriate the latter (Bleckwenn, 1978 cited in Craik, 2005 p. 27).

So distinguishable elements of military uniform were picked up because they became a symbol for achievements in war thus everybody wanted to be associated with the latter, in a time where this success translated to the epitome of power.

But not only could military clothing symbolise success, besides it covered a trained body and mind, and ‘signified attributes of discipline and reliability’, when worn by ex-soldiers in civilian life, looking for new employment (Craik, 2005 p. 29).

To conclude, throughout the years of history, military uniform has also been described as a ‘link between masculine ideals and military power’, subjected to specific codes, after Britain responded to Napoleons introduction of military look-alike court-dress from the early 19th century,

establishing a modern hero cult through the likes of Nelson and Wellington that revolved around perfect masculinity (McDowell, 1997 cited in Craik, 2005 p. 35).

Moreover, Colin McDowell, another reference of Mrs Craik, argues that ‘this love affair with the spectacle of uniform and display of masculine attributes stemmed from the heady alignment of heroism, muscularity, sexual prowess and titillation’.

Craik summarises similarly, that ‘[o]f all the uniform “looks”, the military one remains the most desirable perhaps because of the heroism associated with war and the acts of soldiers’ (2005, p.48).

Looking back at Angela’s suit, we can see how it has been influenced by the history of military clothing and is hence charged with meaning. Of all the uniforms, the impact of the military uniform on the public has been the most distinct, which traces back from the late 18th century, when there was, according to Christopher Breward, an ‘increasing[ ] military appearance of elite masculine dress’ (Breward, 1995 quoted in Craik, 2005 p. 31).

Elements we can find in the modern suit as displayed by the German chancellor partially have their origin in military uniform. More specifically, the latter had an impact on elements such as ‘lapels, cuffs, straps, pocket flaps, extra buttons, buckles and sometimes rings’ as Anne Hollander depicts in Uniforms Exposed (1987, quoted in Craik, 2005 p. 31).

Besides the example of Angela Merkel, in the past other political leaders made the decision to appropriate military uniform more directly and without compromise, merging militaryesk elements with classical suit details. Such as Chinese revolutionist Mao Zedong, who can be seen in Fig.   2, when there was a ‘sharing of dressing practices between the Red Guards and their ‘great commander’’. In parts, Mao intended to symbolise his communist agenda of equality by dressing similarly to his student-led, paramilitary backers (Li, 2019 pp. 49 – 62).

Speaking of Merkel’s look as a quasi-uniform, one can’t help but notice how strongly her persona is linked to the latter, a fact that is highlighted by the following example:

In an edition of the weekly published, German news magazine, Der Spiegel from September 2018, a politically charged caricature can be found on the cover-page. It is illustrated under the art direction of Katja Kollmann and shows nothing but a red suit jacket on a coat-hanger that dangles from a rack with hooks, next to an easily recognisable necklace – which is known under the name of “Deutschlandkette”, the “Necklace of Germany”.

However, especially the red garment is used as a surrogate for the whole persona of Angela Merkel, being recurrent on another level. Since, apart from variations in colour and fabric, the base of the suit is mostly the same.

As the according, leading article by Markus Feldenkirchen in the magazine – depicts, her time as a dominant figure as the German federal chancellor is due to come to an end. ‘The Madam Chancellor should plan her resignation – as long as she can still take part in decision-making about it’. Feldenkirchen suggests just below the headline (2018 p. 6).

Figuratively, this decay is strongly hinted with different faults of the illustrated jacket. Such as a patch at the right sleeve that seems to cover a hole, frills coming off the hem at the other or a  smudge below the left breast. The best days of the garment seem to be count. The cover page with the very caricature can be seen in Fig. 3.

The Der Spiegel is a very popular magazine. The fact that the creative direction takes the risk to work with mentioned symbols, rather than feeling the need to be more obvious and addressing the punchline “What comes, when Merkel goes?” – that embellishes the cover page of the magazine in bold black letters, with a cartoon that features the actual persona non grata, indicates that the average reader is likely to identify Angela Merkel with this specific piece of clothing.

The exact jacket which is worn by Madam Chancellor on many occasions, which is used as a means of communication between the women and the outside world and supposed to signify positive features since, as analysed above, there is a historically rooted, positive connotation to the suit in general and secondly, because there is a connection to military uniform and its impressive attributes, has now become a medium to ridicule herself – in her function as a political leader. Unmistakably, Angela’s weakness is visualised in red.

Red, a colour that Angela wore several times, but that has been possibly most striking on the night of her re-election at the federal elections in October 2009. As opposed to the previous example, back then the red jacket worked as a very effective and successful medium. As Manuel Kaufmann, the author of the academical writing The Blazer-Colours of Angela Merkel points out, most striking, because the colours of her suit jacket at other occasions, for example  in the election night of 2005, were ‘very expectable and not spectacular’ (Kaufmann, 2010 p.10).

Back in 2005, these rather dull colours indicate, according to Kaufman, both the conservative direction of Angela’s grand coalition union parties and conventionalism. Conventionalism, since ‘the conventional colours of suit jackets over the past decades have been black and dark-blue’ (Kaufmann, 2010 p.10).

Even Christopher Breward points out that the ‘dark and restricted colour palette’ of a suit make it ‘appropriate as a symbol for the dominant concerns’ when he is analysing its history with a  prospect of the future (2016 p.46). After all it is the politicians who are supposed to deal with the people’s concerns. Figuratively speaking, this closes the circle to the assumption that Merkel’s wardrobe is subjected to social structures that make her wear this one quasi-uniform, a quasi-uniform in amongst many.

Manuel Kaufmann notes that, looking at women, these rules regarding the colour of clothing may not apply as precisely as to men, but certainly there’s a tendency ‘at least for the contexts work-life, politics, publicity’ (2010 p.10).

As mentioned briefly before, the 2005 federal elections turned out to be successful and Angela was appointed the first female chancellor of Germany. In sharp contrast and referring to colours, in October 2009 the Madam Chancellor surprised with a red suit jacket. Whilst Breward would very likely call the colour red of a suit inappropriate, Kaufmann summarises that this is an unexpected move, because both the colour red is widely associated with another political party, the SPD, the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany plus not a conventional colour (2010 p.10). It is a necessity to add that opposed to 2005, when Angela’s parties formed a grand coalition with the SPD, in 2009 these parties are no longer tied together (‘Angela Merkel’, 2019).

Is Merkel using the ‘uniform of power’ like Oscar Wilde and Max Beerbohm, or like any of the people who subverted the patriarchal centre by the end of the 19th century according to Breward, ‘including women, ethnic minorities, gay men and criminals’ since she arguably uses the red suit jacket as a tool, ‘as a vehicle for dissidence and disruption’ (Breward, 2016 p.116), too? Whereas this question might be hard to answer, certainly the choice over the colour of a garment opens up a window of opportunity as a means of communication here, at public or publicly broadcasted performances.

On the other hand there’s Jennifer Craik who argues that the actual meaning of a uniform often only comes to show by uniform “failures” – counterexamples, when the clothing is not set-up in an appropriate, corresponding manner. But was it all just a mistake, a failure to chose an atypical colour way? Kaufmann suggests, underlining his own interpretations with words of Jörg Meibauer,  that the shift to red, metaphorically, indicates that the future political program of the Christian Democrats approaches the one of the Social Democrats (Meibauer, 2001 cited in Kaufmann, 2010 p. 11). In other words, the choice is likely to be no coincidence, Angela’s aim is to reach out to another group of voters. SPD voters.

Nevertheless, the chosen colour could almost be described as a “failure by design”. Consciously, clothing rules, uniform rules are broken to surprise the audience, which in effect works subconsciously amongst the voters, opening doors for future opportunities.

The tactics go to plan and through both the intelligent use of symbolism and a speech, that sees the Madam Chancellor highlighting her party as a “Volkspartei”, a “people’s party for the broad centre of society, an astonishing 870.000 voters shift their vote from the SPD to the CDU (Kaufmann, 2010 p. 11).

Without failing to impress, the above example shows how clothing in the face of it’s own history, can become an opportunity, a useful medium to get information across. Which happens on a conscious or subconscious level, when words would potentially fail to convey the message in an acceptable manner. Representing a conservative party, Merkel would not ask the people literally, luridly, to not vote for the SPD but her party instead. However the seemingly sensible topic can be approached and communicated subtle, partially with the help of a tailored jacket.

In accordance with the fact that both the uniform’s and suit’s history influence what we see, or are supposed to see in the attire of Angela Merkel today, we have to take note that the two originate from a hierarchical power system that revolves around the male sex. That’s why it is important to take a closer look at the latter and especially at Merkel’s male colleagues. Colleagues who are visualised as hungry sharks in Fig 4. with helpless Angela finding herself surrounded by water with an angst-filled facial expression, still dressed in a tailored jacket (‘Im Haifischbecken der Macht’, 2005 pp. 6 – 9):

Freya Jansens, the author of the article Suit of power: fashion, politics and hegemonic masculinity in Australia analyses the correlation between dress and medial coverage referring to Australia’s female politicians, such as Julie Bishop, Quentin Bryce and Julia Gillard in juxtaposition with male politicians. Although her conclusions refer – as the title does suggest – primarily to Australia, she is pointing out that this consequent tension, this problematic imbalance between female and male politicians is both present ‘in Australia and abroad’ (Jansens 2018, p. 202). On top of that, she uses a lot of more general references that allow us to take her thought further and out of this more intrinsic context, interpreting it for our scenario and protagonist.

One of these references is Kathleen Hall Jamieson who in her book Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership examines how women can struggle between two choices, ‘appearing competent or appearing feminine’ (H. Jamieson 1995, cited in Jansens 2018, p. 204).

Certainly appearing indicates the fact that there’s a second party involved, a spectator, which in the context of female politicians in their job positions means: male politicians plus a society that is subjected to ‘the male aesthetic norm’ (Jansens 2018, p. 202).

This also explains, why these two characteristics, being competent, being feminine, are allocated on polar opposites of a twisted spectrum that is a construct of bias in itself. Within this construct moreover, being female means not to be male, not to be male means not to be competent. And because arguably gender determines certain dress-codes, a correlation between dressing female and coming across less competent – and vice versa – seems to exist. With her choice of clothing, Angela Merkel clearly opts towards the one end of the spectrum by appearing competent, whereas arguably, Australia’s first female, former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who was often seen in a skirt-jacket combination, dressed more feminine when she was in office, and would be situated towards the other end of the spectrum which can be observed in Fig 5.


Interestingly, also the political success of both women is much different with Julia Gillard on the one hand, being Prime Minister for only three years between 2010 and 2013, and the German Chancellor on the other hand, reigning since September 2005, which equals almost 14 years to this day. This might indicate that exposure and public perception influences otherwise similar careers to the one or the other extreme.

Ms Jansens seeks an answer in further social structures and identifies hegemonic masculinity at the source of the problem. As a start, hegemonic masculinity is subject of many publications by authors such as Carrigan, Chapman, Cockburn, Connell, Lee, Lichterman, Messner and last but not least Rutherford, as Mike Donaldson summarises in his work What is Hegemonic Masculinity? (1993, p. 4). Collectively, they describe the latter as:


[T]he dread of and the flight from women. A culturally idealised form, it is both a personal and a collective project, and is the common sense about breadwinning and manhood. It is exclusive, anxiety-provoking, internally and hierarchically differentiated, brutal, and violent. It is pseudo-natural, tough, contradictory, crisis-prone, rich, and socially sustained. While centrally connected with the institutions of male dominance, not all men practice it. though [sic] most benefit from it. Although cross-class. it [sic] often excludes working-class and black men. It is a lived experience and an economic and cultural force, and dependent on social arrangements. It is constructed through difficult negotiation over a life-time. Fragile it may be, but it constructs the most dangerous things we live with. Resilient, it incorporates its own critiques, but it is none the less “unravelling” (Donaldson 1993, p. 4).


Here we can filter a couple of points that are relevant for our example and to begin with, politics have been a male dominated domain for a long while, with the quota of women on the rise only ever so slightly and erratically for the last century with people such as Angela Merkel making their way through to where they are now. Even though most of the parties have now introduced internal gender quotas, according to a fairly recent analysis of author Emily Schultheis, at the end of the year 2018 ‘Germany’s share of women in politics is only middling, and the percentage of women in the German Bundestag has reached a 20-year low’ (2018). A low that is visualised by following Fig. 6 to be more specific:



In fact, out of 709 elected parliamentarians there are only 218 women, which translates to 31 percent – this data has been identified after the 2017 federal elections (Schultheis, 2018). The accomplishment of being a politically successful women may in parts be due to Angela’s way of dressing, adapting to male clothing standards, rather than questioning or challenging them to another scale which in theory gives her a much higher chance of being accepted as a leader, hinting there’s an ability to perform just like a man would, leaving her beyond possible doubt in a system that pretends to be neutral when in reality there’s the potent accusation that it’s not.


Here, the ‘importance of the workplace and other organizations [sic] in the fashioning and display of masculine and feminine bodies’ has to be highlighted as a stand-alone point (De Casanova, 2015 p.3). This suggests that working at the German Bundestag or any other political stage implies a defined dress-code per se.


Referring to male politicians and the gender quota, Schultheis adds yet another angle to the conversation by introducing the theory that men prefer somebody that they feel comfortable around and can identify with, which potentially and unsurprisingly translates to yet another man as a successor or colleague who would be chosen for a certain job over a women. A theory that is backed by the opinion of female politicians and connects to the last passage when we make the assumption that by dressing man-like, the German Chancellor might grant the men she works and interacts with and possibly even voters, a common ground which makes them feel comfortable in the first place and hence wins their affection (Schultheis, 2018). Along the same lines, Freya Jansens declares:

‘The aesthetic elements that do not seem to comply with the hegemonic masculinity will not be seen as legitimate’  (Jansens, 2018 p. 205).


On top of linking the entire political sphere of Australia to the problematic behind hegemonic masculinity, she finds signs of this outdated social construct in gender specific, different portrayal of politicians in the media. Here this gender inequality translates to: Australian female politicians have been criticised over their choice of clothing and attributed a deprecative connotation whereas their political agendas have become secondary (Jansens, 2018 pp. 202-218).

Indeed these observations align with what can be observed with Angela Merkel: whether it’s the replacement of her whole persona by just her outer shell in the cover page of Der Spiegel in 2018 or the press meltdown at the opening of the Oslo Opera House in 2008, when Angela surprised in an atypically feminine dress that didn’t fail to polarise with a deep cut décolletage. The similarities to the casus Ms Jansens criticises are obvious: All of a sudden it seemed to become irrelevant that there was an opera-opening, the journalists and photographers focused on the Chancellorette, her physicalness and dress rather than the actual event (Riekel, 2008 p.7).

Although the choice of attire has been positively recognised by many within Germany, where the bravery and self-confidence of Merkel were praised amongst few critical voices, there was an outcry after this night on international level when especially the British and Turkish press reflected on the incident without hiding their disapproval. For instance, the British Daily Mail wrote about “weapons of mass-distraction” regarding Angela’s cleavage, whilst the Turkish newspaper Radikal appeared to be “shocked”. Even though the Chancellorette attended the opening in a representative and rather léger role than a political one, both reactions can indicate why most women in the political spotlight prefer to dress understated compromising their freedom of choice due medial pressure (Jäckel, Raagaard, 2008 p. 32).


To conclude, let’s draw a line to the concept of democracy and it’s key values, a democracy like the German, parliamentary one, where votes don’t determine the best possible, perfect political outcome – no, in fact they determine a fluid result with the one carrying column: self-determination for the German people.

For specification: the one best possible outcome does not exist, it would always be subjected to the singular opinion and standpoint of the beholder asked, yet it is a struggle to find two people who share the exact same opinion especially in regards to politics. With the judgement over an outfit it behaves similarly and Jennifer Craik stresses referring to uniforms, that “it is essential that the wearer and onlooker share a common code about the meaning of the item and how to wear it’ (2005, p.8) – which may be the case in a perfect world. This means, that any German national could analyse the outfit of Angela Merkel and come to a very different conclusion than a third person who is close to the Madam Chancellor, possibly a party colleague or a political insider. Regardless of Angela’s actual intention, the synopsis of the German national would not be wrong per se and mean something to that very person because it is highly unlikely that everybody shares a common understanding. Consequently, the one best possible outfit for a female politician does not exist, or does exist, depending on individual perception. And this broad spectrum of individual perception also distorts the message that only Angela knows for certain, sending it out wordlessly but non the less similarly to a game of Chinese Whispers. Whatever Merkel choses to wear and communicate, she will always be understood and misunderstood, always gain malice and praise from the public. The ironic contrariness of this fact has been expressed by medial expert Jo Groebel who states, regarding Merkel’s sartorial choice at the opera-opening: ‘Like any other women, our Madam Chancellor has the same right on a fashionable dress. It is false to criticise her for not being sufficiently fashionable and womanly dressed – and to now argue exactly the other way round’ (2008, quoted in Jäckel, Raagaard, 2008 p. 32).


No matter what any person interprets into the look of Germany’s politically most powerful woman, ‘Clothes are not just body coverings and adornments, nor can they be understood only as metaphors of power and authority, nor as symbols, in many cases, clothes literally are authority …. Authority is literally part of the body of those who possess it’ (Cohn, 1989 cited in Craik, 2005 p.41). Willingly living in a democracy and by doing so presume it’s amenities, the people has the potential to embrace a more liberal view and ‘the possibility of generosity in […] relations with others’ (Scarth 2004, p. 86), their way of dressing, their right on self-determination. Whilst judging Angela for her political performance is healthy, the decisions that she makes as a women regarding her wardrobe should be accepted.


By choosing to represent Germany in public, Merkel has become ‘vulnerable to penetration by the anticipated gaze of others’ (Woodward, 2007 p. 82) – to exploit this vulnerability distracts from what actually matters, which is neither the gender nor the clothing of a person, but their performance in office.





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  1. Breward (2016) ‘The Suit – Form, Function & Style’, London: Reaktion Books Ltd., pp. 10-35


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