Every would-be dictator has some way of making their power felt outside their own country. Some take to the international stage; others rely on social media to extend their influence. But while most world leaders engage in geopolitics through sword, speech, and coin, many hardened autocrats may be better suited by a softer form of power: fashion.
"Not all the world's dictators are clotheshorses," writes Foreign Policy's Suzanne Merkelson, "but as these leaders show, sometimes politics, power, and polyester combine to make fashion magic." Take North Korea's Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il:
Kim Jong-Il has recently gone from man of mystery to international fashion icon. While North Korean media frequently spit out unintentionally comedic headlines, it seemed oddly appropriate when the Communist Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun boasted in April that Kim's trademark khaki jumpsuit was now "chic." Could it be his look--"two-piece army suit, bouffant hairdo, Ray-ban sunglasses, and platform shoes," as one ABC reporter put it--offers some inspiration during these austere times? In any case his fashion sense has more to do with function than form. Apparently, the often paunchy-looking ecru garment conceals a bullet-proof vest, while the hairdo and shoes are height-enhancers for the diminutive factor.
In all likelihood, American consumers won't be rushing to snag the latest line of "Ahmadinejad-casual" sport coats, and Gaddafi's dashiki-chic won't be gracing the catwalks of New York or Paris anytime soon. But appearance is everything, and when the intricacies of geopolitics are carried out in face-to-face, leader-to-leader negotiations, a little stylistic flair might impress--or intimidate--enough to shape the delicate balance of international relations.
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