We Don’t Need Our Leaders To Be Fashionable
Last week, Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore’s Prime Minister, received online criticism for the pantsuit that she wore to a dinner at the White House.

Amidst the milieu of social commentary, the distinct narrative which stood out was that Singaporeans were generally embarrassed by her lack of dress sense.

This is troubling given that outside of Singapore, no one really cared about our leader’s lack of fashion sense.

Seriously, no one gave a fuck.

Respected media channels such as BBC and Quartz both reported on the fact that Ho Ching, one of the most powerful women in the world, was carrying a “goofy, dinosaur – flecked denim pouch sold for $11”.

Not once did they mention the sloppy open – toed sandals (aren’t mandals a thing?), or the drabness of her general attire.

Even In Style, a global fashion magazine, who commented on Michelle Obama’s dress, were notably silent on Ho Ching’s dress sense.

Perhaps they had nothing good to say, but if that’s the case, then her lack of fashion sense was clearly not important enough to comment on.

What was clearly newsworthy was that a world leader would have the confidence to attend an event at the White House, carrying a cheap purse made by an autistic teenager – a cause which she seems to support.

Cynically, this is probably a shrewd public relations move on her part, but even then, I would argue that it is still a great representation of the Singapore brand, and we have nothing to be embarrassed about.

And while it can be argued that hiring a stylist would only be good for her image, we should also consider how this ties in with her personal brand.

In the same way we don’t expect Angela Merkel to wear haute couture, Steve Jobs to have suited up, or Donald Trump to change his hairpiece, we should not be expecting the same from Ho Ching as it would be unauthentic.

Being fashionable is probably unimportant to Ho Ching, and it should remain that way until she chooses to make it a priority.

There’s respect to be had for leaders who are unapologetic about their personal brands – even if that means making terrible fashion choices.

Furthermore, and at the risk of opening up a can of worms, isn’t it a little sexist to expect her to be more fashionable? We certainly don’t place as much pressure on the male politicians.

Whatever it is, leaders should have a thick skin and not cave in to criticism unless it has a discernible impact on how they run the country. I for one would respect Ho Ching a lot less if she started pandering to the fashion critics.

Ultimately, our reactions to this incident are noteworthy if only because it does force us to consider the Singapore brand, and how we would like that to be represented on the world stage.

What is the Singapore brand? And who gets to decide how we are represented?

If Singapore is about professional competence, world class efficiency and civic mindedness, then Ho Ching is clearly a great representation of the brand, and her fashion choices are then unimportant.

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