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Opinions Sun, 29 Sep 2019

Aspirational dress to ‘look the part’

There are newspaper articles that my mentor will classify thus: “Fit only for living room chatter; public discourse demands more intellectual rigour”.

Elizabeth Ohene – the veteran journalist, writing in the Daily Graphic on 11 September, expressed dismay that Ghanaians expect people who are moving up the social ladder and political appointees to dress “grand” and “look the part”; she equated it with profligate spending and hence immorality.

There is nothing wrong with being expected to “look the part”.

There is absolutely no logic that can link looking the part with “expensive” dressing or grooming which then ends as being immoral.

We heard such arguments during the heady military rule days of Chairman Rawlings, and we know the ramifications – a collective race to the bottom.

Some may opt for a minimalist philosophy of life in choosing to wear their “tamklo” (the same dress at least thrice) to a funeral or wherever without earrings – that is their choice and a statement in itself.

French president Emmanuel Macron makes such a fashion statement for political effect with his “same same” suit and tie. And of course we all remember Mandela and his shirts.

Now that should certainly not translate into labelling those with sartorial flair as immoral. Whaaat?

Ohene’s piece is titled “Maybe we want them to steal”; it confirms what my mentor has observed of the Ghanaian middle class.

“When they go to school/work abroad, they do not immerse themselves in the culture of the people so that they can understand the ethos of whatever is going on around them,” my mentor explains.

Now, some specific teaching points.

Good clothes do not have to be expensive; excellent clothing is available through shop reduction sales, second hand sales, family legacy or vintage shows; or even rental.

Indeed, good quality clothing turns out to be much cheaper – better value than poor quality clothes. Value does not equate to price.

To be able to dress the part you must understand style NOT fashion. The former is a language – a formal language with rules and or guidelines; it is timeless and has nothing to do with money.

But it has everything to do with knowledge and enlightenment and yes, refined taste; now shoot me!

Simply put, over dressing and or inappropriate dressing are the result of inexperience – if you want to be charitable.

The dress choices of most of our “appointees” are often disastrous. They certainly do not “look the part”, no matter how profligate their spending has been.

More often than not their clothing choice is poor and tasteless. This is so whether they are wearing Western or African dress; formal or casual attire.

The link Ms. Ohene makes with doling out monies (by “appointees”) to constituents following requests to solve pressing individual problems is tenuous. The problem here lies with the “appointees” – our leaders.

A firm “No” followed by a frank explanation will steer everyone in the right direction.

Of course the spineless politicians/appointees will not be able to do so based on a totally warped understanding of their role.

The link here with corruption is not borne out by the evidence.

The evidence rather suggests that in places such as Sweden and Finland where people dress better to look the part, and spend more on clothing both on per capita and purchasing power parity basis, corruption is very low.

In short, when people dress modestly but elegantly; speak fluently, intelligently and coherently; that is when they are most likely to shun corruption and “look the part”.

Our problem in Ghana is based simply on ignorance and dishonesty.

To reverse those traits, we need serious analysis of our situation and issues – much more than living room chatter or beer bar talk, in our public space.

We need rigorous analysis that informs; that is how to play and look the part.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah