Shipping to
United States

Dressing for power has always been a problem of pomp versus accessibility. The Egyptians looked frankly absurd with those wigs and carnival hats. The Romans got it a bit better with golden laurel wreaths and an imperial purple dye made from sea snails. It was a colour that never faded, and in fact, grew brighter with sunlight, therefore being not just a toga but also a parable.

But one only has to look at some of today's less salubrious world leaders (Colonel Gaddafi springs to mind for some reason) - many of whom are packing away their uniforms and self-gifted medals in preparation for imminent exile in some suburban city that few can pinpoint on a map - to see how many of them are utterly clueless when it comes to platinum-card leadership dressing.

Perhaps the most successful megalomaniac power dresser was a Chinese man who came up with a suit that was like Jil Sander crossed with the Artful Dodger, with its distinctive practical touch of military and a bit of agriculture. Chairman Mao's suit is one of the greatest designs of the 20th century. The abiding problem with a dictator is: do you look like the people you rule or do you look imposing and different? Instead of dressing like everyone else, Chairman Mao brilliantly dressed differently, and then had everyone dress like him. Every time they looked in the mirror they saw the Mao Tse-tung brand.

Very, very few heads of state look good in military uniforms - they invariably come across all Gilbert and Sullivan - while the diplomatic lounge suit makes the line-up of European heads of state resemble a tax lawyers' annual board meeting. The trouble with politicians in suits is that the suits are rarely well made and the whole tie thing is so studied and constipated. You know that there are teams of people choosing the right tie. It's embarrassing for a grown man, and Windsor knots should be banned: they're just way too CNN pundit.

Those who've managed to get it right, after Chairman Mao, and President Mobutu Sese Soku from the Congo, with his great leopard-skin toque and the Jarvis Cocker glasses, tend to have little in common. I would suggest Marshal Tito, for one, was bang on the buck: if you are going to do the whole military thing, Marshal Tito's white uniforms were properly elegant. But the most successful of the lot at dressing the part of powerful leader during times of trouble wasn't a dictator at all: it was President Abraham Lincoln. In the middle of a civil war he looked like a minister, an undertaker and as imposing as a grey tree. Basic black with a good hat, you can't go wrong.

raplh lauren