How Hong Kong officials can change to connect with the young
N. Balakrishnan urges Hong Kong’s top brass to follow the example of Japan and Singapore, and even Xi Jinping, in updating their wardrobes for wider public appeal
It won’t be long, I believe, before we see a US president wearing a hoodie to a press conference. Just as we no longer see American leaders wearing top hats, so their silk ties and suits will become rarer as the century progresses.
The reason is simple: society follows the dress codes of the successful; today, internet and social media billionaires no longer wear ties, or even formal shirts.
Hong Kong’s decision makers still seem stuck in the 1950s.
If our decision makers were to loosen their dress codes, this may be the first step to connecting with the young.
Clothes are important in both practical and symbolic terms, and it is about time that Hong Kong decision makers abandoned their outdated style. They may feel self-conscious at first. But if senior government officials cannot manage to “disrupt” their wardrobes, what hope is there for them to disrupt the taxi service vested interests and supermarket cartels? If nothing else, they may save on air conditioning bills.
People may point out that China’s leaders wear old-fashioned Western suits. But that’s a big step forward from the blue jackets of previous Chinese leaders. President Xi Jinping has even been seen wearing the latest blue-speckled camouflage fatigues during military parades.
The dress sense of Hong Kong’s cabinet looks distinctly provincial English, with Tung Chee-hwa’s crew cut being the only hint of modernity.
Even Japan’s prime minister, who still wears coattails on ceremonial occasions, has made concessions to modernity by removing his tie during the hot, humid summers in Tokyo.
If Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor looked carefully during her recent visit to Singapore’s financial district, she would have noticed few people wearing ties, as they used to in the 1980s; the city state is being filled with electric scooters and “e-bicycles”, giving it an increasingly “California” look and feel.
Whether they like it or not, senior officials in Hong Kong’s government will soon be forced to ditch the ties and shoulder pads.
So why not be proactive and change now?
It is easily instituted and would almost certainly have more of an impact on the mood and culture of the young people of Hong Kong than endless speeches about the need for “innovation” – delivered by officials who have not even managed to innovate their dress style in 50 years.
A sartorial change at the top might even give Hong Kong’s fashion design industry a needed leg up.
What have our officials got to lose, except their shoulder pads?
N. Balakrishnan is a former foreign correspondent and an entrepreneur in Southeast Asia and India