Canvas of lies: what Dominic Cummings tote bag and gilets tell

The Guardian Lifestyle 2 months ago

Dominic Cummings might be best known for being found in contempt of parliament and masterminding its prorogation. But his most egregious act is possibly wearing – day-in, day-out – a gilet.

French for vest, this item of clothing would seem to be the extremely Europhobic Cummings’ sartorial bread and butter. He is rarely seen not wearing one – or without the minutes for a covert plan to undermine democracy.

Cummings’ style has caught the eye of politicos, which some dismiss as a trivial matter. But in the political arena, image matters. Margaret Thatcher’s 80s power suits were scrutinised; David Cameron’s switching of his parting was national news (Cameron later nominated his barber for an MBE); and eyebrows were raised at Theresa May’s favourite and incongruous Frida Kahlo bracelet.

With Cummings, analysis of his clothing also acts as a knowledge gap-filler, because the man seemingly running the country is an enigma. We must mine each aspect of his character for clues as to what’s next. Sure, Cummings has a blog (now dormant) – and I’m not going to say it doesn’t have some clever ideas – but it also reads as though he went to a lot of evening classes at Alain de Botton’s The School of Life.

In the 19th century, a gilet was more frequently an embroidered waistcoat and closer to a jerkin (a close-fitting open vest popular in the 16th century). Nowadays, it is a versatile garment: a sporty, padded body-warmer made popular by snowboarders; a reversible combination of suede and shearling for late-morning coffees or school runs; or the rabbit fur that Sienna Miller teamed with Ugg boots and every single festival between 2002 and 2004, AKA the era of boho.

In the era of Bojo, Cummings’ favourite item is quilted and navy blue with a burgundy trim. I did think it might be Barbour, which would be fitting for a man whose father-in-law lives in a castle. But, on closer inspection, I spotted a hare logo and discovered it is made by Joules. A similar item – in marine navy – goes for an extremely reasonable £69.95 (in clearance). Joules is a British company (thank God!) inspired by “country lifestyles”. As fashion journalist and Vogue columnist Raven Smith observes: “He dresses like a student popping to the 24-hour garage for cereal during a Fortnite binge. With all the sweatshirts-com-epaulettes, he’s over-layering so it’s a filo pastry of threadbare athleisure. A proper coat would do.”

Plans for global domination … Pinky and the Brain, AKA Dominic Cummings. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

Cummings reminds me of Brain from Steven Spielberg’s Pinky and the Brain. This isn’t based on the fact he is bald. Many people are bald. It is because of the lightbulb shape of his skull, his pointy ears and popping eyes, and the fact that his ambition is the same as Brain’s: taking over the world.

Very occasionally, Brain wears a suit when plotting. In 2001, when he was campaign director at Business for Sterling, Cummings wore a suit. Floppy but thinning hair, hands jauntily in his pockets – and in another shot, a cigarette languidly between his fingers – the vibe is very “author photograph on the inside jacket of a self-published novel”.

Dominic Cummings in 2001 with his ‘author of a self-published novel’ look. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

The shirt is open-necked. It has stayed open-necked since, but these days Cummings wears his shirts with more heavage (male cleavage) on show. His signature twist is to rock a collar with one side tucked and the other not, embracing the asymmetrical trend exemplified by the much talked about Ksenia Schnaider jeans. At least Cummings’ shirts are mostly white, which, I used to think, was a classic staple difficult to get wrong. Except it is unclear whether Cummings owns an iron (perhaps too much a signifier of rich remainers). Mostly, he wears his shirts spilling over his jeans, apart from when he once tucked it in with a brown belt, which did not do its job, revealing the evil genius’s black boxers in a look more commonly seen in a drill video than on the steps of No 10.

Dominic Cummings’ unequal collar look. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

When going casual, Cummings favours shapeless T-shirts in block colours with obscure logos. You might think nothing much can be gleaned from Cummings’ old tees, except one of these logos looks a little like a wigwam emitting a signal. Further research reveals that it is the logo of Sci Foo camp, described as an “unconference” for emerging technology and scientific ideas. Unconference. Classic Dom. (The camps are held annually at the Googleplex in California.) Take his shoes off and this could be a Steve Hilton look.

Dominic Cummings in his Sci Foo T-shirt. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Also: tote bags. Cummings loves a tote. He carries around a Vote Leave-branded one in the manner of someone who went to Daunt, once. It’s from 2016, of course, this canvas of lies, which means it could probably be sold as vintage for £30 in a Hackney pop-up. He has also been spotted with a tote-with-a-quote: “It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve …” The opening line of Susan Hill’s Woman in Black; a 1983 Gothic-inspired horror novel. Gothic-inspired horror doesn’t seem too far away from where we currently are.

Dominic Cummings with his Vote Leave tote. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Other accessories include a pen behind the ear; black square-framed glasses (think Colin Firth in Tom Ford’s A Single Man); and an ever-present lanyard, presumably holding the parliamentary pass he should never have been granted.

Perhaps the gilet jokes have become a little too much for Cummings, however, who this week was spotted in a departure piece: a grey Levi’s hoodie. This is a 90s skateboarder staple or an ex-boyfriend’s garment that is frequently worn by women around the house or for casual Sunday roasts, drawstrings pulled tight. Of course, Cummings made it weird by shoulder-robing it.

Is this new wardrobe addition a sign that the often implosive, sweary Cummings (spotted recently stalking the halls of the palace with a red wine) will take a more casual approach to his career? Almost certainly not, as the country struggles through an apparently endless constitutional crisis or heads to a general election. We await with baited breath the clues to come from further tote and tee logos.


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