For years Dr Victoria Bateman, a fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge, completed her research into British economic history largely unnoticed by her colleagues and the wider world.
But in January of this year, when delivering a lecture to students: “Brexit: The Naked Truth”, she stripped off her sober suit to reveal a slogan “Brexit leaves Britain naked” emblazoned across her bare torso.
Invitations soon followed to appear on Good Morning Britain and the BBC R4 Today programme, which she duly accepted, becoming the first person to appear on a national broadcast programme completely naked. Victoria Bateman had become a national celebrity.
Research conducted at Harvard Business School would describe her naked ambition as being a ‘red sneaker moment’. The Harvard academics found that people who deliberately do not conform to an accepted dress code or choose to dress differently to their peers can achieve a higher status.
Political and business leaders have adopted this approach for many years and use this lack of conformity to create their own brand identity. In WW2 Winston Churchill pioneered the onesie with his infamous siren suit and in more recent years it’s been difficult to avoid Donald Trump’s ‘make America great again’ red baseball hat.
Mark Zuckerberg sports his iconic grey Brunello Cucinelli t-shirts to show, that despite his billion dollar bank balance, at heart he is humble coder (the t-shirts cost over £200 each). Steve Jobs became famous for a black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance sneakers. Theresa May is well known for wearing brightly coloured and leopard skin shoes and now her pale blue ‘twofer coat’ is stealing the headlines for its regular outings to show she has a suit of armour to defend her from the Brexit barbs.
Some politicians stray into a ‘red sneaker’ moment to secure more favourable voter ratings. A bare chested Vladimir Putin can often be seen holidaying in Siberia with a hunting rifle or riding a horse on the Russian steppe to secure a macho reputation with the Russian voters. UK defence minister Gavin Williamson was photographed recently with the Royal Marines on Arctic warfare training in Norway taking part in an ice breaking drill wearing full camouflage as he dragged himself from the icy waters with the help of his ski sticks.
But my red sneaker award must go to Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister. Last year Sr Salvini pulled on a pair of skimpy trunks to swim several lengths of a swimming pool at a Tuscan villa, previously owned by a mafia boss, to promote to the assembled media his successful crackdown on organised crime.
He proves once again that when you use clothing to make a statement, less is more.
To find out more please email Mark Knight, director of Four Corporate & Financial here.