LONDON – At Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, there were no interruptions for the UN climate summit taking place there until November 18th.
For the official group photo at the opening ceremony on Monday, political leaders and representatives from 190 countries posed in their best formal suits for next week’s debate on climate change adaptation, climate finance, decarbonization, agriculture and biodiversity.
The bleak picture is a mile away from the more relaxed scene at the 48th G7 summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi; Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; French President Emmanuel Macron; Chancellor Olaf Scholz; US President Joe Biden; then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stood on a piece of wooden board in crisp white open-necked shirts with no tie.
This affair was a fleeting breath of fresh air from the usual hubbub of political uniforms.
It was back to business and formality at Cop27 as the majority of executives opted for the safe, classic black, navy and gray suit.
The standouts at the summit were the leaders of the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent, dressed in traditional attire of their home countries.
Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Crown Prince and Deputy Emir of Kuwait; Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa all wore their gold-trimmed bisht (a cloak typically made of camel hair and goat’s wool), paired with a keffiyeh and agal, the traditional Scarf was worn with the black cord accessory to keep it in place.
World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wore a navy blue top and skirt with wax prints and matching gele, a traditional head tie.
“As a whole, it feels stiff, distant and traditional, with the only strength of personality or presence coming from the leaders wearing more elaborate clothing,” said Peter Bevan, a London-based menswear stylist.
“It seems that the western world is outdated, in stark contrast to those who are clearly proud of their culture.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wore a dusty pink double-breasted blazer with a pink T-shirt and a small pearl necklace. Her uniform of flashy blazers and black trousers has been standard since the early 2000s when she was part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.
The new British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who made a U-turn in his decision to attend the summit, arrived at Sharm El Sheikh Airport wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, navy blue trousers and brown oxford shoes.
A more dapper dresser than his predecessor, Sunak later donned a black suit with a printed turquoise tie for the official photo. A great supporter of British tailoring, he avoided Savile Row and opted for a young, reserved tailor like Henry Herbert, who made a large proportion of his suits.
A few days earlier, Sunak mingled with Stella McCartney during a reception hosted by King Charles at Buckingham Palace for Cop27.
“I think it’s not the end of the tie and they don’t die. I hear from customers and people that they are buying more ties now because they’ve always been a really nice thing that doesn’t cost too much money to collect and spice up your wardrobe with,” said Dominic Sebag-Montefiore, Creative Director by Edward Sexton.
The intention to button up to the Cop27 is a fashion message from world leaders that they are aware of current issues affecting everyone, such as the cost of living crisis.
“We are currently in a crisis – recovery from the pandemic, rapidly rising energy and gas prices forcing some European countries to return to coal-fired power generation and some even facing food shortages, so leaders may be trying to send a strong message that they are serious about tackling the significant issues,” said Bevan.
Even though fashion is not always the focus of these summits, the Egyptian Ministry of the Environment is presenting the Green Fashion program at the conference.
The program was launched in 2018 by three local youth to address and raise awareness of ethical fashion practices in Egypt.
If political leaders leave with one thing on November 18, it should be an acknowledgment that fashion is as much a part of the climate change debate as gas and oil.