PoliticsSeptember 27, 2023

Shop the fit: Winston Peters


This week in our campaign style series, Winston Peters is the king of snot-less pocket squares and bringing things back from the depths of his wardrobe.

Not many encyclopaedic entries include politicians’ personal style, choosing instead things like biography, policies, speeches and ideological alignments. But in Te Ara, the official encyclopaedia of New Zealand, it is noted that Winston Peters “was famed for his dress sense”. Little did they know it was far from over. Today, Peters is wearing an almost identical outfit to the one in the accompanying photo from his campaign trail in 1999: a pinstripe suit, red brocade tie, matching pocket square, and crisp shirt.

Because Peters is Peters, we were unable to get specific costings for these items, and can only assume many of them are decades old. So instead, we’ve gone for the generic approach to Peters’ lifelong style.

Unlike Willis, Peters’ take on the pinstripe is a stickler for tradition and formality. He is always saying that there is “romance and glamour” around politics, and most of it is in his carefully folded pocket square. 

Pocket square

This is not a vessel for your snot. Ideally it is made from silk and carefully folded and pressed. This little square of fabric is worth investing heavily in, because its utility is purely aesthetic, which means it doesn’t wear out. A pocket square, with care, should last a lifetime, and we want it to be saying we know about quality and have refined taste, till we die. This $59 red geometric silk one was woven and printed in the Italian city Como, which is apparently famous for producing them, even though I have never heard of it before. 

If it were my pocket square, I would consider popping into Smith & Caugheys and dousing it in perfume testers, so that I smell good even if I woke up late and didn’t have time for a shower. There is no public information on Peters’ personal scent or hygiene habits, but one assumes he would be drawn to a classic, perhaps Dior Eau Sauvage.

Pinstripe suit

Peters has been wearing pinstripe suits since at least the early 70s, when he wore one from the op shop to the Law ball. “We had to go down to the Salvation Army and get these old suits which were usually from a period long before that, they were double breasted,” he said in an interview with Moana Maniapoto last week. “Then again, double breasted came back”.

In 2015 Peters brought double breasted back when he found an old favourite in his wardrobe – a grey suit he bought on Oxford Street, London in the late 80s – and wore it to parliament. Some mistook the 27-year-old suit for new. He claimed it had been a bargain, but David Seymour has criticised Peters’ penchant for “enjoying the finer things in life”, and suggested he buy a suit from Hallensteins for $200. We think Peters is doing just fine re-shopping his own wardrobe, and not spending a cent.

Sky blue shirt

When asked to give fashion advice, in 2014, Peters went straight for the seasons. The key thing, just as a hint, when it comes to clothing, you must know your colours,” he told 3 News. “You’re either a winter, or a spring, or a summer or an autumn. If you know your colours, then you’ll buy much more wisely.” There are workshops to help you find your season, where silk scarves of different colours are draped over you and the group decides which ones look good. There are also online tests and lots of charts with swatches. I read that cool blue makes Gisele look ill, pale and tired and brings out the shadows beneath her eyes. I would not want this colour analyst to set eyes on me. It is maybe better just to buy shirts in colours you like. Seymour would be happy to know that I like the Hallensteins mid blue shirt which happens to be on special for $23.99.

Silk tie

Knowing how to tie a tie is something to be proud of, an artisan skill which in my world would be lost, were it not for YouTube tutorials. There are multiple ways to do it, depending on what end result you are after. We can see that Peters prefers his knot to be small – it’s likely a slim knot, the least fussy way to tie a tie and very practical for the campaign trail. Peters has rejected the notion of wearing a quirky tie to show your fun personality and gone for a good old block colour. That’s how we know he means business this election. If you too mean business, try this matte silk tie made by the Parisian tie company, which somehow is still manufacturing in the heart of Auckland city, right by Myers Park.

Leather town shoes

These look alarmingly like the shoes my brothers would wear as teenagers going out to hit the clubs downtown. Back in the day they were pleather and cost $20 from Number One Shoe Warehouse, but now it’s Number One Shoes, they’re all leather and at least $50. They were goose guarded items of clothing, lest their entry to a world of hedonism under strobe lights was damaged or lost. I’d love to know if dress codes have changed from privileging the ugly-cheap-uncomfortable-formal now that we have had a sneaker revolution. Peters would say no, true style never changes.

78-year-old Peters has gone for a slip-on option, because you do not want to be spending much time bending over after retirement age, unless it’s in the garden. Fair enough.

Verdict: Peters is a great example of the importance of finding your own style and sticking to it – forever. As the world changes around you, just keep looking deeper and deeper in your wardrobe. Re-shopping your fits from 30 years ago is back. Peters’ distinctive and unchanging look has been important as a brand for his minor party, with which his public image is synonymous. It has also benefited the Child Cancer Foundation, when their charity auction selling Peter’s suit jacket raised $1,210.

Keep going!