Athens – There’s been a definite clash between European Union officials and the new Greek government during its first week and a half in power – not so much over bailout loans and repayment schedules but over dress style.
Not for the Greeks the traditional suit-and-tie attire of European politics.
Almost the entire Greek cabinet appointed last week has adopted the fashion style of 40-year-old Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who steadfastly refuses to wear a tie, even while donning a suit.
European Parliament head Martin Schulz playfully waggled Tsipras’ open collar as the newly sworn-in premier greeted his first foreign dignitary last week.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin made a similar gesture in Paris over the weekend, smiling as he took hold of the broad-striped scarf worn by Greece’s European Financial Relations Alternate Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and wrapped it across his neck and over his shoulder.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went a step further on Tuesday night, giving Tsipras an Italian tie to wear when Greece finally emerges from its protracted financial crisis – after Tsipras had reportedly said before the elections that he’d wear one if Greece reached a debt reduction agreement.
“We want to give Greece a real hand, which doesn’t mean always agreeing with what you say. But we are sure that Greece will get out [of the crisis] and when that happens, we would like it if the premier wears an Italian tie,” Renzi said, sparking laughter among the Greek delegation.
It’s not just the lack of ties.
Eyebrows were raised at the new coalition government’s swearing-in ceremony last week as Zoe Constantopoulou, the proposed Parliament president, arrived in flowing fuchsia trousers and a bright canary-yellow coat.
But by far the most striking fashion trailblazer of Greece’s new Cabinet is Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
The blog-posting, sharp-tongued – some would say arrogant – 53-year-old has shot to near rock-star status in Greece for both his casual dress sense and his initially confrontational style with Greece’s lenders.
Varoufakis drives to meetings on a motorbike, a backpack across his shoulders. He never wears a tie, never tucks his shirt in and often has his suit collar up. He keeps one hand in a pocket when greeting foreign dignitaries and owns what must be one of the most commented-on coats ever worn by a Greek politician.
His arrival on Monday for a meeting in London with British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne sparked a deluge of comments – both positive and negative – as Varoufakis strode up Downing Street in tight black trousers, his knee-length black winter coat and a bright blue shirt straining somewhat at the buttons.
“It was apparent from the photo call on Downing Street that we were witnessing a bit of a fashion moment,” wrote Imogen Fox in the Guardian newspaper. “There was Osborne, himself riding high on his rebooted fashion skills with his Julius-Caesar haircut and properly fitting suit, shaking hands with a man wearing a Wetherspoon’s-appropriate bright-blue shirt and an early-1990s madchester drug dealer’s coat.”
Varoufakis’ look – and his initial confrontation with Dutch Finance Minister and eurozone finance leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem last week – have gone down well with many Greeks, who praise him for restoring what they see as their lost sense of dignity during five years of a bitter financial crisis. A Facebook fan page titled ‘V for Varoufakis’ set up over the weekend has earned more than 46 000 ‘likes’ already.
As Varoufakis headed to Rome after his London visit, his dress sense did not go unnoticed by the Italians.
“The style of Athens,” the leading Italian daily La Repubblica wrote in a headline near a photo of the Greek minister’s meeting with Osborne, noting his tieless, untucked shirt and big jacket.
“It speaks volumes about Greece’s desire not to respect any convention,” La Repubblica wrote.