You can tell an awful lot about notorious short-sighted, long-distance adventurer Dominic Cummings by his clothes.
I should know. Ever since he scuttled into Downing Street after being appointed as a senior advisor to Boris Johnson last summer, newspaper writers (me, I mainly mean me) have been preoccupied with trying to interpret Cummings’s absolutely chaotic wardrobe choices.
I watched in mystified wonderment as he arrived at the heart of government each day wearing a crumpled linen shirt, jeans, tote bag and transitional lens spectacles, looking as if he’d slept in a badger set. I sighed every time he appeared in the background of a photograph of suited politicians and civil servants wearing a T-shirt he’d clearly been given free with a USB stick, packet of corporate-personalised Love Hearts and a sheaf of pamphlets at a lobbyist conference. I laughed – oh, how we all laughed – at the gilets.
As the months rolled on, it only got weirder. Scarves, sometimes up to four, were added. Some renaissance boots joined the party. Collared shirts were put away altogether. A beanie, barely covering his head, came and went. Some more scarves were put on.
Then the pandemic hit, and now, after four seasons, we know there are three distinct Cummings looks:
- DomCum S/S ’19, aka ‘Gloucestershire landowner storming out of a parish council meeting after failing to convince locals idea for a bootleg stoat fur farm will provide a desperately-needed boost to the area’s economy.’
- DomCum A/W ’19, aka ‘Man who has walked into a branch of Boden, been given an unlimited gift card, and given 45 minutes to assemble a pirate costume from the available stock.’
- DomCum Covid-19, aka ‘58-year-old police officer sent to infiltrate and embed in a vicious gang of six year-old street thieves.’
It’s the final one that’s spinning most out of control. We have all dressed with less care and more comfort during lockdown, but given where Cummings started, you could be forgiven for thinking he couldn’t physically get much more comfortable. How wrong we were; how very wrong indeed.
So, as he’s under the spotlight, let us ask again: What exactly is Dominic Cummings trying to tell us with his inimitable style?
Rules? He spits in the face of rules
I have written before about how Cummings, for all his insistence he is purely an outsider figure, fits squarely into a long tradition of self-styled political mavericks showing just how little they care for professional mores by refusing to own an iron.
Regrettably, this remains his modus operandi. You just know that if and when facemasks are made compulsory, he’ll wear three as a bikini, or fashion one from a kitchen blind, or wear the same one for months, or something.
Why? Because nobody tells Cummings what to do. Not the Prime Minister, not the scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE), and certainly not the civil service code, which doesn’t have set instructions for workwear but states that “you will […] always act in a way that is professional and that deserves the confidence of all those you deal with.”
This week’s tracksuit bottoms do not deserve our confidence. But that’s the DomCum way: see a rule, then just drive 280 miles in the other direction.
He has nothing to hide...
After all, where would he put any secrets? Some days this week, Cummings has – as other areas of the #ScumMedia would put it – turned up the heat as he’s poured his jaw-dropping curves into a perilously low-cut pair of trousers and a skin-tight T-shirt, almost risking a wardrobe malfunction.
You can view an example at the top of this article. With two dozen photographers there to capture him, we can see everything. How can he be keeping anything from us?
He is capable of play your game, he just... won’t
As soon as it was announced, on Monday morning, that Cummings would be clearing up the confusion over his lockdown trip to Durham once and for all, by making an entirely unapologetic statement from the Downing Street garden, a question rattled around social media: what will he wear?
It turned out he did not have a Tracksuit of Contrition or a special Sorry Scarf. Instead, Cummings fell somewhere between the ‘I’m Taking This Seriously, Look At My Smart Clothes’ school of public statements (Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods, R Kelly, Bill Clinton) and, on the other end, the ‘Hey, I’m a Family Man, Look At My Jeans’ club (Mel Gibson).
Grey jeans, black trainers, oversized white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, like he’s just delivered a Friesian calf… It was Cummings at his neatest, which isn’t very neat. It was a teenage heavy metal fan at a family wedding. It was a man under fire snarling at the public: “Is this what you want?” It was not what we wanted.
Maybe his eyesight is bad after all
How else can you explain some of these choices?