Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's politics go below the belt

The first time could have been chalked up to charming idiosyncrasy. The second seemed like an effort to bring some levity to a complicated situation. But the third and fourth (and fifth and so on) times that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada wore themed socks on a public occasion, it seemed clear that something more calculated was going on.

You've heard of fashion diplomacy, or frock diplomacy? The practice whereby a female politician, or the wife of a world leader, uses clothing to convey unspoken messages about a platform or position, or as a form of outreach?

Well, this is clearly sock diplomacy. It's a new tactic in the political playbook.

Statement makers

And it reached an apogee of sorts on Sunday, when Trudeau marched in Toronto's Gay Pride Parade wearing a rainbow-striped pair printed with the words "Eid Mubarak" in recognition of the Islamic festival that marks the end of Ramadan, and which coincided with this year's parade. Yes, he honoured two communities with one pair of socks. And he did so while also supporting local industry: They were made by a Toronto-based company, Halal Socks, and cost approximately $20. All that doesn't happen by accident.

It also followed closely on an appearance in regular rainbow socks for a Pride flag-raising on June 14 in Ottawa, and one on the syndicated TV show Live with Kelly and Ryan on June 5 in patriotic maple leaf socks – which he also wore in 2015 at a gathering of Canada's provincial heads of government.

There was another smart socks show in May during a NATO meeting in Brussels, when Trudeau wore one blue sock and one pink, each with the NATO flag emblazoned on the side.


And that followed a much documented meeting with Enda Kenny, then the prime minister of Ireland, to which Trudeau wore Star Wars socks (it was International Star Wars Day). I could go on, but you get the idea.

More than decorative

In each case, Trudeau's socks were not just fun, though they kind of were, especially compared with the usual politician's navy or black; they also contained a message of solidarity. Rarely have a man's ankles said so much.

It's pretty clever. Men, after all, have significantly fewer options than women when it comes to implicit communication via clothing.

Unlike Hillary Clinton with her white pantsuits, they can't use colour to support an idea. They can't really wear suits by different tailors for every country they visit to support local industry, the way Michelle Obama often did and the Duchess of Cambridge does.

Subtle, but to the point

Wearing a themed tie might be a bit obvious. Occasion-appropriate cuff links would probably be too hard for anyone to spot. But socks? They're subtle enough not to be distracting, but visible enough that you can't miss the point. That's an original solution to the problem. And it's working.

Trudeau's socks have begun to take on a life of their own, chronicled, and mostly celebrated, by observers everywhere.

There are, of course, those who take exception to a head of government wearing what have historically been treated as joke, or kitsch, accessories.

The point being that the socks reinforce the early criticism of Trudeau, voiced during his campaign for office, as a lightweight. (On the other hand, you could also see them as his attempt to own that stereotype and reverse it, now that he's in power.)

And there are those who pointed out, vis-à-vis the Eid/Pride twofer, that many Muslim countries persecute or sometimes even kill gay citizens, and accused Trudeau of eliding the issue in his desire to acknowledge everyone at once.

International eye-catchers

But over all, the socks have been a source of, well, pride and applause on an international scale – a symbol both of Trudeau's ability to embrace multiculturalism and of his position as a next-gen leader not bound by antiquated traditions and mores. Besides, they're a good icebreaker. (See: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany bending down to admire Trudeau's choice at NATO.) After all, even when there's no obvious theme to celebrate, Trudeau rarely chooses the plain pair, opting for argyle or stripes instead, among other patterns. When he met the chairwoman of Xerox, he was wearing a diamond style. She complimented him.

While it's doubtful Trudeau will immediately inspire a copycat trend of funky sock-wearing among other world leaders – even those, such as President Emmanuel Macron of France, who appear to be like-minded – it has nevertheless opened up possibilities for the future.

In the meantime, the world watches, and waits, for Trudeau's next sock statement.

Check out the gallery above to see some seriously stylish statements for your own wardrobe.

NY Times