How Nigel Farage entered a fashion war against ‘Britain’s most stylish politician’

The Labour candidate for Clacton Jovan Owusu Nepaul greets the Reform candidate, Nigel Farage - x/Jovan Owusu Nepaul

Forget the fight for Britain’s right-leaning hearts and minds, the real challenge on Nigel Farage’s hands right now is a fashion one. For the streets of Clacton – the constituency where the Reform UK leader is hoping to become MP on July 4 -  have become as much a catwalk as a political battleground thanks to Jovan Owusu-Nepaul, Labour’s candidate in the area, and – I’m calling it – Britain’s new most stylish politician.

Owusu-Nepaul’s style credentials have been admired by Vogue editors and political watchers alike. “Not my politics, so not an endorsement, but Jovan is an incredibly stylish candidate,” wrote one social media user on X last week. The Goldsmiths University graduate, who also has a Masters from Cambridge, reposted the comment, adding “but it is an endorsement”, a nod to his awareness that his preppy, more-Clapton-than-Clacton look is making waves.

Owusu-Nepaul's style credentials has won admiration from Vogue editors
Owusu-Nepaul's style credentials have won him the admiration of Vogue editors

If you were voting on fashion credentials alone, you couldn’t help but be won over by Owusu-Nepaul who could have walked straight out of a vintage Ralph Lauren advert but for the Labour rosette pinned to his trench coat lapels. Indeed, the photos he posts on social media often look more like he’s posing for a brand campaign than running for parliament – see how he pairs a Tattersall checked shirt with a slouchy Grandad-style knit to pose with fish and chips on the beach or how he artfully layers a Labour-red t-shirt underneath a navy shirt and chunky khaki cardigan for a walkabout with a fellow candidate.

Holt: 'His photos often look more like he's posing for a brand campaign than running for parliament'
'His photos often look more like he's posing for a brand campaign than running for parliament,' says Holt

Thanks to the incredibly low expectations which we have of politicians’ style, Owusu-Nepaul looks less like he’s canvassing for a seat in the House of Commons and more like he’s about to open a small-plates natural wine bar in Margate. If he doesn’t win the election, he’s bound to be snapped up as an ambassador for a label like Drake’s or Rowing Blazers, who specialise in a Brideshead Revisited for the 21st century vibe.

But the irony here is that in reality there are plenty of crossovers between Farage’s look and Owusu-Nepaul’s. Both men channel a very traditional Englishman aesthetic and although he prefers to stick to navy suits, white shirts and eye-catching ties now, Farage once made the tweed jackets and colourful trousers look his own – in fact, Owusu-Nepaul could almost have raided Farage’s Brexit campaign-era wardrobe for his campaign outfits and given them an injection of effortless youthful insouciance.

Dr Benjamin Linley Wild, senior lecturer in Fashion Narratives at Manchester Metropolitan University, observes that Owusu-Nepaul’s carefully curated clothing “suggests he is a wily political operator”. He says that, “Owusu-Nepaul looks to be playing a sartorial sleight of hand. For whilst his textured knits, turned-up trousers, gingham shirts and bold print ties hint at a casual disregard for The Establishment, and seem to embody Labour’s message of change, his outfits also look like they have been borrowed from a country gent’s weekend wardrobe.”

Though they’re up against one another politically, the two men seem to be remaining cordial when it comes to their wardrobes. “Jovan certainly has his own style, and best of British to him,” a spokesperson for Farage tells The Telegraph. “It’s a breath of fresh air amongst the grey suits of the safe and aesthetically challenged ranks of most Westminster wannabes.” They add that, “Nigel’s style speaks for itself”.

Style experts have picked up on Farage's preference for novelty ties
Style experts have picked up on Farage's preference for novelty ties - AFP

But is Owusu-Nepaul’s hipster look more politically threatening than a mere breath of fresh air? “His clothing is pitch perfect for the challenge he faces in Clacton,” says Dr Wild. “He cannot present himself too starkly to his rival, as this would imply he does not understand local sensibilities. Owusu-Nepaul’s best chance of winning Clacton seems to depend on voters who would typically vote for Liberal Democrat and Green candidates. The nod to an amicable and consensual approach to politics through his more idiosyncratic wardrobe choices – for example, a yellow, blue and orange striped fair-isle tank top – suggest Nepaul is simultaneously signalling his desire to do things differently.”

Clacton might be a flashpoint in this election, but the style lessons being demonstrated by Owusu-Nepaul could have ramifications on how we see politicians dress in the future. Forget Suella Braverman in her relatable Breton jumper or Penny Mourdaunt’s modern Thatcher blow dry, “the interest in Owusu-Nepaul’s wardrobe emphasises the desire that many people have for political candidates to demonstrate some semblance of personal character and authenticity,” explains Dr Wild. “This might be something that Owusu-Nepaul’s boss, Keir Starmer, who was recently likened to a robot in a live televised interview, could benefit from.”

How do they measure up?