The Libyan uprising has thrust the country's longtime ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, into the spotlight. And when Qaddafi captures the media's attention, you can be sure his flamboyant fashion sense will as well. ABC has already put together a slideshow chronicling Qaddafi's trademark taste for colorful patterns, rich textures, and elaborate military garb, and Slate has scrupulously documented Qaddafi's celebrity lookalikes, which range from Mick Jagger to Mickey Rourke. The Washington Post's Kathleen Boyle has even suggested that Qaddafi's wardrobe epitomizes the personal characteristics that could undermine the leader's grip on power. Qaddafi's "extravagant lifestyle and strange behavior has always been visible through his choice of dress, highlighting decades of bravado and bluster that may ultimately be his downfall in the days ahead," she argues.
Qaddafi's been ruling Libya for over for decades, and it seems like the media's been making fun of his clothing for nearly as long. Here's a timeline with some of the highlights:
1986: In a never-aired comedy-news NBC pilot created by Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter, among others, Nancy Foreman uses actual footage to explain that Qaddafi sometimes chooses a "stone-washed denim ensemble created for style, comfort, and the unexpected" when traveling on a tractor but opts for "a cookie-monster blue jumpsuit ... with a tradition-true military hat and saucy swagger stick" when he's looking for "playful comfort and ease."
1987: In a piece promising to reveal the man behind the Qaddafi legend, David Blundy and Andrew Lycett at the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia note that Qaddafi "is extraordinarily vain" and "sometimes changes his outfit three times in a day, from his naval uniform with the gold braid and medals to his Arab headdress or to his powder-blue jumpsuit with a complex array of zips and buttons." The blue jumpsuit again! "Whatever I wear becomes a fad," Qaddafi tells the reporters. "I wear a certain shirt and suddenly everyone is wearing it."
1990s: There's a curious lacuna when it comes to Qaddafi's dress during this decade. If you find anything, let us know.
2007: Michael Slackman at the New York Times compares Libya to Qaddafi's clothes: "The bold, flowing, multicolor gowns that add to Col. Muammar
el-Qaddafi's reputation for flamboyant and quirky behavior may actually
make a subtle point. They are, in fashion terms, what some
people would like to see Libya become--a blending of the traditional
and the modern."
2009: For whatever reason, this was a big year for media comment on Qaddafi's fashion.
In August, Time names
Qaddafi one of the world's ten worst-dressed leaders. Alyssa Fetini states
that Qaddafi "is frequently seen swathed in bright, rainbow-colored
silk drapes, Bedouin robes, dashikis and animal skins that he dons as a
nod to his African heritage, but which might be better suited for the
cast of the Lion King." Ouch. But the magazine also acknowledges that judgment about Qaddafi's fashion may depend on one's cultural perspective. When Qaddafi pinned a picture
of a Libyan resistance fighter to his chest during a visit to Italy,
Fetini says, he explained, "For us, that image is like the cross some
of you wear."
Two days after Time bestowes its honor, Vanity Fair puts together a slideshow in honor of the "most unabashed dresser on the world stage," one who, according to the magazine, draws "upon the influences of Lacroix, Liberace, Phil Spector (for hair), Snoopy, and Idi Ami, Libya's leader." The slideshow includes a photo of Qaddafi alongside dark suit-wearing G8 leaders in a white suit and "traditional Arabic bisht, accessorized with a small billboard of medals and, on his right breast, a brooch of Africa, just in case anyone forgot that Muammar is the president of the African Union."