The diplomacy of the good dress of Colombia: without tennis and without neckline to be formal | Opinion

When the Minister of Mines of Colombia, Irene Vélez, came to power, received the Minister of Tourism of Spain, Reyes Maroto, with sneakers, there was no little criticism that rained down on her for the supposedly inappropriateness of her clothing. Undoubtedly, more than the comments on the content of the meeting of both leaders. A few months later, the Department of Human Talent (sic) of the Colombian Foreign Ministry has considered it “precise” not to oblige or suggest, but rather to “promote” a model of formal clothing. It does so, according to a 16-page document, “in congruence” with some principles, which amount to “a coherent and innovative State foreign policy, based on the promotion of democracy and human rights.” And of course, ‘well dressed’.

Thus, in 2023, the Colombian Foreign Ministry suggests to its diplomats how they should dress in two situations: “business formal” or “business casual”. In the first case, for men, the document explains, “formal business attire is par excellence the ideal for its formality, since it reflects character, personality and elegance when dressing.” According to the ‘diplomatic stylists’, character and personality are given by “a complete classic design suit, long-sleeved shirt, tie or bow-tie —with a vest and handkerchief if it is of your choice—, leather belt and long socks” . It is not known if in an act of daring or carelessness, they do not specify the color of the handkerchief nor do they clarify the length of the socks to consider them long. In the event that your appointment is “business casual” the diplomat may derive a “comfortable” way of dressing, without losing formality and mixing classic and formal garments. To achieve all this -the emphasis on formality is important- he will be able to combine a different jacket and pants and leave the tie in the closet.

Everything is more limited in the case of women. For formal business appointments, the Foreign Ministry asks that you dress in a “tailored suit with jacket and skirt”, although it can also be pants “or a full dress with evening stockings”, and clarifies: “Avoid pronounced necklines and short skirts”. It does not clarify, yes, who is going to define the pronunciation of the neckline or the height of the skirt, nor what will happen in the event that such formal proposals are not fulfilled. Of course, the madness continues with more advice for women: “Use discreet and natural makeup, without very strong tones. We also recommend small accessories, keeping a simple hairstyle, using discreet colors on your nails and avoiding taking them too long”.

The code includes four types of footwear for men and women, and as you may have suspected, it does not include running shoes. Not even remotely: the Foreign Ministry is relentless and dedicates a section of its new dress code. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs promotes national interests abroad, it is our duty to project a serious, professional image in accordance with the mission, vision and institutional objectives, for this reason the personal presentation cannot be accompanied by informal clothing (such as tennis shoes) in the Ministry facilities”.

It goes without saying that neither the president, Gustavo Petro, nor the vice president, Francia Márquez, conform to these limitations, although they have not ruled on the new code. They will surely do so along the lines of senator María José Pizarro, who at Petro’s inauguration dressed in a jacket with the photo of her father, the murdered former M19 guerrilla, and who tweeted: “The clothing does not affect the work of the people. These “codes” make new aesthetics and identities invisible. We are in the 21st century, new citizens and the ethnic diversity of the Colombian nation came to the government. The Foreign Ministry must rectify, the change is cultural”.

Given the commotion, the foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva, 80, wanted to distance himself. In a tweet, he assured that, together with María Mercedes Carranza, he introduced in the 1991 Constitution “the article on the free development of personality. So, I’m not the one to say how people should dress. Yes, what right reason and good behavior indicate prevails. All cleared up.



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