What makes a great dictator: Fiery rhetoric? Paranoid murder sprees? Insisting on being worshipped as a deity? Sure, all these things help, but a dictator’s real power comes from his personal style. That’s why no one is taking Iran seriously at all. Come on Ahmadinejad, are you kidding with that linen suit? Are you trying to rule a volatile Middle-Eastern country with an iron fist or are you getting ready to go clubbing in the Meatpacking District?
Here are 10 dictators who knew how to dress to the nines before performing their war crimes. And for all of my Jewish friends I am promising a Hitler free list. That guy is totes played out.
When it comes to dictatorial style no one beats Castro. Whether he was threatening the US Eastern Seaboard with communist-made nukes or dodging one of the dozen or so assassination attempts on his life, Castro’s image has always been synonymous with the tough masculine revolutionary. He set the trend, not just for Brooklyn hipsters hoping to find a look to complement their Guerilla Coffee, but for other dictators as well. In an interview with Naomi Campbell (I’m not even going to ask) Hugo Chavez identified Castro as his “fashion icon”. Whether chomping on one of his embargoed cigars, or just wearing his military fatigues at the execution of another homosexual, Castro always looked good, and may still be looking good according to unconfirmed sources.
King Mswati is known as the world’s last absolute monarch. He is able to pick the Prime Minister, members of the cabinet and all the judges in his country of Swaziland, but he still knows how to dress for a party! He recently made sex illegal and has more wives than a Mormon jeweler. He is equally comfortable in a modern pin stripe suit as he is in the traditional garb of the Swazi Reed Dance (pictured), a tradition meant to honor the Queen, but often used by Mswati to pick up new brides. In the world of African dictator fashion it takes some volume to make a statement, but Mswati pulls it off without breaking a sweat.
Some fashionista fascists just aren’t appreciated in their time. In 1977 Time magazine described Idi Amin as a “killer and clown, big-hearted buffoon and strutting martinet”. While it may journalistically questionable to call an ethnic cleansing purported cannibal “big-hearted”, dismissing such a smooth dresser as a “clown” or “strutting martinet” is straight up libel. The dictator’s ostentatious use of military medals and titles (he once declared himself Conqueror of the British Empire”) borders on wearable art. And you have to be pretty sweet to get Forest Whitaker to play you in an indie hit. He’s the Ghost Dog of dictators!
Put yourself in this situation: World War I is over, the Ottoman empire is collapsing, and you and your friends have decided to start your own country called Turkey. What’s the first thing you need? That’s right! A sweet ass hat!
It is often just as important for a stylish person to not fit in as it is for him to be accepted by his peers. Josip “Broz b4 Hoez” Tito was a man who marched to his own beat, whether it was his embroidered jackets, gaudy pipes or rejecting Stalinist Communism thus getting his homeland of Yugoslavia kicked out of the ComInform conference. He even had his name made into an ism (Titoism) whose main tenet was telling Mother Russia to go f*ck themselves. Despite persisting rumors (that I am starting right now) Tito was never confirmed a homosexual, but he did make it illegal for others to be, which you have to admit is pretty gay.
Oh really? Can we get any more stereotypical? An Italian dictator who was into fashion? Did he also like olive oil and a-pizza pie while we were at it? Hey calm down anti-Italian-American-defemation league! Go picket Snooki’s house or something.
Mussolini is mostly known as being the underachiever of the axis of evil in WWII. His Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, or as the fashion-conscious dictator liked to call them, The Blackshirts, were not only a deadly precise tool of fascism but a means to a power so great that he could make decrees like this:
The Italian woman must follow Italian fashion. Taste, elegance and originality have demonstrated that this initiative can and must be successful.
— Fascist Party Edict, 1933
Just because you are spending all your time committing Bosnian war crimes and Serbian genocide is no excuse to let your hair get all frumpy. With legendary locks that would put David Lynch to shame, Karadzic wins Best Hair for the list with just a few examples of the ever morphing do above. And what was his secret for such volume? He used human tears as product. Karadzic is currently a guest of The Hague in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which just sounds like bad news.
No one man has done as much for racial profiling as the Ayatollah Khomeini. Before him, Americans thought of turbans as mostly belonging to friendly Genies who we would dream of. But after the Iranian hostage crisis, people started thinking of that turban as something that might need to get searched at airports. And thus decades of planes were delayed. The Ayatollah was an outspoken anti-Westernist who made popular the slogan “America can’t do a damn thing against us.” America then proceeded to do a damn thing against him by funding Saddam Hussein for a few decades.
For those of you who are dictator buffs (and I suppose those are the few who have made it to the end of this list) you have probably been waiting for Gaddafi ever since Mswati. What other dictator has exemplified style and fashion pizzazz as the PLO supporting supreme overlord of Libya? With colorful gowns, traditional robes and sweet shades, Gaddafi has been a mainstay of world leader fashion for over half a century. In a recent speech at the UN where he accused Israel of assassinating JFK, defended the Taliban and Somali pirates and referred to Barack Obama as “my son”, Gaddafi wore a complicated looking garment that seemed to have more tie downs than a circus tent.
And the winner of the dictatorial fashion awards goes to: Saddam Hussein! Stand up Saddam! Saddam? Oh yeah…
No other dictator has been in the American limelight over the last decade like Saddam. His personal style included great uniforms, rugged casual wear and a mustache that became synonymous with being an international dick. But it wasn’t for his in office style that Saddam takes top prize. It was his fallen dictator ensemble. The open collared shirt, the demure blue suit the fiery rhetoric shouted over charges of gassing villages full of Kurds. And to the day he died Saddam stood proud. And then that day he swung proud. So Saddam, we certainly won’t miss you, but we will miss your keen fashion sense.