When Greek voters elected the leftist party Syriza last month, many people expected an anti-establishment, even radical, change in policy from the new coalition government. Alexis Tsipras, Syriza's young and charismatic leader, had vowed to transform not just Greece but the entire of Europe. Things were going to be different, very different.
What Greek voters might not have expected was the first big reaction to Tsipras's maverick streak would be all about his sartorial choices. As soon as the 40-year-old was sworn in as prime minister, people began asking one question over and over again.
Where is his tie?
Tsipras had broken tradition when he appeared with an open collar at the grand presidential residence to sign in as prime minister. Over the coming weeks, he would continue to forgo the tie when meeting with other foreign leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
It didn't go unnoticed. When Martin Schulz, head of the European parliament, met with the Greek leader last week, reporters saw him apparently making a comment on the lack of tie to Tsipras. According to the Associated Press, French finance minister Michel Sapin also made some kind of similar gesture when he met the new Greek leader.
— Damian Mac Con Uladh (@damomac) January 29, 2015
There's no codified protocol for attire during meetings like these: European leaders are simply more used to seeing their peers wearing ties. But given that the entire Greek government can be seen without ties at points, it looks as if the ministers are trying to convey a deliberate political message.
So what lies behind the new Greek political classes rejection of ties? At first, Tsipras told reporters that he may never wear a tie, a comment that played into finance minister Yanis Varoufakis's idea that Greece's new leaders were "reluctant" politicians who simply want to fix Greece's problems: They were average guys, not of the political class. However, Tsipras later changed his mind and gave a grander ambition to his choice of dress, telling reporters that he'd only wear a tie once Greece's debt problem had been solved.
Perhaps no one has taken the new Greek dress code on more than Varoufakis – an academic who grew famous for his anti-austerity blogging and once called Greece's bailout terms "fiscal waterboarding" – who raised eyebrows when he met his British counterpart George Osborne with no tie, and untucked shirt, and a waxed jacket.
Britain's The Sun tabloid called out the Greek economist for his lack of decorum, calling him a "Marxist biker," while the Huffington Post's British edition said he had "anti-austerity swagger." According to Reuters, some of Varoufakis's meetings had to be moved from a London private members club as he refused to wear a tie.
On Tuesday evening, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi brought new attention to the Greek leader's promise. The young Italian leader gave Tsipras an Italian-made black tie, telling him he can wear in when Greece finally fixes its debt problem. "I promised I will wear it when we will finally find a viable solution," Renzi told reporters.
Whether Tsipras will ever wear a tie is hard to predict. Syriza may take a hard and dramatic line on Greece's debt, but, as political scientists Akis Georgakellos and Harris Mylonas noted recently, getting a better deal depends mostly on what other European leaders decide. And, as Georgakellos and Mylonas put it, Tsipras will need to perform a "balancing act of herculean proportions" to satisfy both the people who voted him into power – and the men wearing ties.