BEIJING • Dark and featureless, it accompanies Chinese President Xi Jinping almost as constantly as his bodyguards.
Of the many mysteries about Mr Xi, the most evident may be the navy blue, zippered windbreaker that he wears like a second skin.
Mao Zedong popularised the tunic suit with a tight collar that now bears his name. Deng Xiaoping often wore the Mao suit, while his successors embraced Western business attire.
But Mr Xi has become so attached to his windbreaker that it might now be called the "Xi jacket".
On a recent trip to the countryside, he wore it next to a villager who appeared elated to meet the leader while wearing a matching jacket. Mr Xi has also worn it in more formal settings, like a recent meeting in a Beijing lecture hall on the role of philosophy and the social sciences.
While Mr Xi is not known to have publicly discussed his wardrobe choices, the jacket has become a fitting sartorial symbol of his rule.
Its man-of-the-people look helps soften his harder authoritarian edges, while its lack of extravagance sets the tone for a leader seeking to rein in official corruption and profligacy.
An article circulated by state news agency Xinhua said it imparted "the aura of Mr Efficiency". "No need for ironing, neat, stain-resistant, and with a common touch," the article said.
"He wears the windbreaker when he wants to show he is down to work," Professor Louise Edwards at the University of New South Wales in Australia said, referring to Mr Xi. She has studied the political symbolism of clothes in China.
The jacket's message, she said, is, "Running the country is my job, I labour at it, I am a political worker."
For Mr Xi, even his footwear appears designed to suggest an industrious man with no time for distractions, said Ms Deborah Lehr, a senior fellow at the Paulson Institute in Chicago who during meetings with China's leaders has made a close study of their shoes.
Mr Xi appears to prefer shoes with fake laces - sparing him the time-sapping drudgery of tying them, she said.
"President Xi in his formal meetings always has a dark, generally nondescript suit, white shirt, usually a bright tie and the trousers are often pulled up a tad higher than others," Ms Lehr said. "Nice suits but not too nice, and practical like his shoes with fake laces."
NEW YORK TIMES