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The Trudeau trim, the Martha makeover: Liberal leadership hopefuls tweak image

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OTTAWA - When Delilah cut off Samson's flowing mane in the Bible story, it was all downhill from there.

Justin Trudeau is banking the reverse will be true for him, that a decidedly more conservative look will help him grab the Liberal crown for his recently shorn head.

Trudeau showed up at a recent Liberal leadership debate in Halifax with an unusually short and shellacked hairdo. It's a departure from more insouciant looks the 41-year-old Montrealer has modelled over the years.

Trudeau has clearly inherited his thick, wavy hair from mother Margaret, a curly brunette, and not from father Pierre, whose hairline began receding at a young age.

Over the years, Justin has embraced a tousled, hipster bed-head look, played around with goatees and moustaches, and given his curls free range around the ears.

Image consultant Karen Brunger said Trudeau's shorter hairstyle is more congruent with his angular face, and therefore less distracting. But she says having the flexibility to style it differently can work in his favour, too.

"When he's being more casual, relaxed, then let the curl come out, then that's going to attract all kinds of people, especially women," said Brunger, who has advised other political candidates in the past with her International Image Institute.

"And then, when he needs to be in a more formal situation, more business-related, then, yeah, have the more structured or more slicked-back look."

Trudeau is hardly the only Liberal leadership contender to alter his or her personal style around the time of their entry into the race.

Former astronaut and fellow Montrealer Marc Garneau has abandoned his eyeglasses when appearing at leadership events and interviews.

Vancouverite Joyce Murray has gone from a brunette to a blonde.

And Martha Hall Findlay of Toronto has traded the long scarves and flowy jackets for well-tailored business suits and simple jewelry. She also cut her hair into a short, sleek style, and appears to wear more makeup.

The Liberal contenders are in a long line of Canadian politicians to spruce up their looks in the hope it translates into more public support.

Former Ontario premier David Peterson underwent a makeover in the 1980s that saw him trim his waistline and ditch his glasses.

Reform Party leader Preston Manning tried to shake off his schoolmaster-type looks with laser eye surgery and a new coif before the 1997 federal election. He garnered criticism — even from one Stephen Harper — for receiving a $31,000 allowance for his wardrobe and other perks.

But even Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled for years abroad with a personal stylist.

Ian Capstick, a former assistant to Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps and to the late NDP Leader Jack Layton, said sometimes it's the process of getting made-over itself that can give the candidate a boost.

"I think a lot of aesthetic changes made with politicians are done by the staff because they perceive it's going to affect voters' perception of the candidate," said Capstick, president of MediaStyle.

"But I actually think the real value in the political makeover is how it makes the candidate feel. I think we all feel great when somebody spends a little time helping us look better."

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