Politics And Fashion Go Together Better Than You Think
The Debrief: Or why it's perfectly ok to give a shit about Margaret Thatcher's wardrobe. Handbags at dawn...
Whatever you think of her politics (and there are a lot of thoughts to be thought) you can’t argue with the fact that Margaret Thatcher was an important part of Britain’s history, and of women’s, as our first - and so far only - female prime minister.
The V&A recently declined the offer of exhibiting the late PM’s wardrobe (which will now be sold at auction), arguing that the museum’s focus is ‘chronicling fashionable dress and its collecting policy tends to focus on acquiring examples of outstanding aesthetic or technical quality’, and that the pieces ‘were best suited to another collection which would focus on their intrinsic social historical value’.
Which I get. But to my mind, fashion and social history are intrinsically linked. Fashion has always been a marker of social climate, an expression of social change, especially for women – from Chanel designing uncorseted dresses as women fought for the vote to Youthquake and the miniskirts in post WW2 Britain, as women gained access to the contraceptive pill for the first time.
How Margaret Thatcher looked, and what she wore, was always part of the discussion about her competency and capability. Sexist, yes, but just look at Hillary Clinton’s American Presidency campaign – every outfit at every public appearance is filtered into galleries of ‘Hillary’s most fashionable looks’. A gallery of Hillary’s head superimposed onto designer catwalk looks offers her ‘tips on how to get ready on day one’. And while I think it is ridiculous that these groundbreaking women are reduced to handbags and hemlines in the press, surely the clothes that they choose to wear while taking on a very male industry are important.
The handbags that Margaret Thatcher chose – the pointedly feminine touches of frilled blouses and pearl earrings – are tactile, graphic-printed proof of a decision that she made to be unapologetic of her sex, unashamed of being the first woman in power in a very long line of men. And I think that deserves a glass display case.
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