Margaret Thatcher is not generally a woman to be found entertaining the pages of a style magazine. She could hardly be described as sexy or glamorous, but yet in recent weeks, as a result of newly released film depicting the life of Britain’s only female Prime minister, The Iron Lady, journalists have been keen to re-evaluate Thatcher’s significance in the world of fashion. The whole of Somerville College were invited to a private viewing of the film last weekend and so we all trooped off, crocodile style, to beam with pride/cringe with embarrassment at the depiction of our most famous alumna.
Meryl Streep made a fabulous Margaret, an extremely convincing, if decidedly more attractive and appealing one. However, this is not surprising as the actress allegedly spent two hours in make-up every morning before filming with a team of 12 make-up artists to perfect that helmet of honey blonde hair. Thatcher’s clothing was certainly distinctive; she was a woman who throughout her career managed to turn her clothes and accessories into clever mediums of communicating power. I am not trying to claim she should be an emblem of our feminist approval, far from it, she was not a woman who thought that the feminist battle was worth her time or approval, and yet there is a way in which made her signature pearls, shoulder pads, handbags and lurid blue suits stand out as a medium of control. Fashion has always been a way exhibiting wealth and status, but it is not a technique often used in modern politics. Her style was always precise and impeccable. It was a regal uniformed, highly groomed and sharp. She opted for tailored suits so that she could stand quite literally ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with men. Her Commons armour became suited to her evening attire, feminine dresses were replaced with more elaborate versions of her daywear, for example the astounding (and not in a good way) pink gown affair she wore and Reagan’s inaugural ball in 1984. Her weaponry of accessories became a standard signature of recognition for cartoonists and social commentators of the period. After Thatcher’s favourite handbag sold for £25000 at auction last year her daughter Carol remarked that her mother had invented the verb “to hand-bag”. Quipping her handbag, “the safest place in Downing Street” it is no wonder that Margaret’s attire became a symbol for power.
In actual fact, a hint of Maggie has been around all season. Indeed I was horrified to discover that my subconscious choice of pale blue bow blouse for that morning almost exactly matched Thatcher’s style during the Falkland period. Indeed, both pleated and pencil skirts, pussy-bow blouses and smart monochrome court shoes have been covering the pages of fashion magazines. A hint of the Thatcher style one can cope with – we can admire her for the way in which she managed to turn a handbag into a symbol for authority, but let us hope that there will not be a return to Thatcherism, politics or style, there is only so many pictures of those hideous blue suits from the archives one can deal with.