Latest news from Loughborough University
11 January 2012 | PR 12/3
Margaret Thatcher - the original power dresser
Margaret Thatcher’s political rise and ultimate demise can be charted through her calculated use of clothing according to Loughborough politics lecturer Dr Daniel Conway.
One of the original power dressers, Thatcher adapted and refined her dress to embody her increasing power and dominance, ditching the pussycat bows favoured in her early career for carefully chosen outfits tailored to the political occasion and later the televising of Parliament.
To appeal to the widest audience, she stopped wearing hats (the badge of the middle classes) for domestic politics and garnered a housewife image to appear more ordinary and less of a threat to the opposite sex.
Her preference for wearing green in Poland and, later, fur hats in Russia made her a ‘superstar’ in wider Europe, and she frequently included the colour of the national flag of the country she was visiting in her outfits.
She is most known for wearing suits in the Conservative Party blue, personifying her party’s political identity.
Conway believes Thatcher’s upbringing with a dressmaker mother is just as important a factor as her grocer father and working class routes in understanding how she exercised power.
Her attention to dress saw her enlist the help of Aquascutum director Margaret King as personal fashion advisor. Detailed files were kept on what she wore and when, with outfits named after the occasions on which they were worn, such as ‘Reagan Navy’ and ‘Election ’87’.
During his research, Dr Conway interviewed Thatcher’s personal assistant, dresser and close confidante Cynthia Crawford, spoke to a former employee and co-writer of her autobiography, and visited Thatcher’s personal archives in Cambridge.
“It is possible to chart Thatcher’s career using a biography of dress. Thatcher used clothing to help create a variety of personas from housewife to the Iron Lady, and to build relationships overseas and send political messages.
“She was initially resistant about focusing on dress in her public life, but over time learned to adapt and master dress to suit certain political ends and help craft a dominant and secure political status.
“Most notable was Thatcher’s decision to invite BBC cameras into her private apartment in the run-up to the 1986 General Election to talk about clothing and appearance and recollect some of her more memorable outfits.
“Even today, the focus on dress and appearance is still so contentious for women politicians. Perhaps because Thatcher was so 'successful' in terms of winning and holding office, contemporary MPs are slightly restricted in that the media - and male politicians - expect women to look and be like Thatcher.”
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