Whilst Margaret Thatcher will be remembered for winning three elections and being the UK’s first female Prime Minister, she will also be remembered for transforming the modern image of and being a woman in politics.
‘Never flashy, just appropriate,’ Thatcher’s mantra for dressing made her clothes and her public image enormously effective as a tool for projecting power and influence. Not afraid to fuse femininity with power dressing, Thatcher made it acceptable to be both strong and female at a time when British politics was completely a man’s world. Britain’s first female Prime Minister believed that it was right to be comfortable in what you are wearing, especially in a job where you are continually ‘on duty.’
From this we saw Thatcher embrace the skirt suit and the silk scarf, opting for low heeled shoes over fashionable high heels, and a handbag that could hold all the essentials that a politician might need for their day job. Mrs T also championed the use of colour, and it wasn’t unusual to see her love of the bright blue stand out amongst a crowd of grey suits.
She was perhaps the first politician to understand the importance of constructing a personal brand, making the pussy bow blouse, structured handbag and the two strand pearl necklace synonymous with the Iron Lady’s public image. Thatcher’s mastery of the personal brand can be seen with the politicians of today. Theresa May is a politician who in particular, has used her personal brand to display her personality. The kitten heel, especially a leopard one, will forever be associated with May – as will her own take on the brightly coloured suit.
Thatcher is truly a sartorial diplomat and consistently ‘literally dressed’ throughout her time in office. Her blue skirt suit to enter Number 10 is a classic example- the bright hue emphasising her Party’s victory- and the change that was coming to the UK. Mrs T was also clever at choosing colours for visits to certain countries- red, for example is a lucky colour in China- and she wore this on her trip there. We also saw Theresa May do the same in 2018, opting for a red Amanda Wakeley blazer when in Beijing.
There should be no shame in wanting to be well dressed, particularly when representing your country on the world stage. Thatcher was a champion of British brands, selecting Aquascutum for many of her tailored suits and outerwear, and Asprey and Launer for her handbags. This is a theme we see Theresa May echo today, with the Prime Minister a true champion for Brand Britain, supporting talent like London based tailor Daniel Blake, womenswear designer Amanda Wakeley and high street staples Russell & Bromley and LK Bennett.
This week’s auction of Thatcher’s items at Christie’s highlights her love of buying things that last, and can be worn again and again. Suits from Aquascutum, silk scarves from Chanel and lots of lovely Ferragmo shoes have stood the test of time and are true classics. Much like Thatcher herself, these items are a testament to her relevance today and her lasting legacy.