Earlier this week we said Goodbye to Samantha Cameron – the beautiful and stylish wife of our ex-Prime Minister David Cameron.
And then on Tuesday we heard that the only woman standing for the Labour leadership – the want-to-be Prime Minister – was standing down from a difficult contest. I like Angela Eagle and find her compelling and funny. I would have been happy if Labour had shown it was changing by finally choosing a female leader who is both smart and able to connect with ordinary people.
On the other hand I did not like her sense of style, if I am honest.
Let’s see how she launched her campaign.
What does the image say to you? Pink? Barbi? Messy? Unprofessional? Like an advert for a cheap perfume or “body spray”? Funny signature that reads as Arghhhh!? Distorted pink Union flag? Perhaps Angela has a friend who qualified in graphic design a few decades ago who offered her time for free.
I was embarrassed for her. She is brave and intelligent. She is (as I am afraid all politicians now have to emphasise their “personal story” over their political stance) a working class northern woman. She is good on the media, with an engaging manner. But whoever “branded” her, going out and buying the shocking pink and salmon satin jackets, should be sacked immediately.
Everyone knows that Labour has, historically, employed style consultants, especially to advise their women how to dress. And there is nothing wrong with that. But if it is formulaic it stops working. Getting style advice is good if it allows you to be the best version of yourself. Not if it makes you into something you are not.
Let’s see Angela before the rebrand. What do you notice immediately? (Apart from her hair, which I will come to).
Angela’s outfits are basically trousers, a top and a jacket. And I would suggest she doesn’t “do” colour. She prefers black, grey and a bit of beige. Her red is dark and boring. Her jewellry is a necklace. She doesn’t worry too much about her appearance because she is a serious politician, and that is OK. If someone has a “natural” wardrobe personality this has to be reflected in how they advised. Angela wants her clothes to be in the background – not to detract. She wants practical, easy clothes. There is absolutely no point making her uncomfortable.
If I was advising Angela I would understand that she likes to look natural (and authentic) and I would encourage her to stop dying her hair as it is making her look drained and old (she is 55). Also it sometimes looks likes she trims her own fringe. I would schedule a six weekly hair cut with a good hairdresser. She needs a modern wash-and-go style that looks good with no blow drying or products. I would find a couple of optional lipsticks that complement her light cool colouring. And I would stick with the neutral trouser suits/jacket and non-matching pants, but would look for a more flattering shape – most of her jackets and trousers are middle-aged and dated. She might consider a few modern but classic tailor-made suits that would fit well and show off her nice shape. Also there are far better versions of flat shoes out there – the ones she wear are “comfy but frumpy” – have a look at brogues, loafers and more youthful shapes.
But I would also step away from the black. Angela has very light colouring and would look much better if her neutrals were light grey, beige and mid blue – even white. Having chosen a classic suit or more elegant jacket and trousers, perhaps introducing some texture would be flattering. I would make the blouse/jumper/top more of a main event too, using colour and pattern to create interest and style. The pastels are a bit predictable but might be good, but slightly stronger colours would work too. I would be prepared to bet that Angela doesn’t like ironing, but I would urge her to try a smart white shirt instead of the jacket sometimes to convey authority and a willingness to get the job done. You can always get them washed and ironed professionally. But getting the hair right is at least half the story.
I love pink, and I probably wear some pink two or three times a week. It is the traditional feminine colour and it can work very well with an aging complexion, making the wearer look more rosy, healthy and glowing. But it has connotations of femininity that are hard to ignore. It is important not to be afraid of pink, but don’t get hemmed in by it. Wear it with a little irony, if you can (unless you are a romantic dresser). But why Labour’s leading woman was encouraged to brand herself in pink is unfathomable. It just doesn’t convey the authority that is needed, and it is not true to the woman being promoted.
Look at this too. In the last election Labour, in an attempt to get women to vote for the party, sent a bunch of women MPs round the country in a pink bus.
Women’s issues are serious issues – fair pay, job opportunities, the need for affordable child care and housing, the right to choose. And we are interested in foreign policy, and education, health, science, industrial policy and safety too (just like men). So come on Angela – show real leadership – get the party to drop the pink, and fight for women.