Remember the Blair Babes? The patronising epithet was bad enough, but the stunt of surrounding the new Premier with 101 women MPs was uncomfortable to watch. And probably worse to participate in; a cliché in which they must have felt used rather than celebrated. Despite the admirable drive to get more women into parliament, to the extent that Labour imposed all-women short lists on a number of constituencies, there is something sad about this group. Somehow their outfits – crafted by spin-doctors who required them to stand (or sit if they were a wheelchair user) around their waving boss – are a little bit off. They remind me of the Hillary-Angela look. Samey. Conservative. Overly colourful for the sake of it. FIve stayed away or had a good excuse but the rest are conformed. The individuality of each outfit is cynically crafted. Probably, for most women in politics, this is just how it is. It’s known as FIFO. Fit In or F Off. This photograph captures powerlessness.
It’s interesting to me that the candidates had been advised by Barbara Follett (now in the House of Lords) about the colours and shapes they should wear. I note there are two or three in camel and cream – generally good shades for red heads. A few dark haired women are in predictable but acceptable navy suits. But a dozen or so are in red suits. Have you ever seen a man in red suit? Probably not as can look a bit startling. Especially when there are several of them.The jackets are invariably long (even allowing for fashions) Very few wear trousers. Hardly any one is in a jacket and co-ordinating skirt. And no-one, as far as I can see, has been allowed out in a dress. Almost to a woman they are in knee-length or longer skirts, the plainest black court shoes and clear tights. I don’t think there is anyone with long or grey hair – it seems that putting the Clairol on was also required to get the “image” right. We have a safe, respectable look – the sort of clothes you might see at a golf club or on a head teacher from Glamorgan. Uniform. Formulaic. Safe. Inoffensive. This is essentially a photograph of women without authority – they are supporting Tony, not the other way round. While they lack real authority, they don’t seem sympathetic or approachable either. Despite the cacophony of colour they are just peas in a pod.
Let’s have a look at three of the women who were successful from that intake – Flint, Blears and Smith. They had important jobs in Brown’s government and their appearance is considerably better. Personally I dislike the harsh hair colours but otherwise I would say they pull it off. Caroline choses a black coat with leather trim, attractive shoes and smart trousers. She wears her hair long. I find the black a bit overwhelming, but overall it’s a flattering look. Hazel is tiny but she looks well dressed in her deep purple coat with a waterfall front, a nice silk scarf and an interesting brooch. Jackie is in trousers too – a classic blue-grey trouser suit with a cream blouse. They all look fairly normal, much more confident and individual. I wouldn’t restyle any of them but I would get their sleeves taken up.
There’s someone else I want to have a look at – Teresa May. She is senior Cabinet member of the present government and she is tall with slim legs. She has natural grey hair although I preferred it when she had a shorter cut. She sometimes gets it right but I fear she is a little too “fashion-forward”. She wears Vivienne Westwood, which is surely a cause for celebration, but somehow she doesn’t quite get the essence of the piece. I really don’t think you can wear statement items like this with Marks and Sparks accessories.
And finally let’s have a look at someone really interesting.
Mrs Thatcher managed to fit in and stand out. She wears an utterly classic, regal outfit – the simplest Tory-blue dress and matching jacket, pearls and a silver brooch, neat hair and court shoes. It certainly achieves the level of authority required in a Prime Minister. How do the Blair Babes compare?