Baroness Warsi and the Sari – did it help her to “flounce”?

posted in: Style advice | 3

Warsi flounces out in a fit of righteous fury over Gaza: Muslim Foreign Office minister quits.

Daily Mail 5 August 2014

Baroness Warsi bows out
Baroness Warsi bows out

There has been a Twitterstorm about the word “Flounce” on the basis that a resigning man would not flounce out. The Daily Mail chooses its words carefully and no doubt “fit” (as in epileptic) “righteous” “rage” and “fury” implied she wasn’t just a female flouncer, but also an enraged religious one. I will come to that. But let me start on Flounce.

As a keen seamstress I know what  a flounce is. According to the dictionary it is “a strip of material gathered or pleated and attached along one edge, with the other edge left loose or hanging: used for trimming”. Apparently the origin of this word comes from the  an aliteration of frounce, from Middle English, pleat. Here is a diagonal flounce from waist to hip (on the left) in this 1940s Advance pattern. Incidentally on the right is a peplum.

Advance pattern from 1940s showing skirt (left) with flounce
Advance pattern from 1940s showing skirt (left) with flounce

The other meaning of flounce is “go or move in an exaggeratedly impatient or angry manner, eg ‘he stood up in a fury and flounced out’. (C16, Norwegian flunsa to hurry) And this is what Warsi is accused of doing. Flounce may be sexist but it can also describe a dramatic, petulant and hot-tempered person. The dictionary and the Mail both match flounce with fury – perhaps not such a feminine characteristic.

Of course Warsi is female – she more importantly she is the youngest person in the cabinet, of Pakistani origin and Muslim. She comes a poor, working class background, and she comes from Yorkshire. All these features are an important part of who she is and we need more diversity in Parliament and politics. But additionally I am sorry to see her step down because I was fascinated by how she dressed. Is that me being sexist? Or just interested in how a powerful, prominent Asian Muslim woman manages her image.

Firstly it is worth noting that Warsi frequently wears “Asian” dress. On the day she attended her first cabinet meeting she wore a “traditional” outfit consisting of salwar (trousers) kameez (overdress) and scarf worn with the tails at the back. The outfit was only casually coordinated (traditional outfits are often sold as a group and very carefully matched by both merchant and purchaser). She then put on a pair of heeled tan sandals, a beige mac, and slung a very large black bag over her shoulder. What was she saying with this outfit?

  • Pink – female.
  • Asian outfit – traditional.
  • Haircut – modern
  • Coordinated pink outfit – but not too matchy-matchy.
  • Interested in clothes, but also don’t care that much – maybe the coat, shoes and bag reference Yorkshire.

She knew she would be photographed – why the messy look?

On the way in May 2010
On the way in May 2010

While Warsi favours  a flouncy Asian outfit she can also be found in Kirsty-Allsop style Torywear. The use of bright primaries with black actually looks really nice on her and it is a good, strong look. I think a cardi is just about OK for a cabinet minister but it does emphasis her youth – maybe a good thing if youth means energy, challenge, passion and commitment. Less good if it emphasises your inexperience.

It is very hard to be the “first” black MP, out gay CEO, or female-Muslim cabinet minister, as you have no role models and you are expected to be one. You want to fit in, but you feel very different. You can disguise it or celebrate it. I respect people who wear their national or religious dress with conviction; London is full of muslim women who look stylish rather than slavish. Here are some images of  Warsi doing Muslim dress.

So what could she do instead?

  • ditch the beige, the pastels and the muted shades. Stick with black and other deep colours, matched with cool-bright shades
  • fitted outfits look a lot better than flouncy ones on Warsi
  • consider blending the looks
    • a fitted dress in an Asian textile
    • a chemise top over more fitted trousers in deeper shades
    • a smart navy suit with a beautiful embroidered Pakistani scarf in pinks and purples
    • a fitted red dress with black and silver embroidery
    • an elegant sari with a smart jacket (saris were declared unIslamic by General Zia but no more so than western dress)
    • try a warm Nehru-style jacket with fitted trousers in cold weather
    • wear traditional jewellery with a fitted evening gown in say deep purple
    • buy a really classy coat that fits well and is long enough to cover your skirt
  • work with young Asian designers to create great looks and promote their style
  • when attending religious services cover the hair in a less severe way (Benazir Bhutto shows how)


3 Responses

  1. Annie

    Oh the Daily Mail, it never disappoints.

    Kate, you have a good eye for for this sort of thing, like a lot of folks I can see whether an outfit works but may not know why.

    And I don’t always make the right choices for myself that support what I already know so I definitely couldn’t do it for someone else.

    Loved your pink post btw, and liked that you posted your dress despite imperfections. That will be encouraging to inexperienced sewers, good enough is ok.

    I, on the other hand, have just created another wadder, the fabric and pattern just do not like each other and they both hate me, *sigh*.

  2. Stephanie

    I think she’s very pretty in the pink outfit, although I am always a little bit messy and spontaneous in my combinations so I can relate! 🙂 There’s a lot in this post and I enjoyed reading it. I know that male politicians often consult image consultants (I’m sure our PM has), particularly for tv appearances, so I don’t see why a woman couldn’t do the same and work on refining her image for public presentations, while continuing to wear clothing traditional to her culture/religion. Goodness knows if I were in politics I would need to consult someone with an eye for detail such as you have! My colourful, full skirts would almost certainly be banished from the boardroom….

    It’s perfectly reasonable to be interested in how women in politics manage their professional looks and it’s quite easy to tell when the interest crosses the line. I have to admit the use of the word “flounce” in this context doesn’t particularly bother me. There have in the past been a couple of young and very attractive female politicians here who drew attention almost exclusively for their clothing choices, attractiveness and romantic histories, which is another issue altogether.

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