So farewell then Angela Eagle

posted in: Style advice | 22

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.

Angela Eagle style
Angela Eagle launches 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.

Angela Eagle style analysis
Angela in another pink jacket

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.

So what about pink?

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.

Labour pink
Labour’s pink van




22 Responses

  1. Kerry

    As an Australian, I know nothing about Angela Eagle, but hey, I’m here for the styling discussion, not the politics!

    Interestingly, for me, I have a friend who is a similar shape to Angela but her style could not be more different. My friend has a serious job in the public eye, a large family and basically an incredibly busy life. She doesn’t spend a whole lot of money or time on her clothes, but buys items that bring her joy, are feminine and flattering, because that’s what she likes. Cute skirts, cropped jackets and cardis in summer; pants suits with nice shirts in winter – accompanied by sensible shoes that fit her orthotics (very glamorous). But here is the thing – she sticks to what she knows suits her figure and colouring and she makes sure she maintains her hair, but doesn’t wear makeup (no time). And she is comfortable in what she wears.

    Why has Angela Eagle been made to wear colours (black? Barbie pink!!) that she wouldn’t normally gravitate to? Personally I think she looked better in the before photos than in the campaign photos, and it would have been so easy to accessorise those neutrals and just style the outfits a tad.

  2. Lizzie Spring

    I like Angela Eagle and am sad we have not yet had a woman left wing PM. Perhaps we’re not ready for anything but occasional Thatcher types still.

    Spending a fortune on hairdressers would just seem weird for a socialist, in a time of austerity when other women are hungry, utterly voiceless and begging for food from charities. The pink was ridiculous, but so is homophobia and the endemic rage against non-feminine women she has to counter every day.

    Theresa May’s clothes are lovely but her government’s cruel politics viciously hurt us low income women. Poverty, rising homelessness, the punitive rents-for-profit replacing social ones, the removal of lifetime tenures and killing of mixed communities, the zero hour unlivable pay impoverishing working people and forcing them onto benefits – well hair styles and pink are possibly not the important factors for most women just now.

    • Martina

      I agree that it would be weird for a socialist to spend a fortune on hairdressers, but you must have reasonably priced good hairdressers in the UK. I tend to think that your appearance, the way you present yourself to the world, helps people understand who you are. There are codes embedded in our choices, and powerful people can make the code work for them. People laugh about Hilary and her pantsuits, but if she was wearing a dress or skirt, they’d be commenting on her legs. She’s chosen a feminized version of a man’s suit. She’s criticized for being cold, and I think her pretty colors and blonde hair are a means to make her seem more approachable. I think Ms. Eagle could get some nice reasonably priced (it doesn’t have to be Armani) suits, in serious but flattering colors, fix her hair, and put on a tiny bit of makeup. Then her “code” would read as professional and powerful and her sartorial message would support her cause instead of hindering it.

      By the way, I think men have codes too, they’re just a lot more limited in scope. And their codes don’t have to say that they’re smart, powerful, and decisive, but are also not too much of those qualities to be a threatening b**ch. We still have a long way to go. And hot pink vans shouldn’t be our way to get there! Thanks for a thought provoking post.

      • fabrickated

        Yes I agree with this. I also think dressing well and authentically helps convey respect to your audience, workforce or colleagues. It can show something of who you are and help to break the ice for people. For all of us our clothes help define how approachable/authoritative we are. Leaders currently need to be both powerful and able to connect to the electorate and for those who seek to lead (and we do need people to step forward and take up leadership roles) they do need to consider how they come across.

  3. Rowena

    I am enjoying your posts along this front – not just because, as a working woman myself, these are things I need to consider. We’re heading back to the US next week and will be jumping into a media maelstrom around Hillary Clinton that is deeply linked to the fact that she is a woman. I agree that it is a shame that these women are not judged only for their merits, but I also think that, since we are obviously going to be in that sort of world for a long time, it is important and very interesting to review how their choices (fashion, tone, etc.) reflect how they are viewed. It tells us a great deal about their critics, and the path that some of them take over their career (Hillary is a great example) is fascinating. I also like it from the aspirational point of view – I want to be a powerful, successful woman (or at least one that my students don’t laugh at) and so it’s fun to play “what would I do in their shoes” to some extent.

  4. Catherine

    I do so agree with you about the pink, the hair, the shoes – poor Angela, way out of her comfort zone. It was all so ironic, too, as for me it conveyed subliminally that she and her advisors had not grasped the requirements of leadership nowadays, just when her whole point was that she was critical of someone else’s leadership qualities, or lack of.
    The bright jacket over black trousers and black T-shirt was channelling Merkel, of course, who’s made them her brand. With Clinton, Merkel and May all now so prominent, it’s clear, surely, that fantastic, expensive tailoring, and the money for immaculate hair, make-up, shoes, etc, along with those colour decisions, are hugely important. (I don’t think that’s a good thing, by the way). And it’s pretty ubiquitous for women in the public eye – just about every female news anchor and TV journalist display similar style and care.

  5. eimear

    Good breakdown, I find the use of pink to be attractive to women over the age of 5 a bit odd….. I work in a sports shop and the buyers continually buy in runners for women with pink in it…. I mean seriously!!! I also get rather annoyed at the way the under 5s are being sold pink to the extreme but thats another story! It is unfortunate, but a fact of life, that people are judged by their appearance and the appearance can fully distract from the person and message themselves. When you see someone like Christine Legarde and as she is always so smart looking, what she has to say can be clearly heard -( and this does not just apply to women)

  6. Annie B

    I’m very much with Lizzie on this. I passed Angela and twin Maria in my local shops in May….the stores are upmarket dull with edgy bits. I think Angela ticked all your boxes Kate on her wedding day. Advisers aside the theme of feminine genderised sexual types and identity power is politically and socially in need of our attention. More than just the one line personal backstory maybe?

  7. Sarah

    I quite agree. How could she have been so poorly advised? Watching her on tv during her brief campaign I was distracted by the awfulness of her hair.

    Theresa May, on the other hand, has clearly been getting some good advice since becoming PM.

  8. Anne

    An interesting post.
    TBH I wasn’t that keen on Angela Eagle as a possible future PM after seeing and listening to her on the leadership debates.
    I agree with you about the pink bus and the seemingly ubiquitous use of pink to show femininity (and of course it’s an icon of the gay community). Interestingly, pink is becoming a very male colour too – I notice this most among the golfers I watch.
    I don’t think Angela always got it right before but I didn’t really notice until this post as I was listening to what she said! Perhaps that says a lot, that her clothes didn’t detract from her message. I think your suggestions are spot on.
    I do, however, find myself commenting on the clothes of newsreaders, world leaders etc, all female, and it is sad that what someone wears is more important than what they say and I am culpable here.
    A friend of mine, who is well read, intelligent and articulate as well as politically astute said that Theresa May should be PM because of her shoes!! I certainly don’t go that far. I hadn’t noticed her shoes.
    Your comment about Angela Eagle’s shoes is interesting (again I hadn’t noticed them, I guess I’m not that observant ). I’m aware my shoes are frumpy but not always that comfy and am on the lookout for better options.

    • fabrickated

      I don’t for a minute think that clothes are more important than what you stand for – they are merely a reflection of your personality. And for most of us it doesn’t really matter although how we look does affect very much how we feel and the impact we have on others. I make no apology for suggesting that we are more effective, happier and authentic when our appearance is in line with who we are and what impact we wish to make.

  9. Maria Josephine

    I hesitate to write this as I don’t want to seem to trivialise the cruel death of a truly exceptional and truly good person, but I think that Jo Cox, among all her more important attributes, had a great dress sense which seemed to be part of her natural ability to be happy in her own skin.

  10. Stephanie

    Kate, This is fascinating analysis, as are the comments. I can’t comment on this particular politician, but I am of course appalled by the approaches to evaluating women in leadership positions that generally exist across the western world. In my little sphere, it often seems that personal traits that are stereotypically considered to be “male” are required to be selected for leadership but then conflicting messages are sent with respect to aspects of personal dress and grooming. It’s all just such a load of you know what.

  11. Annnieloveslinen

    She looks like she was styled to appeal to the downtrodden down at heeled, trying to look nondescript. Bubble- gum pink should be wiped off the face of the earth. That pink bus idea was risible and condescending. Socialist or not she can afford to look better on the wages we pay her, her hair is awful. Theresa May’s hair is awful too, there’s just no accounting for taste.

  12. ceci

    Very interesting – not a politician I am familiar with, and when I saw the top picture with the pink stage set and so on my immediate thought was “new perfume promotion”.

    Its sickening the way Secretary Clinton is constantly criticized for hair, clothes, etc and other candidates are not. Perhaps the most offensive was when she was a senator and made a (very good in my view) speech wearing a v-neck shirt that showed a tiny hint of the top of her cleavage – you would have thought she had appeared in the nude. Men are so afraid of women… theory. Doesn’t explain the women commenting of course.

    I wish I could see her shoes better…..


  13. Jay

    I did not know Angela Eagle before her leadership challenge, but share your thoughts on style. Normally, I don’t have a problem ignoring fashion fails in politicians (it’s the message after all). This time, I couldn’t get past the fit of her jackets, however shallow that may be. Each one a poster child for ‘why we sew’; and it didn’t help to have the commentator reminding us that her mum was a seamstress. The colour didn’t bother me, it was the need for an FBA and top arm adjustment, and probably a couple of inches on the length.

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