A recent discussion on Meghan Markle found all of us agreed that the outfits the women wore on Suits bore little resemblance to the workwear you might find in a modern lawyers office in NYC.
I guess that is true in the UK too, but it got me thinking.
What do successful, senior women wear in UK TV series and could you really wear these outfits to work?
Let’s start with Gillian Anderson, who plays the part of a senior police officer in The Fall. Although Stella is a senior cop she wears striking clothes – high heels; usually a pencil skirt; occasionally trousers. But her blouses are sexy – draped fabric, often shiny, looking more like luxury pyjamas than a businesslike shirt. Her hair is loose and long, with a bit of a wave, and her makeup is subtle, her skin dewy. I would say she is closer to the American style of senior woman, but her look is not that typical in the police service.
In London we now have a female police commissioner who is rather effective, and out of uniform this is how she dresses. Nothing wrong with a blouse, joggers, trainers, ruck sac and a week’s supply of bananas for a bit of colour. But Cressida is no-one’s style icon.
The other professional woman we have seen recently has been Dr Gemma Foster, a General Practitioner. Her outfits are generally safe classics and the sort of thing you might buy at Reiss, Jigsaw or Hobbs. Realistic, yes, these clothes are the sort of thing and inner city GP would wear. Practical, comfortable, deep colours and neutrals, rather modest and unexciting. However when Gemma goes out she dresses in an overtly, and traditionally, sexy way. She likes lacey underwear, hold ups etc, but I would say the portrayal of her outfits was hyper-realistic. Which is more than you can say for the terrible storyline.
I enjoyed Happy Valley, a series focusing on Catherine Cawood as a front line police officer. She is decidely gritty, often getting punched and duffed up by the Yorkshire ne’er do wells. She bustles around in a big yellow anorak or a bulky high vis stab vest, giving as good as she gets. With so many items hanging from her jacket she reminds me of an Early Learning Centre activity centre. I love that she has ordinary-woman hair – not much of a hair cut, greying roots and a rubber band keeping it off the collar – and a very typical body shape. She doesn’t do much out of uniform work, but when she knocks off at night she will put on a wooly jumper, or a zip up fleece and loosen her hair.
(I have never watched Broadchurch or Vera, but Karen suggests them as more good example.)
The female detective from Broadchurch appears to have bought a trouser suit at Next and worn it with a pastel blouse. This look was common in the offices of Britain a few years ago, but it is desperately dated now. Whereas Vera with her tweedy coat, Dr Who scarves and comedy headgear is just another English eccentric in the Miss Marple mold. I don’t think many women dress like this, and I don’t think she is a typical detective either.
So what is the punch line with these English dramas?
Apart from Doctor, there is just one role for an intelligent, professional woman on the TV, and that is Police Detective. If you are successful in your detecting career you will dress in unexceptional ways to blend in with the dark and dirty landscape. Although some towns, cities and seaside towns are featured to good effect, much English drama focuses on challenging social issues. I cannot think of a series where women have senior jobs in the media, the arts, construction or law. Occasional series feature female senior civil servants or government ministers such as In the Thick of It, a series I much enjoyed. Nicola, the Minister, wears unremarkable political dress – the comedy is always in her attempts to manage the message. One of her advisors Terri is often put upon – but she can’t fail to be noticed in her terrible, huge-shouldered, jackets. I love the Terri character and always enjoy seeing her horrid outfits which are completely wrong for her. As a short woman with a large bust, a soft, rounded face and figure these jackets in toilet roll colours emphasis her shortness and girth.
Which leaves us with our British diet of stately home and costume drama. Which is a pity.
Stay posted for information on the 13th Dr Who, played by Jodie Whittaker. Judging by the hoody and overcoat this strike for women’s equality will not be accompanied by an interesting stylish look. Shame.