Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Our glorious leader

July Vogue has a piece on one M. Thatcher, style icon.

In the Guardian today, Zoe Williams says (and I think she is right) that back in the day, no-one obsessively commented on her clothes:

As improbable as it seems now, nobody seemed to care that much what Margaret Thatcher looked like in her heyday. There were very few remarks about her shoes; nobody was obsessively watching her weight.

[But. . . .]

I want to say those were nobler times, when everyone was less superficial, and that much is true; but truer and more salient was the fact that nobody cared what she looked like because we all hated her so much. You check out a politician's leopardskin kitten heels when she is an irrelevant person, talking irrelevantly about nothing. Conversely, when a politician is snatching your children's milk, smashing your union and kicking you in your metaphorical face, you tend not to notice what she's wearing.

Personally I think this is bollocks. The savagery unleashed on Hillary's Clinton's wardrobe is evidence to the contrary.


greying pixie said...

Linda, you took the words right out of my mouth! And add to that the beautiful Rachida Dati whose wardrobe is constantly scrutinized in France as she pulls up the ladder and ploughs her destructive way through liberal left wing values laid down over decades - to anyone living through the 1980s UK this all seems rather deja vu.

I think there are two reasons why Thatcher's wardrobe was not examined while she was in office, firstly because it was not actually that extensive or remarkable (one might even say Conservative) and secondly because the media's attention was completely focussed on the Princess of Wales.

Anyway, I've never taken Zoe Williams in any way seriously since an article she wrote a few years back castigating women who were mothers and saying she would NEVER have a child. Guess what happened next!

Toby Wollin said...

Linda - a fairly extensive percentage of American society, Hillary Clinton has been made out to be, for over 20 years, The Great Satan(or perhaps The Great Succubus). The amount of hate and vitriol which has been expended in her direction, to me, has been mind-boggling, but criticism of her looks, her teeth, her hair, her clothing, etc. has been going on basically since she emerged on the national scene.

Deja Pseu said...

Yes, the level and magnitude of vitriol directed at Hillary leads me to believe there's some serious projection going on. And I say this as someone who has issues with some of her political choices. This campaign has really brought a lot of people's inner misogynist out of the closet.

Mary Martha said...

I don't know if I should comment here seeing as I am American conservative and actually personally view Margaret Thatcher as a heroine.

That said... I think that her appearance was not particularly commented on because she was a woman in a mans world playing by mens rules. One of those rules is that if you don't wear something really ridiculous then nobody particularly cares what you are wearing.

I don't really care about Hillary's appearance - I can't stand her politics. However, it is important to remember that she rose to national attention in the position of first lady... which is all about appearances. Just go the the Smithsonian and look at the exhibition of inaugural gowns.

Anonymous said...

Well-stated, Mary. It's absolutely possible to revile Ms. Clinton for all sorts of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with her clothing, teeth, or hair. I agree that Ms. Thatcher didn't appear to draw attention to herself through her wardrobe, and that the international imagination seemed at that time to have been captured by Diana.

Anonymous said...

One other difference, in this context, between Thatcher & Hillary is that Thatcher came to national prominence in early-feminism 1970s. (As American, I only know this because of references to her in Monty Python!) By the time she was Prime Minister, most Brits had firmly-based opinion of her based on her politics alone.

With Hillary her feminism (and politics) were (and still are) used against her in a sort of tricky "She's a feminist and we're going to bring her down in the most fundamental & silly anti-feminist way by making fun of her looks!" This was deliberately thought out, but then took off as we entered People Magazine/Oprah/celebrity general atmosphere where everything is over-scrutinized.

Plus, we've seen Hillary's look go through great changes. First we meet her on the national stage as young middle age in preppy headbands of the Southern governor's wife who becomes First Lady. Then we meet her as young adult college "radical feminist" pix surface. Then further back in time pix as good Republican daughter teenager.

Those changes she went through when revealed out of order are used to make her seem like a political opportunist.

It's only the last 20 years where we've seen her looks evolve in real time: pant suits, shorter hair, etc.

Going only by clips & pix used on Monty Python, Thatcher's look didn't seem to change so radically.

-- desertwind

Lucy Sussex said...

I saw some clips of Thatcher speaking a while back, and I didn't particularly notice the clothes. What was striking was how completely false she seemed, like Dick's simulcra. The only time she gave an appearance of reality was when she was fighting for her political life.
So I had great fun writing a science fiction story in which she was an android. Oh, and Reagan was a zombie.

Mary Martha said...

It is striking that instead of attacking Thatcher's appearance or even her ideas - people attack her as a person (or that she even is a person). I don't know which is worse... but any form of attack is not particularly pleasant.

I have been thinking about this all day and I think that part of the problem with Hilary Clinton is that she was a fairly strident feminist who made a point of 'Not staying home and baking cookies' (thus insulting all those intelligent women who thought that feminism meant they could choose to do just that). Yet when necessary she did play the part of the dutiful first lady lighting the Christmas tree.

Hilary also seems to play the 'you can't hit me... I'm a girl' card (tears because 'It's all so hard') which is something that I don't think Thatcher ever did. Thatcher knew she was playing in the big leagues and acted accordingly.

lagatta said...

The problem here, of course, is that this is supposed to be a blog about dress and manners, with literary references, and not a political blog per se.

As obviously in a political blog I'd rip the above poster to shreds, and that is really, really not why I post here (this blog has me perusing public and university library shelves on costume, dress and manners over the millennia, as I love "history of everyday life".

I'd rather this stay on the topic of picking apart the wardrobes of women pols, left, right or centre.

By the way, my mum, not a strident feminist, would never have had the choice to stay home and bake cookies. Dad died when I was 15. But that isn't part of the great bootstraps plan, is it?

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly, there was some serious party money spent on Thatcher's tooth. I also recall that the dental job was not really very well executed as it had an audible detrimental impact on her speaking voice).

I am a self confessed Hillary supporter (highly educated and accomplished professional woman, yes many of us do support her and not Obama) and agree with Toby Wollin's commentswhole heartedly.

greying pixie said...

The British politician of that era I've always admired for her dress sense was Betty Boothroyd. She was always very well turned out, manicured, groomed grey hair, high heels and real twinkle in her eye. Apparently many years before she had worked as a dancer and she certainly maintained her posture. She was like a glamourous auntie who always has a good story to tell.

Anonymous said...

Hillary wasn't "a strident feminist". Not by any stroke of the imagination. She was quite a normal, smart college student. She got married, etc.

The "strident" thing was how her detractors used her decades-old student photos (and Bill's -- the beard! the hair!) against her. Lots of smart college coeds looked like she did then.

-- desertwind

PS - Just so you know where I stand politically -- Hillary is okay to me, but not radical left enough!

phyllis said...

The Baroness, even in her dotage, still scares the cr*p out of me.