Samantha Cameron’s M&S dress and the devaluation of women

So Samantha Cameron’s £65 M&S dress is back in the news.  Apparently, she was only able to get hold of it because of a personal contact with Stuart Rose, the retailer’s CEO.

This story rankled with me when it came out earlier in the month – and even more so now.  What rankles is that it seems to be one rule for men and another for women.

According to the press, David Cameron buys his suits at Richard James in Saville Row (where prices start around £1000) – and nobody bats an eyelid.  It is expected – after all he wants to rub shoulders with the world’s leaders.

Yet Samantha Cameron is praised because she wears – to a hugely important occasion – a £65 dress from a high street chain (albeit the quintessentially British one).

And, nice though it was for the money, the people with whom she presumably wants to be rubbing shoulders will absolutely know where it has come from – even without the press hype.

Does it increase Cameron’s electability.  I can’t believe it does. I for one don’t want whoever is first lady mixing with Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni looking (and, whatever you’d like to believe, she will be feeling it) like the poor relation.

The whole episode is symptomatic of another English tradition: frowning on women who make an effort to look like they belong in a position of responsibility, like they are successful; effectively putting them down in a way which takes their confidence away and leads them to devalue themselves.

I see this so often with my customers: they’ll not go for a job they could do well because the salary is too high and they don’t think they would get it – because they don’t think anyone would pay them that much.

Judged by their male peers for being mumsy; praised by the British press for not making an effort to look the part; it’s no wonder that British women don’t know which way to turn.


3 Responses to “Samantha Cameron’s M&S dress and the devaluation of women”

  • I so agree with you Susie. Perhaps advisors hit on the choice of this dress as a double whammy – empathy with the average British woman shopper and playing down the Camerons’ wealthy profile (the women always come in for more scrutiny than men in the satorial stakes) and wearing something British.
    I read in one paper that Samantha’s outfit cost less than one of Sarah Brown’s Jimmy Choo shoes. Well good for Sarah choosing a classic, well made shoe that will last forever and look good every time she wears it. I believe whatever you do, you have to look the part, if people are going to believe in and take strength from you. I want to see a ‘first lady’ I’m proud of, a stylish match for Michelle and Carla.

  • I suppose one shouldn’t expect objectivity from a blog whose purpose is first and foremost commercial, but claiming that women should be confident and conscious of their value, while at the same time suggesting that they must be ashamed to wear affordable clothes, seems at the very least inconsistent. Would you feel better if Samantha Cameron had been ridiculed? Would that be a sign that women are treated as equal to men?
    In fact, women are usually admired for wearing glamorous dresses, no matter how much they cost, whereas nobody cares much about what men wear: suits are boring anyway. But while I share that point of view, I also applaud Mrs Cameron for not being afraid to wear a £65 dress. Surely, Michelle Obama, who has been seen repeatedly wearing items from Gap or Banana Republic, will not cast the first stone!

  • Hi Rebecca

    Understand where you’re coming from, but the reason I created this blog is to support what I have always done with my business – which is to try to ensure that successful British women can move in international circles with confidence and without worrying about how they look – not because they don’t care, but because they know how to put together their own personal style.

    You may not be aware of the way British women (and the way we dress) are regarded in the US and continental Europe. I’ve been travelling regularly for 35 years, and I see it all the time. Derision is not too strong a word.

    The point of the post was directed not at Mrs Cameron and her choice of dress, but at the British press which has for decades treated style as frivolous and unnecessary. With the result that British women often do not look like they belong at the top table because they feel it is wrong to spend time and energy getting it right; and, thanks to a lack of advice in the fashion press, they don’t really know how to do it anyway.

    I’ve spent all my working life empowering women, helping them gain confidence, not taking it away; and I get angry with attitudes towards women and style in the press as it makes my job far more difficult.

    Also, I’m sure Mrs Obama doesn’t wear gap and Banana Republic clothes at very important events.

    Warmest regards


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