Tag Archive for 'politician'

One reason there is a lack of women in David Cameron’s top team. Part 2

You’ve probably guessed that I think that one reason there are few women in David Cameron’s top team is the way the women – at least in the picture The Times used to illustrate their article – presented themselves.

 

The picture may or may not be a fair representation of the individual styles of the women in the photo – but the contrast between them and the men is striking.

 

Often when I say this kind of thing, I get quite a lot of flack.  Some people think I’m suggesting that clothes, rather than talent, make the woman and that I’m somehow anti-feminist.  Others think I’m suggesting that everybody should be spending well beyond their means on very expensive clothes.

Neither of these is remotely true.

My guess is that the women are at least as talented as the men.  But they look neither as confident nor as successful.  Dressed as they are there they simply don’t look ready for the world – or even national – stage.

My experience is that people know when they don’t look the way they’d like to; and this knowledge has an impact on their confidence; and that low confidence shows itself in the way they carry themselves; and the way they carry themselves is picked up on by the people they meet.

I’ve worked with hundreds of women who have become successful in their field before I got involved.  They’ve come in to Wardrobe because, despite their success (or even because of it as they mix with new and unfamiliar people who are making judgements about them), they realise that they can’t go on feeling unconfident in their style.

For politicians, it’s even more important.  Every time they face the public, every time they sit down to negotiate with other people, they are on show, on stage.  In this country, we are brought up to think that spending time on ensuring we look good is frivolous.  I disagree.  I believe that, since we know people will make at least first judgements according to how we look, then before we go ‘on stage’ we should look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we look credible.

Knowing that we look credible and feel attractive builds confidence – and it’s that confidence that creates the kind of presence that can have impact when you enter a room.  I want to empower women – even politicians – to feel good about themselves.

The best thing about my job is when women – and some of them have been politicians – come with trepidation into the shop looking like wet lettuces and, with a bit of attention to hair, make-up and clothes, leave the shop gushing with gratitude.

Of course, the last thing a politician wants is to be seen to be spending a fortune of expensive clothes; and being a politician – certainly on the way up – is not exactly well paid.

But if you can learn how to put together your own style, you won’t spend more on clothes.  You’ll spend more per piece, but you’ll buy fewer pieces.  You’ll buy better quality clothes which will last longer. If you get professional advice, you’ll make fewer mistakes.  If you avoid the big brands and focus just on the cut and the cloth, you’ll avoid paying for the marketing and people won’t even consider what you’ve spent – they’ll just feel your presence as you ooze confidence.

My mission is to build women’s confidence, not knock it.  It is hard for women as they age and their body shape changes.  But if women want to be at the top table, it would be good to start by looking like they belong there. 

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Why the UK doesn’t have a Michelle Obama

In an article in The Sunday Times last week, Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue was quoted as being frustrated that “you can’t get a politician into Vogue because there is a fear that being in fashion makes you frivolous.” And she adds that “In the US and France it’s more egalitarian; it’s fine for everyone to be interested in looking good.”

The article, entitled Why doesn’t the UK have a Michelle Obama?, was about how women in the political spotlight influence fashion trends.  Its central theme was that Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the French President’s wife (representing US and European ‘politicas’) know how to dress and British ones don’t.

It’s a theme I’ve been talking (and trying to do something) about since the 1970s, so it’s hard to disagree with the argument.  And the article is a good read.

But I can’t help feeling that these journalists are simply writing about the problem, when they and the media in general could and should be part of the solution.

If British women in the political (or business) spotlight don’t know how to dress, it’s because for several decades they’ve had pretty much no-one to show them how to do the “all-purpose savoir fair” of Mme Sarkozy.

And it’s a gap which I think the fashion press could easily do a better job of filling.

Professional British women think they’re being frivolous when they spend money on clothes because our magazines – even the best ones and even when they’re doing features on how to dress for work – mostly show clothes that most professional women over 35 or bigger than a size 12 could not wear for work without looking ridiculous.  So they’re simply not catered for unless they want to buy a boring suit from one of the usual suspects.

It hasn’t always been this way.  England in the 1950s was one of the most stylish places to be – excellent tailoring, classic styling.  But in the 1960s, when more women started to go to university, an idea took hold that intelligent women didn’t need to look good.  A reverse snobbery emerged, mostly among people who did go to university, where they didn’t have to bother about appearance.  And the attitude remained as they entered the workplace.

Meanwhile, there was the swinging sixties style of the likes of Biba and Mary Quant.   Europeans came to London, loved the slightly androgynous, carefree Carnaby Street style, but they didn’t wear it all the time.

Understandably the media took this up.  But they’ve never let it go (after all, most of our media are now run by people who grew up in the sixties – or after).  And partly as a result, British women have largely lost the ability confidently to put together a personal style that looks successful without looking flashy.

I agree that if you’re in a position of power – whether a politician, lawyer, accountant, or any other professional role – it’s your duty to look good; and I believe that most people prefer to see someone in a position of responsibility looking confident and successful (and that’s successful, not flashy) because they instinctively feel that if you’re confident and successful you might be able to help them.

And I think that goes for our fashion press too.  They have a duty to be more geared towards helping British women achieve that savoir faire; to finding out what really works for businesswomen, ‘politicas’ and anyone else who is serious about creating an effective personal style.

And then once they’ve achieved that , to stop knocking them down for looking confident and successful.

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