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.