I’ve been thinking about when I went from junior to senior school. I don’t recall if my parents took a photograph but after all it was the eighties, so by the time it was developed we had moved on to the next thing and the window for showing off was gone. Also, I had been at the school for four years already so it wasn’t exactly an achievement, just evidence that no-one had bothered to suggest I go elsewhere.
What I do remember is how excited (we were blessed with a perfectly acceptable navy blue uniform) I was to be dressed in such a smart and grown up outfit. Albeit several sizes too big so that it would last me until I was sixteen. The novelty wore off of course but initially we adhered to the rules because we were keen to make a good impression. It had been drummed into us by our junior school teachers that out in the big wide world we were ambassadors for our school and that not wearing school uniform exactly as it was intended, smoking and/or screeching on the bus while in school uniform would not be tolerated. Old ladies would write into the head mistress about us, we were told, and that gave the school a bad name. We must look and behave like the intelligent, well adjusted young ladies we were. Nobody dared question why the head mistress herself – the wife of a vicar and in her latter years – occasionally came to school dressed in what appeared to be a cowgirl outfit.
Therefore it was with dismay that I looked at Amber Rudd and her trouser suit in Paris last week. If the good people of Wimbledon were that easily ruffled by a school girl with her shirt hanging out then what on earth I wondered, would Paris make of the crumpled appearance of our Home Secretary? If the ecstatic grin of the French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve shaking Rudd’s hand was anything to go by, he couldn’t believe his luck; he had won that photo opportunity hands down merely by looking neat. Mr Cazeneuve is not very tall I noted, perhaps this was why Ms Rudd had opted for those lace-up brogues, horribly reminiscent of those I was forced to wear in the junior school because of my alleged ‘fallen arches’. Perhaps preferring not to tower over her counterpart, she had taken a leaf out of the always stylish former first lady Carla Bruni’s book and worn the flatties as a mark of (stooped) respect. Either way those shoes were awful and she still looked down on Cazeneuve.
The thing is – and hear me out because I know the argument for not commenting on the appearance of professional females – but sartorial standards are important. First impressions are everything because there will always be a minute, possibly several minutes when you might not have said a thing. You may have been photographed or spotted across a room without the chance to floor your colleagues/followers/prospective in-laws with your sparkling clever repartee – don’t you hope you look your best in that case – and isn’t that perfectly natural? We live in a very visual world where everything from brunches to bottoms are documented daily for the world to like or comment upon. Young people are buying more clothes than ever before because they constantly post their daily outfits on social media immediately rendering them worn, seen and done. Like it or not, we are judged by our appearance and there is no ranting about equality or gender neutrality that is going to change that. Am I the only person who washes their hair before going to the hairdresser because I’d rather do that than be seen as someone who doesn’t have squeaky clean tresses every single day?
In 2016 if you want to be perceived as pulled together, you need to look pulled together. If you genuinely don’t care about how you look (fair play to you) and you are happy for people to know you don’t care, then you are on safe ground because that is the impression you will give out. In some jobs that will be just fine but if you have a role in which you play a part in running the country then I’m sorry but it isn’t. Just as we want the people who care for our children to look clean and healthy and jolly, we want our politicians to look sharp and well, on it. Nicola Sturgeon’s immaculate look is in my opinion is a breath of fresh air in the world of politics. And yet she recently attracted a huge amount of criticism on Twitter for proudly posting a picture of herself outside No.10 with Theresa May and daring to suggest it was a great example for young girls with ambitions. What seemed to piss people off (and when I say people, I mean mostly other women) was that they were both wearing heels (the accessory of the devil apparently) and girls should know they can be successful without dressing like tarts. Okaaaay… Personally I wear heels because they make me feel taller and yes, more attractive but the result is I am a more confident person that way and a more confident me achieves stuff.
Amber Rudd’s trouser suit may make her feel a million dollars, it may be her favourite thing, her go-to outfit even. But the creases, the lace up brogues and the casual insouciance didn’t work in Paris. I’d like to see her in something with clean lines, maybe all one colour, fewer layers complicating the silhouette. A gently tapered midi dress with some mid heels would be elegant without being a distraction. Does this mean I’m not interested in listening or giving credit to what she has to say? No of course it doesn’t. Look at French politician Rachida Dati or our own Theresa May, they both get it right. I’d just like our female politicians to think outside the polling booth and dress as the amazing groundbreaking women they are, not the grey middle aged men they are surrounded by.