Is it sexist to talk about a politician’s clothes? Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May is very open about her passion for fashion. Political fashion blogger Laura Dunn explains why she can be an inspiration.
Two fashion cosmoses collide as new British Prime Minister Theresa May meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday. In office for just a week, May’s penchant for brand names, bold prints and extravagent shoes is still the talk of the town.
Political communications specialist and fashion blogger Laura Dunn explained to DW via email why we care so much about what politicians wear – and why Theresa May can be a role model.
DW: How important are a politician’s clothes?
Laura Dunn: Dress and selection of clothes are a part of politics, and a particularly important factor in the presentation of image. They help us form an opinion of the person that’s wearing them and they often become part of the character that we associate with the wearer. We all remember Margaret Thatcher for her bow blouses and structured handbags, much like we associate leopard print shoes and chunky necklaces with Theresa May.
Politicians who have high profile roles are ambassadors for the country that they represent, and their choice of clothes is an important part of promoting their country. Margaret Thatcher wore suits by British designers like Burberry and Acquascutum. The black and neon yellow dress and long coat that Theresa May wore to enter Downing Street was by British designer Amanda Wakely, and her shoes by high street retailer Russell & Bromley. It is choices like these that can have a positive impact on the fashion industry and the consumer.
Theresa May’s sense of style has sparked discussion. Some are debating her taste while others are insisting that no one would care if she were a man. Is it sexist to discuss a professional woman’s clothes?
I don’t believe it is sexist to discuss a woman’s style of dress. As a politician and as the Prime Minister, Theresa May is on the world stage and people both at home and abroad will be genuinely interested to find out more about her and her choice of clothes.
There will always be a debate as to if discussing what a woman is wearing is sexist. It’s the tone of the debate that sets the agenda, and if the focus shifts to informative and educational information about the designers she selects, the decisions behind why certain pieces are selected and tips for other individuals to recreate a specific look, then I think we are less likely to see the usual tabloid coverage that many politicians face.
We shouldn’t be afraid to discuss a politician’s clothes. I frequently have messages from readers asking me where a certain item is from. There’s a demand to know more!
Theresa May’s shoes – which include kiss lips and leopard print – are most talked about. A man’s shoes probably would not be discussed. But, in fact, the media does like to talk about male politicians’ appearances – except that they usually focus on their hair. Consider Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, and it was recently revealed that French President Francois Hollande spends 10,000 euros per month on a personal hairdresser. When do politicians go overboard with their looks?
I think that the majority of politicians dress appropriately for their role, but stories like expensive haircuts can have a damaging effect on a politician’s reputation. It’s great to see personality in politics – whether that’s Theresa May’s fantastically fashionable shoes, Hillary Clinton’s love of colorful pantsuits or Nicola Sturgeon’s bespoke made outfits from Scottish designers Totty Rocks.
There’s a demand to know more about our politicians and humanize them, and there will naturally always be an interest in a politician’s private life or their choice of shoes, handbag or suit.
May has publically said that she holds a subscription to “Vogue” and is seen as having an unabashed interest in fashion. Can she be a fashion inspiration for professional women?
Theresa May is and will continue to be a fashionable figure that professional women can look up to. Her choice of clothes and accessories has cross-generational appeal.
As a woman in the mid-20s, I particularly love her collection of shoes! May’s style is “classic with a twist” and she knows the types of items – long coats, structured suits and big accessories – that work well for her body type and coloring. Professional women at each point in their career can look to May for fashion inspiration. From a flash of neon to a little dash of leopard print, our new Prime Minister is a trendsetter!
Laura Dunn is a political communications specialist and founder of the blog Political Style. She tweets at @lauraemilyd. Dunn is also an independent blogger for The Huffington Post and is currently working directly with British MPs and Parliament on a digital engagement project.