|Margaret Thatcher's outfits sold on auction last year|
The death of Margaret Thatcher on Monday has prompted a schism in the UK between lauding tribute and sceptical criticism. While Baroness Thatcher is a particularly extreme example, one can normally expect the death of a former Prime Minister to result in this kind of media coverage. However, mixed in with all this has been a surprising number of articles, slideshows, blogposts and features examining the Iron Lady's taste in clothing.
I am in two minds on this. On one hand, I can't help but think of Hillary Clinton's response in 2010 to being asked which fashion designers she preferred: "Would you ever ask a man that question?" It strikes me that, had any of our other previous PMs died (all of them of course being male), nobody would be paying nearly so much attention to his style.
Of course, there is a practical reason for this: men don't wear anything as varied as women. On hearing of Margaret Thatcher's death, Boris Johnson said "Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics." As well as a political statement, his comment also reflects the fact that male political figures wear what is pretty much a uniform, with the only difference being the colour of their ties. I also think it's an unavoidable aspect of our society that more attention will be paid to women's clothes than men's.
But could we be in danger of overlooking a woman's political achievements in favour of her wardrobe? I think our obsession with what women in power wear is similar to what Hilary Mantel recently tried to point out about Kate Middleton, though she was immediately met with a torrent of defensive articles (most of them written by people who hadn't actually read her piece). If you perform a quick Google News search on the Duchess of Cambridge, it will yield a round of articles concerning one of the following topics: a) what she is wearing b) what she is going to name her baby c) where she is currently appearing or where she is visiting next. Do you notice how only one of these really attempts to view her as a thinking being rather than an object for viewing? And even that focusses on her ability to reproduce. She is viewed in terms of her appearance and her function as a mother, not in terms of her thoughts, opinions or emotions.
To a lesser extent, this is also the case for female politicians. Try the same thing with Yvette Cooper or Theresa May and most of the results will be about their activities in politics, but there is still a preoccupation with their fashion choices, which will never come up if you search David Cameron or Ed Miliband. The truth is that women seem to be inevitably under more pressure to ensure that their public appearance is just right than their male counterparts.
Or are they? I find myself thinking of this clip from The Adjustment Bureau in which a Congressman talks about needing focus groups to establish the correct amount of scuffing on a shoe and the right colour for a tie. Men need to pay just as much attention to what they wear, it's just that the media never notices unless they get it badly wrong. Women's clothing, however, are analysed by the press whether they get it right or wrong.
I'm not saying we should stop looking at what politicians wear. In fact, I think it's a highly interesting topic, as it is one of the biggest ways in which fashion can make a difference in our culture. But perhaps it's time to stop analysing what women wear just because they're women. And hey, maybe we could have a look at what the men are wearing. For once, let's establish what brand of shirt Boris Johnson has on today and what that says about him.
Oh, and if any male politicians are reading - jazz things up and wear a bowtie or something. Seriously. Stop being so boring.