This article was originally posted on September 5 2012. Baroness Thatcher passed away this morning aged 87, following a stroke.
This week, seven of Margaret Thatcher’s suits fetched £73,125 at auction. Held at Christie’s, a fierce bidding war ensued, resulting in the iconic set selling for seven times their pre-sale estimate. The collection took us back to 1970s Britain, when Thatcher, a colour blocking maverick, stepped out in canary yellow, navy blue (the party colour) and coral pink. Each suit marked a significant moment within her career, with a jade green wool suit worn by Thatcher on the day that she was confirmed Tory party leader in 1975 reaching a staggering £25,000.
All of these outfits are what made Thatcher The Ultimate Power Dresser. Teamed with her signature pearls (given to her by husband Denis), she fashioned herself a uniform, while still retaining a sense of femininity. Although her clothing was never fashionable as such, she has become a sartorial genre in herself. Her pussybow blouses, statement pearl earrings and coordinating suits are used as a reference point and an iconographic milestone within the twentieth century, representing not only fashion but cultural and political values. Memories of the 1981 riots glimmer in the button on a double-breasted woolen suit, while a string of pearls represent the line of men she sent forth to the Falklands. Social upheaval and historical change are knotted up in each blouse bow; clearly, there is a context to her clothing.
"Teamed with her signature pearls, she fashioned herself a uniform, while still retaining a sense of femininity"
Described by Thatcher as “the only safe place in Downing Street”, her solid handbags were staple. Her favourites were by Asprey and Salvatore Ferragamo, both black. The term “Handbagging” was coined in credit to Thatcher, even making the Oxford dictionary as an idiom for asserting oneself and ruthlessly attacking one’s opponent. Michael Dobbs, former Tory chief of staff, commented that her arm candy “was in part a portable filing cabinet, but was also used to remind people of her power”.
Her stylist was Margaret King, an executive for Aquascutum. “She loved trying on clothes and would twirl around like a little girl,” King recalls. She carried thermal Carmen rollers with her everywhere to create her iconic bouffant. Her mother was a seamstress and she advocated British fashion. When asked her opinion on Vivienne Westwood, Thatcher commented “Isn’t it nice she’s British!” In 1989 Westwood herself was styled as Thatcher for the cover of Tatler.
“What do I dress for? I dress for the occasion and the job and it is very important,” Thatcher once said. She knew the power and impact of dress and deployed it within her position appropriately. She was once described as ‘a lady and a warrior”. When she appointed Nigel Lawson as Chancellor the only advice she gave him was to get his hair cut.
Text by Mhairi Graham