The dowdy wives of UK politicians could learn a thing or two from their fashion-forward foreign counterparts
With the exception of Samantha Cameron, who looked as if she’d been Tangoed from the waist down in her burnt orange Capri pants, our political wives looked rather a dismal lot as they went out to vote with their besuited husbands in the recent mayoral and local elections. Had word gone out to the wives to dress down to tune into the austerity vibe?
Mrs Ed Miliband, the high-powered barrister Justine Thornton, resembled the “before” in a fashion makeover, wearing jeans and scoop-neck T-shirt. Ken Livingstone’s wife, Emma Beal, complete with skittish labrador, looked as if she was off for a country walk in sturdy boots, padded jacket and cap. Marina Wheeler, Boris Johnson’s barrister wife, did a little better in a navy and cream patterned coat.
Alas, Nick Clegg’s wife, Miriam González Durántez, an innately stylish Spanish international lawyer, did not accompany her husband to the polling station. Ever since she sported a fabulous Carmen Miranda-style black and red turban at the royal wedding last year, fashionistas yearn for her appearances.
Ladies, please, if this is competitive dressing down, spare us. Take a leaf out of Michelle Obama’s book. The US first lady (yet another lawyer) introduced her husband at a rally recently, flaunting her toned arms in a sleeveless sky-blue dress, embellished with a brooch the size of a dartboard. The new French first lady, François Hollande’s partner, political journalist Valérie Trierweiler, has already been praised as “very handsome” and “very elegant” by the über-critical Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. Flattery still has its place at President Hollande’s feminist court.
Should our political wives look for inspiration nearer home, there are some outstanding historical examples. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, turned herself into a racy political hostess, befriending and perhaps bedding Charles James Fox, the great Whig parliamentarian. Georgiana became his campaign manager at the general elections of the 1780s, even canvassing in the streets. She often wore blue and gold, the Whig colours, and fox fur in honour of Fox, her “favourite member”.
Jennie Churchill, mother of Winston, greatly helped her husband Lord Randolph’s early career, as well as that of her son later, canvassing and knocking on doors. She thought nothing of flaunting her perfect figure in the latest fashions to charm society on behalf of her menfolk. A hundred-odd years before Samantha C got her discreet ankle tattoo of a dolphin, Jennie C is said to have had a snake tattooed on her wrist.
Poor Jennie was to die of an infection in 1921 after a fall downstairs wearing the latest hazardous Italian high heels. We do not ask our political wives to go that far in experimenting with fashion — just to show a little more pizzazz.