21st Century Girl (in politics)

Politics is one of the rare facets in life that almost everything can be measured by. Finance, family values, the power of the media – it is a constant reminder of the influence we have on it and the effect it has on us. Style is a little like that, and when those two worlds collide, things really start to get interesting.

Style is arguably the trait that proves politics to some degree superficial, as most things are at some point. This becomes most evident when we look at women in politics. Ah, women. Unfair though it may be, having that extra ‘x’ chromosome sets us up for more scrutiny, especially those women at the top. Three examples of how style has documented the rise and rise of the female politico:

1. Margaret Thatcher.

Like her or loathe her, The Iron Lady was a one off.  While I didn’t have the experience of growing up under her government (somehow I just don’t think ‘The Cameron Years’ will come off as so gritty…), we can all agree she was one of the most influential and interesting politicians of all time. The same is true of her style.

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The hats, the pearls, the co-ord suits – all reflected an aspirational and uncompromising style of leadership. The presentation of a bold character through both her actions and appearance make her remembered among a long history of stuffed shirts.

2. (The Force That Is) MICHELLE OBAMA

Oh, Michelle. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… As one of the most highly regarded First Lady’s of all time, Michelle Obama is paving the way for professional women in the limelight. The Obamas, perhaps more than any First Family in history, have capitalised on the idea of the Presidency as a role which goes beyond the candidate, and extends to the whole shebang – Facebook and Twitter providing intimate details of their lives, meaning you cannot help but love them. Michelle (much like our homegurl Kate Middleton) is covered up without being dowdy, fashion forward without being cringeworthy, and utilities US brands without looking like a flagpole. In a word, she KILLS IT, and is more than capable of holding her own next to her hubby.

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3. Theresa May

I’m going to cite Theresa May here. Stay with me. Initially when I came to write this post, I was going to hold her up as possibly the worst example of power dressing of all time; the space suit jacket was a difficult one to get out of my head:

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It just has ‘Stylist Sabotage’ written all over it. However, after a little more digging I came across a plethora of style-related Theresa May articles. And boy does this girl have balls. I can’t say I envy every bland trouser suit and ill-tailored blouse, but there is a glimmer of hope. She appears to take risks, which for a politician is as common as a pig with wings. She’s not compromising an interest in fashion for a high-profile job, and while there’s definitely an appointment at Daniel Galver in order, she’s making an effort. Which is admirable, regardless of her appalling attempt at being Home Secretary.

What’s important is that any woman in the public eye is not reduced to her outfits alone, but that we appreciate that it is a uniquely female perspective on style which can make us stand alone. The personal appearance choices make tell us about the people we are and the world we live in – and the women at the top should feel responsible for this.

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Style Pedigree

Let’s face it – reasons to love Italy are hardly few and far between. The heat, the cheese, the booze…. Need I go on? Another thing which sets Italy aside is their unique sense of style. I’m guilty of people watching in the extreme, and of the overwhelming differences between Britain and Italy (and any country, for that matter) is our different takes on style.

In Italy, everyone looks slightly more “polished”. Even if it’s jeans and a t-shirt, my overall perception of these outfits is that they’ve had at least a modicum of planning and thoughtfulness put into it as opposed to throwing on whatever fell out of the washing machine first.

To say that the Italians ‘dress up’ would be wrong. In my experience, they always look together, but not overdone; fashion forward but not trendy. I’m often conscious that to look like you have made an effort is not cool. For me and my peers at least, to dress as if you think an event is more important than it might be is the cardinal sin of style.

So what influences different cultures to have different styles of dress; especially in a world as globalised as ours? If we take fashion at it’s most pure, and look at the designers that represent our respective countries, the trend continues. Italians (with Gucci, Versace and Prada at the fore) are opulent, with great focus on colour, quality and drama

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L-R: Gucci Resort 2014, Roberto Cavalli Resort 2014, Prada Resort 2009

Perhaps the typical British sense of style is more reserved, understated and prudish – as many would describe the national disposition.

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L-R: Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Burberry

As nations, we are still influenced by our heritage – Italians perhaps by  opulent nature of their architecture, religion and fiery personalities. Britons? For our love of meat and two veg suppers and penchant for the driest of humour. I think what the diversity of global fashion can tell us is that heritage still has a loud voice in style. As long as I’m still allowed to wear my pyjamas at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I’m happy.

When style is substance

“They seem all style over substance” – the immortal words uttered last night as we watched Miles Kane, Arctic Monkeys, Foals et al playing Glastonbury.

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Without a doubt, the concept of ‘image’ is what music is becoming increasingly about. Economy could be seen as a major player in this; “scents” and “garms” (or, what I believe most people refer to as “merchandise”) to be released alongside albums is becoming ever more popular. Did you know you can buy a KISS-approved coffin? Well, you do now. The non-stop access to artists via Twitter, Daily Mail online (admit it…) and the media mill seems to put increasing pressure on them to come off as having something, anything to talk about. A photo may say a thousand words but sings exactly zero songs. A band’s aesthetic image seems so pivotal in the year of Instagram.

As a result, artists and labels alike are likely to invest more times and money into developing a cohesive, visually-digestible image for themselves. Lana Del Rey went from generic girl-next door vocalist to sassy diva in the signing of a contract – perhaps supporting the idea that a strong look, and agenda is enough to set an artist aside in today’s industry.

But does the increasing importance of style in music diminish the credibility of a musician? Let’s start a fandom war: Beyoncé vs One Direction. Beyoncé on the one hand, is an influential vocalist and has both written and produced music in a range of styles. One Direction (I’m trying to remain objective here) are largely good vocalists, have a string of really fun hits and make their fans really, really happy. One thing is true of both of them: image counts. Beyoncé’s Independent Woman persona is what will make her a legend, and One Direction’s unprecedented ownership of the chino trend is admirable.

Both these artists are good musicians in their own right – listening to them doesn’t make your ears bleed and I’d bet my KISS coffin you’ve caught yourself singing along to both of them. Perhaps an artist’s music actually contributes less to our ‘liking’ of them less than we think – and it’s our perception of the style behind their image which determines much if our taste.

So much of our taste – particularly in music – seems to be directed by their image. The Independent Woman is something we can all embrace, and chinos will surely be looked back on as the defining trend of our time – even if everyone deeply, deeply regrets them. But if musicians, who often so perfectly capture the essence of the times through sound, want to contribute to the taste of the time – be it through our fragrances, eyewear or burial – that’s ok with me.