Whatever you think about her legacy, there's little doubt Margaret Thatcher – or her advisers anyway – knew how to work a look.
As the UK's first female prime minister, she was under unparalleled scrutiny, and her wardrobe developed into an armour to deflect it. Like the Queen's signature sugar-almond suiting and court shoes, Thatcher found her public face through clothes and stuck with it to the end. Here are five elements that made up the Iron Lady's style.
While running for election in 1979, Thatcher's hair had some semblance of life – at times, it even looked as though it moved. That all changed once she reached in power. Post-1979, the hair – like her – stayed fixed in place. Thatcher underwent a subtle, but noticeable, makeover. Gone were the brightly coloured shiftdresses of the late 70s as Thatcher gravitated towards suits. A year before the power-dressing 80s, she predated, and possibly contributed to, that fashion trend. Her hair did too. Swept back from her face, it was like a helmet – held together by several cans of hairspray that, one imagines, could stand the force of one of those famous four-hour snoozes or any fight with Arthur Scargill. A visit onboard the Falklands-bound HMS Hermes, however, proved too much. Pictured in 1982, her hair was, for once, less than helmet-like. This was a one-time-only occurrence. She made sure it didn't happen again.
Few things survived from Thatcher's pre-prime-ministerial wardrobe but pearls were an exception. Photographs from the 50s onwards show her wearing them – necklace and earrings – as the picture-perfect housewife. She even wore them for her wedding day in 1951, and apparently didn't take them off again. Recent pictures showed them still firmly in place, more than 60 years later. They make sense, of course. A twinset and pearls is the epitome of traditionalism – Thatcher may have dispensed with the knitwear (far too domestic, one suspects) but the pearls do their job handsomely. Expensive but not frivolous or decadent like diamonds (far too Elizabeth Taylor), they spoke of reliability. Seen as classic without being blingy, they fit into a look that wants to spell out reliability and no-nonsense conservatism. To put it another way, they're "this lady's not for turning" in a necklace.
The blue suit
Thatcher's style wasn't subtle – see her colour scheme. The Duchess of Cambridge wore a tennis outfit to watch Wimbledon (geddit?), and Thatcher could be accused of matching her for literalness long ago. For her first day as prime minister, she sartorially demonstrated that the Conservatives were back in the most obvious way; she wore Tory blue from head to toe, with a boxy jacket and matching skirt. A somewhat clumsy symbol, but it was one she liked. She was back in blue recently, meeting David Cameron in a shiny knee-length coatdress for their dinner at the Goring Hotel in 2011. Notably, Thatcher's allegiance to the colour wavered for her resignation speech in 1990. Foreshadowing Labour's dominance under Tony Blair seven years later, and perhaps hinting at her feelings about the events that took her out of office, her suit and lipstick were both blood-red.
The pussybow blouse
If the hair and suit represented the hard side of Thatcher – a woman-of-steel armour in a world of men's suits – her advisers were savvy enough to know there had to be something that played up her femininity. Rarely, if ever, seen in trousers, the skirt suit could only go so far, especially with those shoulderpads. Enter the pussybow blouse, a sloaney staple in the early 80s – Princess Diana was also partial. Printed, possibly polyester and with that rather silly floppy bow at the neck, the idea was to soften her look and even, dare I say, add an element of fashion into a practical, power-centric wardrobe. She certainly thought the pussybow was a fashion statement. While hosting a famous dinner for fashion designers including Zandra Rhodes and Katherine Hamnett at Downing Street in 1983 – when Hamnett used the opportunity, and her T-shirt, to protest against Pershing – Thatcher wore a theatrical velvet number topped by, you guessed it, a pussybow blouse.
The handbag and gloves
It may just seem like a mere receptacle but fashion knows the handbag is so much more – especially for power players. While Anna Wintour famously never carries one – all the better to demonstrate she is transported by car everywhere she goes – Thatcher's was a different kind of power. Hers gained a life of its own – or certainly a word: "handbagging". Used by her ministers in the 80s to describe a dressing-down by Thatcher, it was prompted by the prime minister's everpresent handbag. Square and black, it hung from her often-gloved arm (in a rather old-fashioned move, Thatcher wore ladylike gloves – even with eveningwear – well into the 80s). It was there for her first day in Downing Street for both her first and third term, on a golf cart with Ronald Reagan and accessorised with a hardhat on visits to building sites. Although what it contained remained a mystery – this was before mobile phones – she certainly got her use out of it. Auctioned by Christie's in 2011, the Asprey style bag she owned for 30 years was sold for £25,000.
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