The handbag made the 'Iron Lady'

Updated: 2013-04-15 07:56

(China Daily)

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The invitation of a handbag designer to Margaret Thatcher's funeral is testament to the way the "Iron Lady" used fashion to forge her image in what was then the man's world of British politics.

Memorably described by former French president Francois Mitterrand as having the "eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe", Thatcher's style mixed power dressing with femininity. The centerpiece was the famous handbag that struck fear into the hearts of ministers, but the blue skirt-suits and shoulder pads, the pearls and her bouffant hair became iconic in their own right.

The handbag made the 'Iron Lady'

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher attends the opening of the new Canine Partners training building on June 2, 2009, in Heyshott in West Sussex. Shaun Curry / Agence France-Presse

So it was no surprise to see Anya Hindmarch, the fashion accessories designer for whom Thatcher was one of many celebrity clients, on the guest list for Wednesday's funeral at St Paul's Cathedral.

Thatcher said in a television interview in 1985: "It is not unfeminine to be well-tailored. Indeed, it often perhaps concentrates on what you are going to say if you have got well-tailored things on, because people no longer look at your clothes."

The Thatcher look began with the hair, a golden helmet anchored in place by hairspray.

Before she was in power she was fond of hats, including a gaudy striped affair that she wore for a party conference speech. But as shown in a scene from the Meryl Streep biopic The Iron Lady, they disappeared when she ran for the leadership, to be replaced by a swept-back bouffant.

Memorable exception

A memorable exception to the bare-headed rule came when she teamed a cream headscarf with clear protective goggles while at the wheel of a Challenger tank in Germany in 1988. Her clothes also showed the evolution of Thatcher's political style.

As late as the 1970s the mother-of-two channeled the housewife look, favoring the same colorful shift dresses worn by the female electorate whose votes she tried to win over by identifying with their struggles to balance the books at home.

But that all changed with the blue skirt-suit she wore as she entered 10 Downing Street for the first time on May 4, 1979.

The color was the ultramarine blue of the Conservative party, with a tailored jacket over a white and blue patterned shirt and a heavily pleated skirt.

The look would appear again and again, including when she gave her famous "No, no, no" speech in parliament against European federalism. Thatcher reputedly bought many of her clothes in bulk from high-street retailer Marks and Spencer.

But her favorite designer was the British heritage outfitter Aquascutum, which provided the fur-collared camel coat that she wore on her triumphant visit to Moscow in 1987.

Hilary Alexander, fashion critic of Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, said Thatcher's wardrobe on the Soviet trip "made world headlines and established her as the decade's most important 'power dresser', alongside Diana, Princess of Wales".

Agence France-Presse