The Telegraph

theresa may and andrea leadsom: wardrobes matter for political women

Lisa Armstrong, 9 July 2016

I asked Annabel Hodin, a personal stylist who works with top flight lawyers and business women how she thought these six were doing. “They all look much better when they’re groomed,” she says, “and when they’re wearing one colour– not bright but jewel shades. Andrea looks very English–Provincial in the so-called coordinates women put on to look business like but approachable. A fitted dress or blouse might be better. 

The problem generally is that the fabrics are casual smart rather than smart casual and they tend to wear boxy jackets that are too long to be flattering and don’t work with what they’re wearing on the bottom half.  Too often they shy away from anything that’s well defined, memorable or fluid. It all has to be stiff and straight and as a consequence ends up looking awkward”. 

In the two decades since Margaret Thatcher left the stage, astonishingly little sartorial capital seems to have been gained by her successors.

In short, they all need a Hodin. And a trip to Rigby & Peller, where they can change their bodies, if not their lives, through the simple expediency of investing in some decent bras that actually do the job they’re meant to – unlike most of their male colleagues. 

Both the above options would save time in the end – as well as transforming them into potent role models for the many professional women who struggle to hit the right note in their working uniforms. Do they all need some eye-make up to make them look less tired? One step at a time. This could be a watershed year for female power. Let it also be a good one for our wardrobes.


dressing for success: our definitive guide to every workwear dilemma you've ever faced

Victoria Moss, 9 November 2016

One of the keenest adjectives for clothing of recent times is the prefix of “power”. Claire Underwood in House of Cards doesn’t wear sleeveless dresses, she wears a sleeveless “power dress”. Theresa May doesn’t accessorise with oversized pearls, it’s a 'power necklace.’ Which would rather imply, that as much as the glass ceiling may be cracked, the mirror is still fully intact.

Does what we wear still matter? Yes. Everyone makes a conscious decision in the morning of what to wear. The factors behind that decision might be different - comfort, ease, predilection, practicality, power - but the decision happens all the same. We each in a way create our own uniform - whether that’s one which includes stringent tailoring or flowing boho garb; our attire offers a reflection of who we are, proffering subtle signals about our personality.

In a recent survey by Viking, the office supplies company, 52% of people said that they have felt pressured into buying new clothes to “keep up appearances” at work. In research from Brother in 2012, it was found that British women spend almost 20% of their income on work clothes - at an average of £4,000 a year. That isn’t an amount you want to spend on the wrong thing. Which is why, when it comes to work-wear, or simply finding the right outfit for a high-pressure occasion, it’s important to understand how to make those aesthetic signals work for us, rather than against.

It’s impossible (and foolhardy) to ignore other people’s attitudes, too - especially in the workplace. Offices are environments each with their own acute set of unspoken rules. I may be able to skip in wearing trainers, but friends in the City tell me that at some firms even being seen in the lobby sporting 'walking-in’ plimsoles is frowned upon.

In the fierce corporate world, smart dressing is a way of life, with little room for manoeuvre. The key is to blend in without eliciting comment; dark, conservative outfits dominate. Colour and print seem to be permitted once a level of seniority is reached - and with promotion also comes statement neckwear; Chanel pearl necklaces are apparently particularly popular amongst senior women at one corporate bank.

Looking immaculate is something that is also noted - there is still a lot to be said for dressing for the job you want. Yet, 'dressing for success’ is just as much about small details. Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matches Fashion, keenly notes “edges”: no chipped nail varnish, tidy shoes and clean hair. “If you’re not going to pay attention to the collars, cuffs and heels then how are you going to present work?” she points out. “You don’t have to have an expensive outfit or the latest shoes or handbag, but being clean and groomed is important whatever you do.”
This shouldn’t have you reeling; and if it does, then take heart. We’ve put together an expert panel to answer every work-wear and smart dressing dilemma. Take notes at the back. And brush your hair.

The 'dressing for success' experts

Annabel Hodin, personal stylist to corporate clients as well as celebrities.
Natalie Kingham, buying director,
Victoria Moss, senior fashion news and features editor, The Telegraph.
Mary Greenwell, make-up artist to the A-list.
Lisa Armstrong, fashion director, The Telegraph.
Anna Harvey, ex-Vogue deputy editor, former stylist to Princess Diana and author of new book Timeless Style: Dressing Well for the Rest of Your Life (£18.95, Double-Barrelled Books.)

What is key to looking polished and impressive?

Annabel: Wear clothes which are clean cut and coordinated to suit your figure and individual style but are not extreme. No addition of flamboyant colour or accessories.

Anna: Don’t arrive straight from the shower with wet hair. My key piece is an easy-to-wear dress. Accessories should be minimal, but a pair of favourite earrings or simple necklace can finish off the look.

Navy dress, £198, Libby London; S Max Mara Adorno dress, £288, Matches Fashion; Crepe dress, £45, Warehouse

Does the mantra 'dress for the job you want not the job you have’ still stand?

Annabel: No matter how brilliant you are if you don’t present well in their eyes you will not move up. Emulate the successful personnel in your group and notice the appearance within the hierarchy and stick to a similar style with details of your own but no extremes. Learn what tribe you are in and mimic.

Anna: I have watched ambitious female colleagues as they have busily climbed to the top and without question each has paid attention to their appearance. Immaculate well-cut hair, minimal make-up but seemingly flawless complexions.

Where can I look for smart office pieces that don’t cost more than £150?

Anna: Cos, & Other Stories, Zara - and M&S for certain basics such as a simple coat or cashmere knits. Debenhams and John Lewis have very good ranges of designer brands. Uniqlo is always worth a visit. Muji is a secret of mine where the quality of their T shirts is really good.

Victoria: Use the sales, and re-sales sites such as The Outnet (a great source for Joseph trousers) to stock up.

Is doing my face on public transport a good idea?

Mary: On a train is ok, but on the tube the light is so appalling please don’t - it’s impossible to get it right. Always have a great mirror which has a magnifying glass on one side and ordinary glass on the other.

What should you do to ensure that first impression is a good one?

Anna: Remember what your mother told you about deportment; it does matter. Look groomed, tidy and wear something smart such as a simple dress, skirt or trousers and jacket in something other than a primary colour.

Do silk tops have to be dry cleaned?

Lisa: It depends on the finish. If they’re glossy, thick and very expensive, they probably do to maintain their lustre, although you could try hand washing with a special silk formulation such as Soak (£16.75, Others can be machine washed at 30 degrees. I try to dry-clean as little as possible - it’s expensive and polluting.

What’s a complete office no-no?

Anna: Anything overtly sexy in the office like towering stilettos, plunging décolletage, thigh-high slits and mini-skirts. These should be saved for after work hours.

Should you wear nail varnish to a job interview?

Mary: Yes. Wear a very pale and neutral colour, so your nails look polished. Never wear anything to do with fashionable black, blues, greens or anything else. I would count out red. Your boss or HR might have a real aversion to red nail polish and then you’ve blown it.

My boss dresses a bit more relaxed than the rest of our office. Can I follow her lead or should I stick to the corporate look?

Lisa: If you’re wise, you’ll always tune in to what your boss wears. That doesn’t mean becoming a clone, it’s about tone. Don’t compromise your love of clothes but never out-dress her.

Do shoes and bags matter? What should they convey?

Lisa: A: Obviously B: That you know what’s modern, stylish,you’re organised, practical and pristine.

Desk draw essentials for post-work preening?

Lisa: Hairbrush, hairspray/dry shampoo (whatever it takes to zhush up your hair), a toothbrush and toothpaste, and, if it’s been a long day, some cleansing wipes and moisturiser so that you can start again. I also keep my favourite jewels in my bag - big earrings are probably more of a pick-me up, and certainly more noticeable than heels.

Does it matter what coat you wear?

Lisa: Your classic work coat should be a paragon of stylish cutting and fabric. Save the bells, whistles and leopard print for weekends.

Who does the most comfortable heels - that you can actually wear all day, and don’t cost a fortune?

Victoria: I would argue that comfort in footwear comes at a price; I’ve never found a high street heel I can stand in all day. I love Aquazzura and Chloe for their mid-heel court shoes (wait for the sale).

Is it better to stick to a 'work uniform’ or try new things?

Annabel: A core uniform which is easy to assemble and wear and smart in appearance works best. The core - jackets, trousers, skirts - needs to be in neutral colours (navy, black, grey) which act as a base. Camel is not really an office colour, and only wear white blouses or tops (not dresses or bottoms).

Anna: A 'uniform’ is a useful thing to have but can be monotonous and boring. There is no reason not to have a variety of outfits you feel good in and ring the changes according to your mood. A new jacket, dress, trousers or skirt all boost confidence.

Does having a blowdry make a difference?

Mary: Absolutely. It will always make you look chicer and pulled together because we can’t reach the back of our heads. When a celebrity or royal goes travelling they don’t take a make-up artist, they take their hair-dresser with them. That says it all.

How do you make sure expensive leather soled shoes last?

Natalie: My cobbler knows me by my first name. When I’ve worn new leather soled shoes twice they go straight to have rubber soles put on. It preserves them.

What’s a fail safe tip?

Lisa: A good jacket/light coat - if your shoulder line is tailored and neat the rest of the outfit can be quite drapey or flow-y and still look business like.

I look quite young - even though I’m in my mid-thirties - people always think I’m much younger and inexperienced. How should I dress to look more grown up so I’m taken seriously?

Natalie: Tailoring. It can create a nice neat line which can take you anywhere. You can make it look interesting with quirky detailed shirts, different colour trousers, mis-matching tops and bottoms. Wearing a good jacket can make people take you more seriously. If I’m feeling tired, I slick back my hair, out on red lipstick, a white shirt and a black blazer. It’s classic, and instantly serious without being dowdy.

Which are the best bags for carrying a laptop and all your daily essentials? But isn’t too heavy and cumbersome?

Natalie: There is a Fendi bag called the Dotcom which has lots of compartments - something you need in a great work bag. Issey Miyake Bao Bao bags are great - and fit a laptop. Plus they work for the weekend too.

Victoria: Strathberry is a British brand that does great, chic sturdy bags. Hobbs, Furla and LK Bennett also both have great quality leather bags.

What should your every-day make up be?

Mary: Keep to neutral colours on your eyes -beiges, taupes, browns and lovely rust colours, stay away from flicky liner. Not too much blush. Unless it’s appropriate and you’re in a working environment when everyone’s doing it, I would stay away from red lipstick.

How can I avoid massive dry cleaning bills?

Natalie: Look for the right fabrics. It’s about the weight and depth of the fabric - wool crepe works very well because it has good recovery, which means fewer dry cleaning trips. Joseph, Osman, Raey and Roksanda all do great pieces in that fabric.

How can I make a plain suit look more interesting?

Natalie: Put brooches on the jackets. It adds that joie de vivre. Split up your suits so you’re not in the same combination the whole time.

What should you wear with sleeveless dresses in cold air con offices - that’s not a cardigan or stiff jacket?

Natalie: Layer a thin silk shirt or a very fine polo neck underneath.

Do you think you should wear make-up to an interview/important meeting?

Mary: Yes. But don’t over do it and suddenly wear a lot if you’re not used to it. Mascara makes your eyes look brighter and more alert which is obviously a good thing if you’re in an interview.

What’s a great evening look, that is confident but not over the top?

Victoria: An LBD will never let you down. The key is in the cut - it has to work for you. If you feel self conscious in a very fitted dress, don’t wear one. Look for looser ones, but avoid anything that’s shapeless. Comfortable shoes are key: never be that person who has to spend the evening stuck to a seat because your heels rub.

I hate the trainers with tights pre-office look. What are 'walking to work shoe’ alternatives that aren’t flimsy ballet shoes?

Victoria: Why not wear a pair of loafers or brogues? Either can be comfortable - and smart - and won’t take up anymore space in your bag than the heels stuffed into it.