Growing up as a child in the ‘90s, I recall watching a news story where the Prime Minister’s wife, Annita Keating, was talking about Australian fashion designers and clothes that she would be wearing when accompanying her famously Zegna-suited husband on official trips. What was marked upon me was that prominent Australians should wear our Australian designers proudly, wherever possible.
Fast-forward thirty years to this week where we have seen the downfall of Australia’s female first Prime Minister who in my opinion (I say this because there are people who disagree), was often criticised for her lack of sartorial elegance. As former Vogue editor, Kirstie Clements observed earlier this year, the PM did not have it easy considering that there was an expectation that she should be seen to be wearing Australian, but there is a lack of Australian designers who make suits and workwear befitting Gillard’s office.
Gillard could have tried to shop high-low (fashion speak for mixing high-end designer with lower end, usually “cheap” buys) in the way that Michelle Obama has become famous for; mixing her Michael Kors with her Target, for instance. However to do that takes time to shop around and frankly I forgive the woman for focussing instead on getting 55 pieces of legislation through a hung parliament. Plus imagine the fall-out if she had worn items from Australian-owned brand, Forever New, who were identified in Four Corners as having used suppliers where workers earn $4AUD a day? Similarly I understand that she did not receive a clothing allowance or have the deep pockets of former French First Lady, Carla Bruni, who also had connections to the houses of Dior, Chanel and Hermes from a previous modelling career.
That said, the criticism of Julia is an unfortunate exercise in why dressing authentically but professionally, actually does matter. If you don’t look and sound the part, or even more importantly like yourself, it gives colleagues, opponents and those you’re serving, something to pick on and question your credibility over.
Gillard’s not the first female leader who has been told that she needed to up the style stakes. As part of her campaign to win over the former-West-German vote( who were known to be trendier than their former-Eastern counterparts where Merkel’s roots lie), Angela Merkel’s campaign managers advised her to opt for a more sophisticated clothing and to wear make up. Merkel’s people hired stylist Udo Walz, “to transform her look gradually, so as not to inspire ridicule.” – der Spiegel, 11-Aug-05
And why is “sartorial elegance” or simply “looking good” more of a criterion for female workers and leaders than the blokes? Why is it ok for blokes to wear the same suits over and over? Why do we look past the ill-fitted shoulder bags, too-long-sleeves or baggy pants? I feel like this will change as through photographing street style, I’ve noticed that there are blokes out there who want to dress smarter, sharper. Similarly I’ve also heard sniping about sharply dressed blokes, for some conservative dowdies in the office, all that style can be too offensively much! And quite frankly, I look forward to the day that men have as much sartorial freedom in the office to make the same success and failures that women do. Because maybe then we’ll all be more professional and forgiving to sartorial faux-pas with a greater focus on – I don’t know – the job?
That said this is a business fashion blog where I seek to keep us all inspired on what to wear to work. So today a look at what the former PM wore…
In her farewell speech, the Prime Minister wore a little black dress paired with a structure collarless blazer that featured sleeves in olive green – a colour that stylists will tell you is good for her Autumn colouring. Her glasses were simple but stylish in graduated tones so as not to appear too harsh. Her hair was cut in a style that suited her face and colouring. She wore statement stud earrings that flashed stylishly from under her bob. And she gave one of the best speeches of her political career to date. And yes it strikes me as a shame that Gillard seemed to be getting it just right when it was already too late.
If you like this piece, you might also like this piece on Gillard’s cleavage, written only 10 days ago…
PS: Thanks Julia.
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