Sunday, 9 May 2010


Britain’s toughest election battle in a generation turned into the ‘war of the wardrobes’ this week with fashion pundits reviewing who made looking vote-able look easy. But while the election has had a less than decisive outcome, who trounced who in the fashion stakes is even tougher to analyse.

Following on the heels of Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the pressure has been well and truly on for Britain’s first ladies-in-waiting, Samantha Cameron, Sarah Brown and Miriam Clegg. While their husbands did fashion shorthand with party-appropriate neckties, the prospective first ladies have learnt the hard way that when it comes to wooing the female electorate, fashion and policy go hand in hand.

Once seen as frivolous, the overwhelming (and continuing) success of Michelle Obama’s style onslaught has forced a rethink on how leaders’ wives are presented to the public. It’s no longer a case of choosing between being a fashion plate and a respected lawyer / mother / captain of industry. If clothes make the man, this election made the wives the stars: they rapidly became the main event as scrutiny of their wardrobes reached fever pitch.

Whether it was Sarah Brown in a skirt from Banana Republic, or Miriam Clegg in Zara wedges, all three women stuck to mid-range high street labels like Jigsaw and Cos, plus pieces from Whistles, Topshop and Uniqlo. It was a deliberate attempt at sartorial strategy, aiming for budget-friendly pieces that would not only appeal to voters, but also have that all-important copycat factor.

Samantha Cameron specialised in colour, wearing every shade from violet to coral, working in brands like Malene Birger and Citizens of Humanity to dress a growing pregnancy bump.
Sarah Brown, initially the slow-starter, got her groove on with jackets from and pieces from Boden and perennial British favourite, Marks and Spencer. But where she excelled was in her bold use of accessories, with jewellery from Lola Rose and Tatty Devine.

Miriam Clegg has been difficult to pin down when it comes to fashion favourites. With her day job as Head of International Trade Practice at law firm DLA Piper, Miriam could have forgiven for not having the inclination to get styled up. However, when Nick Clegg’s performance in the televised debates sent the party’s prospects into overdrive, Miriam’s style also had to step up its game.

Also a fan of Jigsaw and Zara, Miriam has been an active champion of eco-fashion, choosing dresses and knitwear by British firm From Somewhere. Other Miriam hits include Fairtrade leggings, and a handbag from Eco Age, made from recycled ring-pulls.

Miriam certainly gets the prize for most innovative wardrobe, and it would definitely make her popular in Brighton - the first borough to elect a Green Party MP - but who got the deciding vote?

This was a style of campaign that had never been seen before in this country. It wasn’t just policy that mattered, it was PR. While the emphasis on image may not have been to everyone’s taste, it has brought the wives to the forefront, not as window dressing, but as allies who can, and it is argued, did make a difference in the polls. But as to whether it was Sarah, Samantha or Miriam with the casting fashion vote, like the election itself, it’s just too close to call.