Labor MPs preparing for power-by-power mounting

Labor leaders are on a mission. Yes, that one, but there’s also a sartorial strategy at play. They’re polishing, they’re investing in subtle wear, are they gearing up for power-by-power dressing?

Did you see Harriet Harman with her silver bob and pale pink trouser suit on Laura Kuenssberg at the weekend? What a difference five years makes.

The outgoing Labor MP for Camberwell and Peckham has always been a smart, neat dresser – but generally in “serious” plum or navy colours. There is nothing wrong with serious colors. But how much more effective to wear what really suits you. Less than a handful of years ago it is doubtful whether she or any other female Labor MP dared to wear anything so obviously feminine and pink for fear that it would make them look trivial.

Harriet Harman comes to BBC Broadcasting House to attend the Sunday show with Laura Kuenssberg

Harriet Harman wearing a pink dress on her way to an interview last month – Getty

A slim pastel trouser suit is just the kind of juxtaposition women in corporate jobs are waiting for. How fitting for a former House Mother to show those who follow in her footsteps that there is another way to get noticed in the HoC without dressing like Darth Vadar or a dominatrix. Small shoulder pads, slim lines, unflattering fabrics – this is a smart but young and approachable look that has changed the way women in MPs dress and will definitely make their lives a little easier.

Take Rachel Reeves’ gradual evolution from the unflattering “performance” dresses of a few years ago to the slick pantsuits of 2024. There’s no awkward adjustment to a bodycon dress whenever she sits down. Note, too, her decision to ditch that newly City-friendly bob.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and Scottish Labor leader Anas SarwarShadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar

Rachel Reeves arrives for a Q&A with RBS staff in a light blue trouser suit – Getty

Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, has also gone full blast on Anna Wintour. Okay, not enough. That would be reckless. But she has a smart fly herself and has ditched some clunky dresses in favor of longer hemlines, single-breasted jackets and brighter colors.

Shadow secretary of state for education Bridget Phillipson arriving at BBC Broadcasting House for an interview with Laura KuenssbergShadow secretary of state for education Bridget Phillipson arriving at BBC Broadcasting House for an interview with Laura Kuenssberg

Shadow Secretary of State for Education Bridget Phillipson arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in June – Getty

In case you think a bob is the only way… Yvette Cooper, another front bencher who consistently dresses well by keeping it simple and always sporting a tailored look, has left her behind. Going shorter suits her better and she’s currently working a modern, no-fuss pixie cut. A lesson for any woman clinging to things that are no longer doing her any favours.

Yvette Cooper,Yvette Cooper,

Yvette Cooper is currently working on modern pictures without cloud computing,’ wrote Doig and Armstrong – Getty

I don’t think you mind that any Labor politician in Barbara’s Castle has ever excelled in the style stakes. Have female politicians become more boring in the past six decades? Not likely. In 1961, in parts of the UK, 50 per cent of homes did not have a bathroom.

However, a combination of inverted snobbery, distorted readings of feminism and “wash and go” hair made it increasingly difficult for any woman to dress for the job. Too tailored and you risked looking like a relic from the Eighties. Too polished and you could be called out on social media for being frivolous or, if you’re a Labor MP, a class traitor (never mind the fact that the “working class” is usually the face better put on them). Too high street and you could be relegated to supporting sweatshops.

Fashion must also take responsibility for the dearth of options for workwear. Alexander McQueen may have been a genius and an artist. But busters are not the same as Izzy Blow, shoulder pads outside in order to be persuasive in the House of Commons. Fashion loves to adapt but tends to push exaggerated forms: too big, too long, too powerful. He’s making a point, and it’s not one that relates particularly well to MP’s normal daily schedule

Like it or not, female politicians are often stretched in all directions, short on my time and certainly focused on matters unrelated to what’s new on Net-a-Porter or Me+Em, as a reference for millions people. Other women are equally frazzled.

That’s one of the many reasons why Angela Rayner is such an interesting style watch. Thinking she won’t lose her love of bright colours, “loud” patterns and pencil skirts in the House of Commons, or be stung by what she sees as snobbery on the other benches, she is changing her lashes so she looks more polished. Red is still in – of course. But since her Vogue shoot last November, she’s been wearing it, and other colors, as one solid piece — a dress or jumpsuit — to ensure a clean line and sleek silhouette in photos.

Deputy Leader Angela Rayner and Labor Leader Keir Starmer arrive to address the media on the first day of campaigning at Gillingham football clubDeputy Leader Angela Rayner and Labor Leader Keir Starmer arrive to address the media on the first day of campaigning at Gillingham football club

Rayner is determined to keep his personal style in the House of Commons – bright colors and all – Getty

She also seems to have hung on to the chartreuse coat Emilia Wickstead wore in that palette. It’s not cheap, but good quality and fitting for a woman from a very deprived background who has no excuses for looking ambitious.

angela raynerangela rayner

Rayner appears to have kept the Emilia Wickstead coat she wore in the Vogue shoot last November – Getty

Her hair is long, but usually very slick – someone has a hand in blow-drying it – and her make-up is toned down. It all adds up. Whatever you think of her or her style (it’s definitely loud), it’s heartening to see a woman keep her individuality, as well as her love of trainers and hotties, while finding a style that suits his role.

Labour’s women have been less well looked after by leader Sir Keir Starmer, who along with smart suits steers towards a more “everyone” approach than Rishi Sunak. He tried his best to look fresh and changeable, having taken a more casual stance in a black jacket and polo shirt with his trusty Adidas trainers.

The Labor Party launching their election campaign The Labor Party launching their election campaign

Starmer strives to look ‘fresh and relatable’, say Doig and Armstrong – Getty

Don’t be fooled, though; that Parisian cult brand Sandro actually has a nondescript black Harrington, costing £500. Starmer also loved Stone Island, a brand that isn’t cheap (coats retail for over £400 and jumpers around £200) but is synonymous with the platforms.

Starmer’s approach to dressing is deliberately to stay out of the headlines; exactly what you want as a PM, especially when so much attention has been paid to Sunak’s expensive taste.

Following Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, he loves a dark shirt with a blazer and chinos – deliberately uncorporate, consistently “everyman” – and when he does a traditional suit and white shirt, it’s often without tie

As for the signature “Starmer sweep”; during the debates, the Labor leader’s smarter approach to his hair was noted on social media. Less crispy and heavily loaded with jelly, more natural and easy going. Not that he has the youthful energy of Tony Blair’s ruffled top at the time of his landslide in 1997, but Starmer’s style reaction to Sunak’s more elevated and democratic approach helped his image.

If Labor goes to power on Friday, we can look forward to more sartorial strategy – Will Rachel Reeves add more trouser suits to the mix? Will Angela Rayner coordinate? Will Keir Starmer continue to wear his dark anti-corporate shirt or adapt to his new role on the world stage? And will each of them continue to wear the “tat” The MPs mistakenly think they look “fun”. None of the above, after all, happened without thought.

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