Hans Aarsman on Thatcher’s Wardrobe

Thatcher’s wardrobe auctioned at Christie’s London, 15 december 2015. Photo: Peter Nicholls / Reuters

It was a time of shoulder pads, a time when women walked around as if they might tackle a man. Feminine in a sense but certainly dowdy in this case, power dressing was the sort of fashion that was perfect for Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain. Men were dominating British politics. They needed to understand that Thatcher was not someone to trifle with. The very first donkey to say something sexist, even if it was a compliment, could expect a smack with one of her many handbags.

Now Thatcher’s son and daughter have put her wardrobe up for auction – with total proceedings coming to 4.5 million Euro. All that for a pathetic bunch of garments and some cheap finery.

The more one looks at the image, the more peculiar it seems that so much money was spent on these items. Notwithstanding the fact that, the garments are conspicuously worse for wear (the wool is full of bumps and crinkles, as if it had passed through a cloudburst), it is the underlying connotations of these outfits which really highlight their perverse value.

Looking at the platform, it appears the expectations were highest for the outfit in the centre, the one with the headscarf. Thatcher had worn it in the famous photo of her peering out of a tank during a NATO-exercise, wearing oversized safety goggles and making out as if she was driving the tank herself. The upper valuation was 30.000 euros. It was sold for 18.000. Would the buyers have had any historical awareness?

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Meanwhile, the vegetable soup outfit on the left, valued at 1.500 euro, went for over 40 times as much. But that was the suit she was wearing when Nelson Mandela visited her home in 1990.
 The Christies employee straightening the shoulder patches with Thatcher’s sleeve-insert, only reaches the model at breast-height. Even if one were include the height of the platform, she’d still not come above the shoulders. Thatcher was only 167cm tall. One can only conclude that the models are too tall. On photos of Thatcher her skirts drop below the middle of her lower leg.

Whose shoes are actually standing next to that model? Are they the employee’s? No, because she would have put hers behind the raise, not on top of it. Thatcher was wearing these shoes when she stepped off the tank.

“If you were to be smacked with the handbag, it would definitely knock you out.”

The 1984 IRA bomb attack at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton failed to claim the Prime Minister’s life but resulted in the deaths of five of her colleagues and a blackout in the hotel where the bomb was placed. Afterwards Thatcher would always have a flashlight in her handbag. “The Lady’s Iron”. If you were to be smacked with the handbag, it would definitely knock you out. Had it been listed, the flashlight would have been the top item in the auction, but the thing wasn’t there. It was auctioned off unnoticed, sitting in one of the handbags. Or indeed Thatcher’s kids have withheld it.

Every week Hans Aarsman applies his detective-like analyses to a press photo for the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. During the Dutch Presidency of the European Union (taking place in the first half of 2016), he will inspect European press photos and kindly share his observations with the New Europeans.