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On the High Street: The Iron Lady - A Lesson in Power Dressing

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So The Iron Lady has arrived. Too lefty? Too righty? Offensive? Inaccurate? Streep? (Take a breath whilst remembering how fantastic she was in The Devil Wears Prada - then continue) An American as a Brit? The wrong choice? With the same rigour as Moses's parting of the Red Sea, The Iron Lady has parted everyone. The politicians. The film-critics. The feminists.

Hold those debates. We have a better lesson to learn.

Thatcher may have done a lot of questionable things, but the lady knew how to power dress. As the film's teaser trailer shows, Thatcher's reign of terror depended on getting into character. The voice, the mannerisms, the gestures, and perhaps most crucially, the look - all engineered to boost her authority. The blue jackets. The court-shoes. The pearls. The perfect-for-thwacking-somebody-across-the-face handbag.

As I glanced around the cinema audience, Milton Keynes's finest, I saw no such sartorial panache. I was clad in my high street best - battered Converse and some kind of shaggy blanket masquerading as a cardigan. To my left there was a drab zip-up hoodie. To my right a floral tunic dress paired with Ugg boots. I even saw a woman in (whisper it) Crocs. CROCS. All around there were jeggings.

Jeggings. The strongest contender for 2012's worst design of the year award. They were everywhere, multiplying like some sick virus right before my very eyes. Ladies, don't you see, it's hard to command any sort of respect when wearing River Island denim-lycra with faux-pockets?

The high street has let us down. The products it pushes at us with such fervour - the 'hottest looks' and 'must haves' - suddenly seemed lacking as I stared at Streep-Thatcher on the giant cinema screen sashaying into parliament in a midi-skirt and blazer. Call me old-fashioned, but none of the trends available to women in most shops seem to celebrate, support or enrich us like Thatcher's wardrobe did for her. Instead they sexualise us, diminish us or, in simple terms, make us look ridiculous.

Just imagine today's high street finds on a female prime minister. A nice wetsuit-style neoprene t-shirt perhaps? How about some pleather quilted shorts? Take the crop top. Magazines and shops are going crazy for it. So sweet! So charming! Pair it with a sequin pencil skirt! Strike a pose! Vogue! It's everywhere. Seriously - try talking about something important with your belly-button on show. Try it. That visible sliver of flesh not only looks agonisingly bad, the worst kind of 90's throwback, but also automatically lessens the wearer's IQ by about 40%. Intelligent, opinionated women reduced to looking like aged members of Atomic Kitten. I'm all for freedom of dress, but has it really come to this?

What The Iron Lady does is reinforce that age-old adage, that clothes maketh the man. Sure Thatcher was a lot - and I mean a lot - more than a snazzy handbag, but that doesn't change the fact that appearance was vital in creating her veneer of power. I'm not suggesting that we all start donning Maggie-inspired twinsets but there is something to be said for properly embracing clothing with clout.

Power dressing comes along ever few years as some kind of trend. Nestled snuggly in the page of magazines alongside 'nudes', 'tartans' and 'fringing'. As if women are only legitimately allowed to look like a powerful female after Alber Elbaz has shoved a model down the runway in a pencil skirt and shoulder pads. As if we only want to dress with authority once every three years during the Autumn/Winter season.

Men have the suit. That classic disguise. The layman's equivalent of superman's red pants and cape. They put it on and suddenly they're transformed. Before, a dishevelled boy, after, a man, a real man, like Don Draper. Men also get the tie. Like that magic 'talking stick' passed around at primary school, it gives the holder the divine authority to speak, to be listened to and to be taken seriously. What do women get in return? We have no wizard-like neckpiece, no sartorial sandwich-board demanding that we be acknowledged.

Remember Teresa May's 'cubist coat'? Course you do. Remember what Cameron wore that day? Or Miliband? No. Naturally. Men get to hide behind the power of the suit, whilst women flounder at the style wayside. Struggling on, through the mounds of high street tat, hot-pants designed for skeletal teenagers and dresses for the cast of Geordie Shore, looking for something, anything, work appropriate.

Important lessons can be learned from the recent flood of historical dramas. Mad Men helped remind us all that we have a waist. Let's hope The Iron Lady helps remind us all that it's okay to look smart, powerful, and even a bit intimidating. (On a side note - take note, men of Britain, of the sheer sex appeal of a red-velvet smoking jacket. See Douglas Booth in the Christmas hit Great Expectations. Swoon.)

Just as Thatcher had to transform her style to cement her status, the high street needs to transform its attitude towards the powerful female. Stop treating her as a passing trend, as fleeting as the polka-dot, as worthless as tulle. Hidden behind the jeggings, there is an Iron Lady in all of us.

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