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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
The seaside fashion shows
Teresa May's shoes
The winning shoes in the 2002 conference season
Politics is all style and no substance, right? Well maybe, but at least at this year's party conferences there was a bit of style on show.
It's been a competitive time in the party politics and fashion stakes. And it's been confusing for newspaper readers who, deluged with fashion images and acres of copy from places as diverse as Blackpool, Milan, Brighton, Bournemouth and Paris in the last few weeks couldn't work out what was truly in style.

The messages, most of which they'd heard before, were as confusing as ever. This is what happens when the much reported Party Conferences collide with the much reported International Fashion Collections. I feel they should keep 'em apart.

Teresa May
Teresa May, and - at top of page - her famous shoes
There was a moment this week when I picked up an evening paper and thought God knows the Tories are desperate but the purple exposed nipple on the little beige two-piece outfit just is vulgar and silly and frankly isn't going to win them any votes.

I now apologise to YSL who probably doesn't want to be prime minister - even though he may get more votes than Iain Duncan Smith. Or IDS as nobody knows him. If having the smartest, best-groomed wife swept you into power, IDS would tower over us.

Betsy Duncan Smith - a dead ringer for elegant Lady Helen Taylor - looked ravishing every day. There she is in a to-die-for little silver buttoned at the waist single breasted evening jacket, her impeccably cut pale blonde hair neatly hugging her jaw.

Betsy Duncan Smith
Mrs Duncan Smith: Fantastic every day
In her just-right-for the-occasion dress of brilliantly sparkling coloured squares, Betsy Duncan Smith looked like a model caught in the photographer's wind machine. But sorry IDS, the Ill Designed Suit (probably fiercely expensive), the too wide mauve tie, the huge and heavy watch and the signet ring just don't spell success.

Iain Duncan Smith
IDS: Wot no Hush Puppies?
You look like a man trying to be smart. Ken Clarke's great virtue was that he never for one single instant pretended to be smart. A man happy in his own beer stained Hush Puppies and baggy suit - that's style.

It's not fair to comment on Ann Widdecombe. Or her dress sense. But yes, the blonde hair is a 100% improvement on the black pudding basin cut.

Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe: Get ready to party
And as a recent Fat Celebrities programme revealed she was a mere stone-and-a-half overweight, there's every hope that by next party season she'll look ready to, um, party.

The Tory winner was undoubtedly Teresa May. Go on, own up Tories. She's had a make-over. This look isn't accidental. She has a Personal Fashion Trainer. She's been DONE. And it's worked.

I stared at Teresa in her fabulously well-cut dark trouser suit, the staple of every working woman's wardrobe and thought this could have looked screaming dull. But - you've had the wit, the style, the genius to team it with wicked, silly, fabulous, leopard-print kitten heel shoes.

I hate leopard print. Leopard print is Bet Lynch ghastly. But when Teresa May wore them this week I wanted to rush out and buy them.

It's a worth a look at nice, popular Lib Dems Charles and Sarah Kennedy. He wears shirts that look four sizes to big for him.

Charles and Sarah Kennedy
Charles and Sarah Kennedy: Dress like a couple
They're a) baggy and b) would come half way down his hands if not held back by dubious cuff links. Maybe he has short arms. But sorry Charles it's either drastic arm surgery or invest in a few hand-made shirts.

Sarah goes for very relaxed, maybe a little too relaxed casual and sporty. It somehow doesn't match with Charles's suit and tie as they stroll along the promenade. (A couple should speak the same sartorial language at the same time. It shows you're a couple.)

It takes Cherie Blair to remind us that clothes do not maketh the woman or her husband. She's really quite pretty in the flesh. Nice creamy unblemished flesh it is too. Shiny bouncy hair and marvellous eyes.

But she's a sartorial disaster. Some women have no sense of style - it's not a federal offence - and Cherie is one of those people. She's helped, she's advised, she tries, she buys. Yes, of course she's made enormous fashion strides during the last five years but she was, as they say, coming from behind. Way behind.

It'll take her seven years at least to catch up. Occasionally she passes muster but most of the time you look at her outfits and wonder - why? She tried this Party Conference in a too short Agnes B leather suit. This should have made her think does my bum look big in this - but oddly it didn't .

She tried in a trouser suit and crimson striped shirt worn outside her trousers. You have to presume she tried in a black and white transparent frilly paisley patterned jacket. Listen - maybe it was a you-had-to-be-there moment.

She doesn't do pared down elegance, she does mad lunges at new looks. Same as Tony and his ties. How did Tony get away with making a speech about the evils of Saddam Hussein whilst committing the criminal offence of wearing that large pale purple tie?

Cherie Blair
No pared down elegance. But still a role model
How did he spend time with sexy ole Bill Clinton and super-cool Kevin Spacey while sporting that monstrously chirpy Oklahoma yellow and blue check tie?

Cherie is a desirable, clever, amazingly talented woman. Never has a prime minister's wife been so able, so equal, such a role model. If she were fashionable and stylish, if Giorgio Armani declared her his muse, if designers leaped to dress her, if Donatella wanted her ringside - I might consider killing myself.

Marcelle d'Argy Smith is the former editor of Cosmopolitan and Woman's Journal.


Add your comments here by using the form below.

You're joking about Mrs Duncan Smith, right? The silver jacket is ghastly and far too big for her petite frame, the grey suit is bland and boring, and the dress is just hideous - it defies description! Not even the Dynasty girls would have been seen dead in that, surely?!
Sarah, UK

Why all the fuss about Teresa May's shoes? She goes to the same gym as me and they ought to see her after she's finished her workout at 7.30 in the morning!
Anon , UK

Germaine Greer once said something about the type of shoes Teresa May was wearing. Style (what style?) over substance just about typifies the value of the recent party conferences.
Stuart, UK

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