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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Dressing to impress, Lib Dem style
Women listening to how they could make an impression
Scarves were a big hit at the dress sense session

It was said to be the party of beards and sandals - a haven for the scruffily dressed man who liked to be judged by his personality rather than his dress sense.

But that has all had to change since the Liberal Democrats decided to up the ante and attract more women candidates to its cause.

There is no obligation to wear bright yellow for the rest of your life

Candy Piercy
Now female would-be politicians are given classes on the weighty issues of how much lipstick they should wear, whether their colour tones are warm or cold and "does my bum look big in this".

Leading the fight to ensure women give the best impression of themselves is Candy Piercy, the bubbly vice chair of the party's Gender Balance Taskforce - a group set up to get more women into Parliament.

In a 90 minute session at the party's conference in Brighton, Ms Piercy did her best to advise 14 ambitious Liberal Democrat women on what to wear and how to present themselves.

Scarf fever

The women, who were roughly aged between 30 and 60, hoped to become MPs, parliamentary private secretaries or party agents.

Most wore some form of suit or shirt and skirt combo.

But the suggestion that wearing a scarf was a winner had obviously already leaked out because an array of colourful chiffon seemed to adorn the necks of many of those attending.

Alison Wheeler
Alison Wheeler hopes to be an MP
Candy had donned a turquoise jacket - a colour we were told suits most skin tones - with a pale blue t-shirt, pastel patterned scarf, gold chain and dark blue trousers.

She told the ensemble that despite yellow being the Lib Dems colour, it suited almost no-one.

"There is no obligation to wear bright yellow for the rest of your life," she reassured the group. She then admitted conspiratorially: "It's a horrible colour to wear."

Tory intrusion

She told her eager listeners that the gathering was "not about turning you in to Charlie's Angels identikits".

It was about wearing something comfortable and appropriate in the right situation.

The session kicked off with Candy asking the women to show her their Lib Dems badges.

She did say she discovered hair mousse and it has changed her life

Lib Dem woman
Apparently some nasty Tories had sneaked in to an earlier meeting.

"It's a compliment to us," insisted Candy. "It means they think our training is better than their training."

The women were then asked to gather in groups to decide people they thought were well-dressed and what sort of message they were giving out.

'Carefree approach'

Shirley Williams, the party's Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, came under particular scrutiny.

One woman commented: "She's certainly not somebody who looks like she is trying to power dress, just the opposite - she looks as though she doesn't really care."

A Lib Dems woman
Dress should be comfortable
Another added informatively: "She did say she discovered hair mousse and it has changed her life."

While Candy added, diplomatically: "She doesn't fit into any category. She's her own category."

She argued that, in her opinion, women MPs did look "very smart", but the men had "forgotten some of the principles".

Male distraction

Hair should be clean, stylish and should not hide eyebrows, "the most important signalling part of your face".

She said the dog in Lady and the Tramp might look "sexy" with her hair across her face, but that was not the image a woman in politics wanted to project.

Flowing locks were a distraction to men and if you have highlights "make sure they are done regularly".

"Don't have roots showing through - there's nothing worse," Candy advised.

The women were warned not to stand against pale backgrounds if they have greying hair, "you disappear", and to keep a brush, mousse and comb on them at all times in case there is a shower of rain.

Flashy eyes

Make-up should not be overdone and the advice of TV studio make-up artists should always be taken.

"Don't fight the advice," said Candy. "They know what will make you look good."

She told how one politician had gone into a studio wearing silver eyeshadow.

"Every time she blinked, it was like a metallic flash. What she was saying was meaningless because you were mesmerised every time she blinked."

Pear-shaped behinds could be hidden by longer jackets.


Faces could be perked up using Marlene Dietrich tips and Bet Lynch style earrings were a no-no.

But, Candy stressed: "Red hair is a distinct advantage because people remember you."

One woman in a scarlet suit and blood coloured nails was told red was not her shade and that her earrings were verging on the too big.

She took the advice in good spirit.

A younger woman balked at the tip that she should wear a brooch and left the session soon afterwards.

But looking round the room it was a surprise how many women wore sandals despite having broken toe nails and in one case, plasters on her feet.

Puritan streak

Alison Wheeler, a tall would-be MP whose long titian hair was pinned back by a bright pink alice band, said she found the advice useful.

"We all have our own impressions of what we think we look best in, but people at work aren't likely to say you don't look good in that suit.

"What you need is somebody like Candy coming along and telling you what you look good in."

Candy said often men and women found it difficult to work out what suits them.

She said the sandals and beards image of the Lib Dems was now passť.

"I think that is an outdated image. It was very true back in the Liberal days when the beard and sandals quota was very high.

"Now there are far more formal suits around. We would like to move away from that and get people to wear what they are comfortable in.

"There's a puritan streak in the Liberal Democrats, that people should take me as I am.

"That can be quite negative. We don't want to change people's personalities or turn out an identikit candidate, we want people to make the best of themselves and give a good impression."

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See also:

07 Mar 02 | Politics
27 Aug 99 | Politics

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