Joan Smith: Unbutton that jacket, and let freedom reign

I rather admire David Steel’s wife for getting a tattoo

Share

Clothes matter, especially when the temperature soars. This is the moment when halter-necks and strapless bras come into their own, inviting cooling breezes to caress newly-bare flesh – though not if you're a man, of course. I was at a party in the City of London last week and I couldn't help feeling sorry for all the men in suits. I don't often feel sorry for men, obviously, but these were CEOs, politicians, lobbyists – men of some importance in their respective worlds – and they all looked the same.

This is one of the few areas of life where women have an advantage. "What are you going to wear?" are among the words I most enjoy hearing, signalling the start of intense conversations with my women friends. We compare the merits of different designers, agonise over heel height and offer supportive comments as we fix our lipstick in the ladies' loo.

I don't know for certain that men don't do any of this, but I find it hard to imagine them enthusiastically discussing each other's choice of socks. Despite the massive social changes we've gone through in the past half century, it's a curious fact that men's clothes have evolved very little. David Cameron tries to do casual from time to time but in Afghanistan last week he sweltered in a totally unsuitable black shirt. I recently saw Ed Miliband standing next to Ed Balls on a warm evening, and they both had their suit jackets buttoned up.

A couple of male friends have told me recently that they envy my freedom to wear what I like. The downside is the risk of not being taken seriously. The conservative nature of men's clothes says something about gravitas and power, and the smart woman's dilemma has always been whether to challenge that assumption or conform.

I rather admire David Steel's wife Judy for deciding to get a tattoo for her 70th birthday, especially as she must have guessed it would prompt a discussion about whether a woman is ever too old for body art. Personally, I've never liked tattoos but I'm amused by their shifting relationship to class. Who now remembers that they used to be an aristocratic fashion, embraced by both the Duke of York (later George V), who had a dragon tattooed on his arm, and Winston Churchill's mother Jennie?

If the meaning of body art can change so drastically, it's odd that clothes are still so codified by gender. It hasn't happened yet, but I'd love to walk into a party and look at the men's clothes as well as the women's. Am I right to think that most men don't know what they're missing? I can't tell you how much fun it is to go out in a corset dress and heels.

politicalblonde.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game