UK Politics

Why can’t we just get over the prime minister’s trousers?

No one cared about David Cameron's suits, so why does it matter what Theresa May wears?

BY Constance Watson | ConstanceWatson   /  13 December 2016




In a welcome distraction from Trump and Brexit, Theresa May has been photographed in an expensive pair of trousers and it’s caused uproar.

The theme of said distraction is only welcome in the grand scheme of things because it is such a case of mountains made out of molehills. The furore instantly raises a crucial question: er, why does it matter what the prime minister wears?

A few weeks ago, an interview with Theresa May ran as the leader piece for the Sunday Times Magazine. May discussed various topics in the feature, including her childhood, her new life at Number 10 and Brexit. A couple of photographs accompanied the article: one of May in a formal blue coat, standing in a state room, and another more casual shot of the Prime Minister reclining on a red sofa, in a nondescript dark outfit. Fast forward a fortnight, and the world has gone wild. May’s trousers (Desert Khaki Leather Pants from Amanda Wakeley, if you’re wondering) cost £995. And, it would seem, we all think we should have something to say about this – the popular opinion appears to be characterised by scorn, disgust and piety.

As with all sensationalised waves of national outrage, the argument has been christened with its own hashtag, and will forever more (or for the next three days) be known as #Trousergate. The aforementioned “scandal” is playing out on Twitter, with the angrier members of society voicing their rage in 140 characters. “May’s £1000 leather trousers would pay for a week in a care home,” cried one. “Theresa May blows £1000 on trousers while there are 7m working Britons in poverty,” exclaimed another.

Apparently, in these trousers, Theresa May can’t possibly begin to understand the daily perils endured by UK families living in poverty. In the first Party Conference speech of her premiership, May pledged “under my leadership, the Conservative Party will put itself – completely, absolutely, unequivocally – at the service of working people.” Wearing an expensive trousers, some say, negates her assertions. But could the prime minister better sympathise with the traumas of poverty better in a pair of trousers from Topshop?

It’s not just you or I who are indulging in the petty curtain twitching. Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan jumped on the bandwagon, stating “I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress.” Nicky Morgan, you’re not helping the feminist cause on this one. The Daily Mail has found Morgan to own a handbag costing as much as May’s trousers, just proving how ridiculous and subjective the whole thing is.

Previous prime ministers have paid for children’s school fees, swanky holidays or dinners at Michelin-star restaurants. A man’s suit costs upwards of £1000, and David Cameron’s certainly cost more. Who cares? Prime ministers work, they pay their taxes, it’s up to them how they spend their money. What’s the point in working if we can’t buy a flashy suit, a pair of shoes with red soles, a first edition of your favourite book, or whatever your luxury might be?

When Sam Cam wears M&S, or Kate Middleton is pictured in Zara, they are making a statement in as much or as little as Theresa May when she wears leather trousers and a cashmere jersey.

What it really shows is we are stuck in a primitive playground where what someone wears – especially if that someone is a woman in politics –  garners as much as interest as what they think, or how they act, or in the prime minister’s case, the policies they implement. And that, my friends, is really sad.

Constance Watson is a writer and commentator. She tweets @ConstanceWatson.