A royal blue Aquascutum suit with shoulder pads and matching blouse which Margaret Thatcher wore as she cast her vote in the 1987 election is to be donated to the V&A, one of six ensembles and a hat joining the national collection.
The museum announced on Friday that Thatcher’s son and daughter, Mark and Carol, had donated clothes worn by the late former prime minister.
The donation follows a row last year when the museum was accused of turning down an offer of Thatcher’s clothes. When the story broke it first confirmed rejecting some outfits, many of which were subsequently sold at a Christie’s auction.
That provoked an outcry, with Tory ministers and newspapers furious. The museum then appeared to change its stance, saying there had been no formal offer to ever reject.
The museum’s chairman, Nicholas Coleridge, told the BBC there had been no letter, no meeting, no judgment … no overture of any kind… and no turning down of her clothes at all. He said the museum was open to acquiring them.
One year later, that is now happening. Claire Wilcox, the V&A’s senior curator of fashion, said the gift constituted a record of the working wardrobe of one of the most influential and powerful women of the 20th century, and will form an important addition to the museum’s fashion collection.
She added: Baroness Thatcher was an internationally recognised political figure who used her wardrobe as a strategic tool to project power and inspire confidence.
She was notable for supporting the British fashion industry, and patronised many of the leading designers of the day. Baroness Thatcher learnt to dress for the camera whilst in office, and interestingly, amended her wardrobe after the House of Commons became televised in November 1989.
Thatcher was an early and enthusiastic adopter of power dressing, recalling in her 1993 memoir: I took a close interest in clothes, as most women do, but it was also extremely important that the impression I gave was right for the political occasion.
A selection of the donated clothes, which will inevitably prompt mixed feelings and memories among visitors, will go on public display in the museum’s fashion gallery in December.
The most spectacular ensemble being donated is an Aquascutum evening suit of pink brocade with floor-length skirt and a sleeveless, iridescent silk opera cape with sweeping train. It was made for Thatcher’s appearance at the lord mayor’s banquet in 1988 at London’s Guildhall.
Other suits include a caramel silk crepe day dress, with a delicate floral print, by Daphne Scrimgeour, Thatcher’s personal dressmaker, which she wore at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in New Delhi in 1983.
The hat being donated is a striking wide-brimmed black silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle, designed by Deida Acero, which Thatcher wore at the funerals of her husband, Denis, in 2003 and Ronald Reagan in 2004.
Tim Reeve, the deputy director of the V&A, said he was delighted the outfits had been given and would form part of the national collection.
These carefully selected pieces tell an important story about Margaret Thatcher as a person as well as reflecting a significant period in British political history in the late 20th century. The V&A is very grateful to the family of Baroness Thatcher for their kind donation.
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