House of Commons handbags over Speaker’s new dress code

WORST work wardrobe mishaps. Where to begin?

A few years ago I had a dress I loved – it was in Royal Stewart tartan, smart but comfortable and HAD POCKETS, which is, frankly, the Holy Grail of frocks.

Wore it to work one day, reached into the bottom of the office fridge to retrieve my pot of (ironically fat free) yoghurt and the blasted thing ripped all the way from armpit to hem.

You’d think working in an office with an entire fashion department would mean sartorial disasters were easily solved but no, the best my colleagues could come up with was a small number of large bulldog clips. I spent the shift trying and failing to channel my inner Vivienne Westwood.

After 17 months of working from home, I’m finally back in the office and one of the most arduous hurdles has been deciding what to wear each day. Even camera-on Zoom calls were low maintenance because you really only need to dress from the waist up, as long as you remember not to get out of your chair during the call.

There’s been plenty of headlines about bras eschewed during lockdown and fashion magazine pieces about comfortable at-home attire. Dressing smartly seems like such an unnecessary hassle following a year of seeing untidy living rooms, truculent toddlers and cats bums waving across video calls.

Yet here we are, re-emerging into the world and having to put our slovenly habits behind us.

And so it is with some envy I see the Speaker of the House of Commons has come up with a new set of dress rules for sitting MPs. I’m on the royal rota and the dress code is “discreet day attire”. I could really do with some top tips from Sir Lindsay Hoyle; once I’ve exhausted “no hot pants” you’ve lost me. Don’t Google it, because you won’t have a nice time.

Dress specifics are pretty useful. It’s far more straightforward for the lads – lounge suit and a tie and you can pretty much go anywhere.

In looking for examples of political dressing I stumbled on a quaint scene from Canada’s House of Commons in 1979 when MP Walter Allmand was overlooked for asking a question in the Canadian House of Commons for coming to the Commons “so eager he was not fully dressed”.

Mr Allmand had turned up in a polo neck, which was too much for his peers, one of whom asked what next: the chief justice before the courts making decisions in shorts?

Well, the Mexican Congress might have been delighted with shorts in 2013 when MP Antonio Garcia Conejo stripped down to his pants in protest at controversial legislation that opened the state-controlled oil sector to foreign investment.

We must be grateful for small things, and let us be grateful none of our own politicians have chosen to bare all.

Though you might have thought Tracy Brabin, former Batley and Spen MP, was baring far more than she did when she appeared in an off-the-shoulder dress in the House of Commons.

Women politicians have always faced far more scrutiny than men when it comes to appearance, from Nancy Astor’s dilemma over the wearing of hats to the tabloids pitting Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May’s legs against one another.

Sir Lindsay’s new strictures are fairly straightforward: no jeans, chinos or sportswear. No casual shoes or trainers, t-shirts or sleeveless tops.

The Speaker has also specified no scrolling through phones, which seems the kind of rule that goes without saying. Surely all parliamentarians worth their salt are diligently following every aspect of every debate… or at least having the good grace to have a traditional nap rather than faffing about on their phones.

So far, so reasonable. But then we come to “no extra-large handbags”. We need specific dimensions. A woman’s handbag is a receptacle of vital items, you can’t be vague when imposing limits.

Clapping is out, and so is singing. Sir Lindsay has set out his rules for appearance and behaviour. Now he’s tackled the dress code, let’s see how he gets on with the ministerial code.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992