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Pearls, purses and pussybows: Margaret Thatcher's style through the years

The former British prime minister was not famous for being a style icon, but her consistently sharp and polished looks gave Margaret Thatcher a powerful image. Amy Verner breaks down the defining styles of a woman who left an indelible mark on the world

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In a photo of world leaders from 1985, there is only one who is holding a purse. But Margaret Thatcher never made a point of the fact that she wore stockings instead of slacks; she simply dressed sharply and got on with it.

PAUL HOSEFROS/NYT

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When Thatcher became Britain’s prime minister in 1979, there was no guidebook, no dress code, for what a woman in her position should wear. It seems like a minor matter compared to dispatching troops to fight in the Falklands War. But then imagine getting up every morning and not being able to default to a suit and tie.

AP

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Thatcher’s ascendancy up the parliamentary system from 1959 onwards was inversely proportional to her penchant for hats.

AP

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By the time she became prime minister, the no-nonsense coif that framed her face was statement enough.

AP

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As it turns out, her term coincided with the rise of the women’s power suit with its padded shoulders. Thatcher, however, did not use fashion to feel like an equal among men.

Bill Rowntree/AP

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Often, she would wear “pussybow” blouses – her softer alternative to a tie. She must have had a multitude of them – polka dots, solids, small and oversized.

AP

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Only later did she revert to round necklines (but never were her hemlines above the knee).

Kurt Strumpf/AP

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Through her wardrobe choices, Thatcher was able to distinguish herself from the role of a first lady. Whereas Nancy Reagan or Mila Mulroney had distinct wardrobes depending on whether they were accompanying their husbands to state dinners or on the campaign trail, Thatcher’s look remained consistently polished.

Gerald Penny/AP

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From the moment she arrived at 10 Downing Street in 1979, she proved partial to blue. Historically, blue has been recognized as a conservative colour but that would not have been the only reason. On her, it was less severe than black.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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And then there were the pearls, a double strand first given to her by husband Dennis when she gave birth to twins in 1952.

Gerald Penny/AP

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Other versions came along after: a larger single strand that sat tight along her neckline, and longer ones that fell below the bows. If she had any signature, it was this.

Peter Kemp/AP

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Even if not deliberately, female political figures have evoked the Thatcher look. Certainly, Madeleine Albright comes to mind, right down to the combed-back coif and conversation-making brooches (the former U.S. Secretary of State is well known for her love of the latter).

BURHAN OZBILICI/AP

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Hilary Clinton has also been influenced – occasionally to a fault – by the Iron Lady’s success with suits.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

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Thankfully for Thatcher, her time in office predated today’s obsession with outfit itemizing – as in, knowing the provenance of every article of her clothing. While she was fond of the “Carla” heels and handbags from Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo, there was no expectation that the public would be privy to these details (both accessories were worn by Meryl Streep who played the prime minister in the 2011 biopic The Iron Lady).

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In fact, Thatcher did have a stylist, Margaret King, who was an executive at Aquascutum, the British label that provided much of her clothing. But like a speechwriter, King remained largely behind the scenes.

BOBBY YIP/REUTERS

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Meanwhile, Thatcher’s wardrobe has surfaced on the auction block over the past decade. According the The Telegraph, a selection of dresses commanded brought in £73,125 (about $113,450) last year. Her black Asprey purse sold for £25,000 at Christie’s in 2011 and the iconic Ferragamo handbag fetched £83,110 in 2000,

Martin Cleaver/AP

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She once said that her handbag was the only safe place in Downing Street. That she could joke about it was most important of all.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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