James Crabtree at Prospect just drew my attention to this blog by Katharine Quarmby explaining why the hijab creates havoc for her hair. She acknowledges that this is obviously trivial compared to the real issues women face in Iran, but still I liked the fact that she blogged about it because I think women should be allowed to talk about clothes in politics.
Which got me back to thinking about a training session Progress held for aspiring Labour women considering whether they should go for selection and the advice given there about what women should wear. "It's easy for men", said the convener, "they just get to wear a suit, but it's a minefield for women" as Barbara Follett found out pre-97 when she tried to improve the fashion image of Labour women in a practice which became known as 'Folletting'.
The dilemma is often how to look smart without going over the top, and my particular bugbear is how I put a few inches on my diminutive five ft half an inch while ensuring my feet don't get mashed up by a few hours campaigning. I've tried out lots of campaigning shoes over the years, and you can't get away from the fact that flat is best, but it doesn't always look like you've made the effort if you're a short person.
Similarly, in politics you're often expected to go to receptions and the like, and I am always deeply impressed with women like Hazel Blears who manage to wear high heels at a party without fainting. In heels, I tend to spend the evening preoccupied with finding the nearest seat. At Labour Party Conference I can often be spotted giving up on the heels entirely at the end of the evening and walking barefoot back to my hotel.
And have any of you gone out campaigning in make-up, only for it to bucket it down and for you to end up looking like you've spent the afternoon watching Truly, Madly, Deeply? Talk about losing votes on the doorstep.
Finally, don't get me started on the issue of cleavage. Poor Jacqui Smith found out that women are never very far from the sexism which we thought we'd left behind when Labour first got into government. Last year I got a deeply sad/hilarious letter from a chap who had been looking rather too closely at my upper half rather than listening to the arguments I was trying to put forward on the Daily Politics. What I'd like to know is whether men in politics ever get letters slamming them for wearing trousers that are too tight?