In British Politics, Individualism Is Back in Fashion

LONDON — Last Friday’s parade of new cabinet ministers into No. 10 Downing Street was more like a red carpet premiere than a well-scripted changing of the guard. Usually the rookie ministers stride into No. 10 looking sober, dressed in dark suits, sensible shoes and freshly coiffed and forgettable hairstyles.

Not this time. Instead, ministers expressed themselves through a rainbow of color ranging from turquoise to bright red to fuchsia, and ditched traditional suits for dresses or other top and trouser combinations.

They haven’t stopped. On Saturday and Monday there were more peacock parades.

Angela Rayner, the deputy prime minister, is already a distinctive character with her long red hair and bright wardrobe of coordinated suits and dresses.

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (center front) next to Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner (front row, third from left) and Chancellor Rachel Reeves (front row, fourth from right) stand with Labour Party MPs, some of whom won seats in the 2024 General Election, at Church House in Westminster, central London. Picture date: Monday July 8, 2024. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer with Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves standing with Labour Party MPs.

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On Friday, for her walk into No. 10, she wore bright turquoise trousers and a matching jacket from the British label Me+Em, which is proving to be the Labour ladies’ go-to brand. First Lady Victoria Starmer wore an orange-red Me+Em dress for her entry into No. 10, alongside new Prime Minister Keir Starmer.

On Saturday, Rayner wore an orange dress with ruched detailing, also from Me+Em.

Peter Bevan, a London-based stylist, said Me+Em’s colorful clothing “fits well with [Keir] Starmer’s new, personable direction without compromising the seriousness of the role,” he added.

He believes that Labour women are choosing the label because of its “unique take on workwear, whether that’s through an exaggerated silhouette or premium fabrics. It’s less traditional than the likes of Hobbs or Karen Millen, but still feels professional and put together,” he said, referring to two well known British high street brands.

Angela Rayner leaves at 10 Downing Street, London, after being appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, following the landslide General Election victory for the Labour Party. Picture date: Friday July 5, 2024. (Photo by Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images)

Angela Rayner wearing Me+Em.

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The new transport secretary Louise Haigh, meanwhile, has been expressing herself through her clothes and her hair. She’s known for her vibrantly dyed hair which can range from soft pink to strawberry blond to blood red.

Just like Rayner, Haigh wore turquoise trousers on Friday, when she was named transport minister. On Saturday she opted for blue trousers, and fuchsia hair, blouse and heels.

The ministers’ self-expression is a reflection of many factors: Many of them are Millennials and younger (and less well off) than their predecessors. They may also feel the need to cast themselves as change makers after 14 years of Conservative Party rule.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 6: Secretary of State for Transport Louise Haigh leaves Number 10 following the first cabinet meeting since Labour formed a government under Sir Keir Starmer at Downing Street on July 6, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Alex McBride/Getty Images)

The new transport secretary, Louise Haigh.

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In addition to all of the color, they’re choosing reasonably priced brands, neither high street nor high-end designer. A blouse or skirt can be purchased for under 500 pounds at Me+Em.

Bevan believes these new, colorful ministers (and first lady) will win people over.

“The public will warm to the dressier cabinet,” Bevan said. “Since the vast majority of the country don’t wear traditional workwear to the office any more, [former Prime Minister Rishi] Sunak’s overly formal approach felt a little out of touch, which went hand in hand with the party’s policies.”

Sunak was often criticized for his outfits. During his time as prime minister he wore bespoke suits by Henry Herbert, but they often looked too small on him, like they’d passed through the shrink cycle.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 6:  Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves makes her way to Number 10 for her first day as a cabinet minister at Downing Street on July 6, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Alex McBride/Getty Images)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves.

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He liked to wear Prada shoes, which cost around 800 pounds, but they made him look elitist. Then, when he wore Adidas Sambas that retail for 100 pounds, the British public laughed again, saying he had killed the popular shoe style.

As for his cabinet, they mostly opted to fade into the background, wearing navy, gray and black suits typical of Conservative Party chieftains.

Bevan said that, by contrast, “Starmer has encouraged his cabinet members to let their individual personality shine, from prints to colors, there’s seemingly no rulebook when it comes to their sartorial choices. Not only does this give them a less homogeneous and more approachable feel, but also seems more like they’re one of the people rather than one of the government,” he added.

Starmer himself is a different story. He has a reputation for being smart, plodding and dull and, so far, his only nod to fashion is his round, tortoiseshell glasses from Garrett Leight. But perhaps that’s a good thing, because the U.K. recently has had its fair share of loud — and colorful — prime ministers.

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