The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Alexandra Shulman’s Notebook

Poor Tracy’s shouldered her way into a minef ield


SHE should have seen it coming – Labour MP Tracy Brabin, that is, whose bare-shouldered appearance at the Dispatch Box has provoked a maelstrom of commentary to rival this weekend’s Storm Ciara.

In a utopia, it might be possible to wear exactly what we feel like at any given time and not be subject to traditiona­l definition­s of what’s appropriat­e – and certainly not the venom of Twitter trolls.

But that’s not the way it is. Like it or not, clothes, and more particular­ly where and how you wear them, matter enormously.

Last week saw two contrastin­g images involving women’s clothes and politics. In the House of Commons, Ms Brabin, above, appeared to raise a point of order wearing a one-shouldered mid-calf-length, black ASOS dress that had slipped slightly down her arm.

If she’d flung a jacket over it, the dress would have provoked no comment at all. There would have been little revealed of the bare skin that some found so objectiona­ble and certainly less than a number of bosomy honourable members regularly display on the benches, in their scoop-neck tops.

Across the Atlantic, as Donald Trump made his State of the Union address in the House of Representa­tives, a group of Democratic Congresswo­men deliberate­ly dressed in white, the colour of women’s suffrage, to make a powerful collective statement about equal rights.

And herein lies a problem because you can’t have it both ways. Either we pay attention to clothes, both men and women’s, or we don’t. What we wear is the quickest way to say something about ourselves. How that is read is entirely to do with the context in which it is worn.

At the music event Ms Brabin says she was attending earlier that day, her dress was no doubt thought of as unexceptio­nal. She would have fitted in.

The same day I saw Luke, the bearded, man-bunned junior in my hair salon, wear a black-frilled vest top, his bare arms covered in tattoos, clusters of diamante earrings dangling, as he shampooed clients. Nobody blinked an eye. He fitted in. If he was an MP and had pitched up at the Dispatch Box looking like that, heaven knows what would be said. It would be wonderful if somebody did, though. Go on Grant Shapps – give it a go.

The supposed appropriat­eness of clothes is a minefield made more confusing by the fact nobody knows who’s in charge of the rules. Who says you shouldn’t wear a one-shouldered dress in the House of Commons? Nobody worth listening to. We should all be allowed to wear whatever we want but don’t be surprised when, if you buck convention, you find yourself criticised.

Personally, I think the time to start worrying is when people no longer pay any attention to what you are wearing.

True sexual freedom is... being discreet

I WAS reading about TV star Jameela Jamil confusingl­y selfidenti­fying as ‘queer’ while ‘leaning towards boys’ when Phillip Schofield’s dramatic announceme­nt that he is gay hit the news.

It seems extraordin­ary to me that everyone needs to publicly announce their sexuality. Schofield no doubt felt that he couldn’t be prying into other’s lives on This Morning with this secret clogging up his own, but Jamil seems to be doing it to justify her presence on an American show aimed at the LGBT community.

We may think our society is more open if everyone’s sexuality goes public, but in a truly evolved world surely it should be possible to keep it to ourselves should we so wish.

I’d make a mess of being in quarantine

THERE are aspects of being stuck in quarantine that might be quite pleasant. Endless opportunit­y for box sets and crosswords. You could read that hefty book you never quite get around to.

It might be a bit testing, though, for personal relationsh­ips, especially for couples where one person’s mess, in our case mine, severely tries the patience of the other. I fear that a confined space containing me would soon become horribly squalid.

In the current coronaviru­s quarantine centre on the Wirral, it’s not clear if a hazmat-suited army of cleaners appears daily with an arsenal of Domestos or whether each room is equipped with household cleaning products. Do you get clean towels daily, or, as in hotels, do you leave them on the floor if you want them washed? These are important issues when space is tight. Unfortunat­ely, since I’m no Mrs Hinch, I know that, with my domestic failings, our nest would become totally Spaghetti House siege in no time at all. Who else remembers the revolting state of that restaurant after the hostages were finally released in 1975?

I was drawn in by a Valentine’s card cad

IT’S nearly that schmaltzy celebratio­n, Valentine’s Day. I once had a boyfriend who drew me delightful­ly romantic Valentine cards. I treasured them hugely – until one year I discovered that I had not been the only person receiving exactly the same, seemingly devoted, hand-crafted message.

Why the smart girls write off English

A RECENT report claims girls are turned off science exams because of the lack of female role models.

What subjects are they taking up instead? It appears not the previously popular English. The head of that subject at a large Oxfordshir­e school told me that the number taking English had dropped by 90 per cent, the biggest fall among the girls, because they considered it wouldn’t get them a job. You can’t blame them when you consider that the Society of Authors quotes an average writer’s income as £10,500.

But at least some things have improved when it comes to women’s writing being valued. My 1973 edition of the Oxford Anthology Of English Literature from 1800 to the present (edited by two men) includes 94 writers – only five of them women.

Crowe blew Margot’s Bombshell to bits

FOR anyone considerin­g seeing Bombshell, the Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman film based on the sexual abuse scandal at Fox News, I direct you instead to The Loudest Voice on Amazon Prime.

It tells the same story of the monstrous Roger Ailes who built up the cable news channel arguably responsibl­e for getting Donald Trump elected. As this bully, abuser and sexual violater of his female staff, Russell Crowe is simply magnificen­t and the multi-episode format allows an understand­ing and interest in the characters that Bombshell badly lacks.

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