It’s going to be sad to see our current Governor General Quentin Bryce leave office at the end of this month, for many reasons. One of them the very chic dash she cut among a sea of suits.
Although it’s vexing that women in politics and public office are scrutinised more closely for their dress sense than the men, it is an inevitability that the fashionable Ms Bryce managed to address with aplomb.
Presumably an avid interest in high fashion is not exactly top of the agenda for most females in high office, but it seems as though a discreet mid-price pantsuit and a low heel doesn’t satisfy the media or the public either, as Julia Gillard and Angela Merkel could attest.
Ms Bryce’s interest in fashion came early in life, and I have had many conversations with her about her stylish mother, and the beautiful dressed society women that so impressed her growing up in Queensland. She once confessed that she fondly remembered the bows and lace on her baby clothes.
Like many Queenslanders, the Governor General has a fondness for colour, and we have all become used to her graceful figure at ceremonies, wearing a bright pink, or blue skirt suit, a dignified feminine presence during what are often solemn and male-dominated occasions.
As the former Governor of Queensland, Ms Bryce has always been a great supporter of the Brisbane Fashion Festival, offering Government House for one opening launch party, and wonderfully supportive of the local designers (in fact, Brisbane couturier Pia du Pradal makes the majority of her clothes).
I recall at one fashion lunch, Ms Bryce arrived wearing a sunny yellow jacket and skirt, accessorised with a gigantic pink camellia as a lapel brooch, which had been plucked fresh from the garden at Government House.
She was never big on pantsuits, although I do like her bush tour outfits, which consisted of slim pants, a white shirt and a sun hat, with her signature Georg Jensen bracelet watch. And she has never thought that a love of fashion and clothes detracted or mitigated the importance of her position or power.
This is an issue I frequently come across over my years as a fashion magazine editor, the idea that a high-powered businesswoman cannot appear to be too fashionable, or spend too much on clothes, or risk looking frivolous and it still prevails.
During her time in parliament it seemed poor Julia Gillard couldn’t take a trick. I always felt that her clothes were perfectly appropriate, but as it transpired if there was no way to take a swipe at what she wore, people would take a swipe at her figure.
Ms Bryce, tall, slender and blessed with a knockout pair of legs, managed to avoid this type of vitriol, this tedious personal takedown of high profile women that society really needs to work on eradicating.
In the words of Hilary Clinton “You may not agree with a woman, but to criticise her appearance- as opposed to her idea or actions- isn’t doing anyone any favours, least of all you. Insulting a woman’s looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage with high level thinking.”
Last month, Ms Bryce held a farewell morning tea at Admiralty house, on a Sydney Sunday in what felt to be about 2000% humidity.
Everyone assembled was dabbing at their faces with napkins and handkerchiefs, while perspiration poured into the lawn on masse. There she was in the midst of the throng, perfectly unruffled, in a crisp white pique cotton dress and bright red lips, greeting all of her guests warmly and personally, not an immaculately coiffed hair out of place.
She really did outshine everyone in the room, but what she was wearing was probably the least of it.