Friday, July 15, 2011

Made in Buckingham

I watched the film Made in Dagenham for the first time right around the time when the Duchess and the Duke of Cambridge were leaving Calgary. 

In both productions a red dress featured prominently. 

The Duchess wore a Catherine Walker design, accentuated by her mother-in-law's large, glittering maple leaf pin.

Rita (Sally Hawkins' character) wore a borrowed Biba, with large, diamond-shape buttons.

The more I thought about it, the more the two narratives began to intersect.

Both Kate and Rita work for well-known institutions (The Firm and Ford Motor Company); both are commoners (though I dislike that word) who emerge as public figures while wearing a designer red dress.

Most importantly, both speak out on behalf of the oppressed: in lieu of wedding gifts the Duchess invited guests to donate to an anti-bullying charity, and Rita's persuasive speeches led to women receiving equal pay for equal work.

I read some reviews after I had screened the film and learned from a male English critic that the plot device of a posh, highly educated and bored wife (Rosamond Pike, the wife of a Ford exec.) lending a working-class gel the red Biba dresss is a "clunky attempt at female solidarity across the class divide."
But I think that dresses are a fitting way to bridge the class divide. Just look at how easily Rita and the female politician Barbara Castle (brilliantly played by Miranda Richardson) bond over frocks. Both working women share a recognition of quality (Biba) but own the much lesser priced C&A.

I'll argue that although women can and do unite over social and political issues, we can also build alliances through dresses. I know that I'm looking forward to seeing more of those dresses that are made in Buckingham.


Katherine said...

Interesting post but I think that clothes are used more often to delineate and define class boundaries than to breach them.

Belle de Ville said...

I agree with Katherine in that clothes do more to divide women than to bring them together.
I despise the way that women politians are attacked for the way that they look rather than for their policies.