Margaret Thatcher, newly elected as Prime Minister of Britain, waves to the crowd after leaving her home in Chelsea on 4 May 1979. Photo Charlie LeyDaily Mirror. © Mirrorpix

Antenna: Margaret Thatcher’s wardrobe secrets

The third and final auction of Margaret Thatcher’s belongings marks the 40th anniversary of her becoming Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. Meredith Etherington-Smith meets the confidante who helped to curate her inimitable style

Margaret Thatcher emerged from her house in Flood Street in Chelsea on that historic morning, 4 May 1979, wearing a crisp black and white Donegal dress and jacket, beautifully dressed pale blonde hair, pearls, and carrying the inevitable handbag, which always contained a pen.

Some of these capacious handbags are being offered in Christie’s online sale, which will be open for bidding 2-9 May, as is Mrs. Thatcher’s gilt Cartier pen, still in its original box.

Cynthia Crawford, Mrs. Thatcher’s personal assistant and known to her as ‘Crawfie’, worked with Thatcher on her image throughout her time as Prime Minister. 

‘She went off to the Palace dressed in a neat blue suit,’ Mrs. Crawford recalls. ‘It had a short jacket and a stitched pleated skirt and there was a tiny bow at the neck, which was often a feature of how she dressed at the time, but which we eliminated later in favour of a more streamlined look.’

Eiichiro Sakata (b. 1941), Margaret Thatcher, 1991. Mrs Thatcher photographed when visiting Japan in 1991. This photograph was, said Mrs. Thatcher, how she wanted to be remembered. It hung in her private office. Sheet 17 x 14 in (43.2 x 35.5 cm). Estimate £1,000-1,500. Offered in
Mrs Thatcher Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Eiichiro Sakata (b. 1941), Margaret Thatcher, 1991. Mrs Thatcher photographed when visiting Japan in 1991. This photograph was, said Mrs. Thatcher, how she wanted to be remembered. It hung in her private office. Sheet: 17 x 14 in (43.2 x 35.5 cm). Estimate: £1,000-1,500. Offered in Mrs Thatcher: Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Mrs. Thatcher knew a lot about clothes and how they were made, because her mother was an accomplished seamstress and made all her daughter’s clothes when she was a child.

Mrs. Crawford recalls Mrs. Thatcher telling her that, ‘If you wear one full drop of colour in an outfit, it makes you look taller’. The photo above, which hung in her private office, was one she liked very much — Mrs. Thatcher once said the image was ‘how I would like to be remembered’. This is surprising given that she was wearing bright red, which she did not do as a rule in the UK. Indeed, she only wore the colour when travelling to a country where it held significance, such as, in this instance, Japan.

Also in the sale are two suits, both with short and long skirts, so that the Prime Minister could change quickly for an informal evening dinner or reception.

Former Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis Thatcher at Number 10 Downing Street for The Queens Golden Jubilee Dinner attended by all the surviving Prime Ministers of her reign, 29 April 2002. Photo Tim GrahamGetty Images

Former Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis Thatcher at Number 10 Downing Street for The Queen's Golden Jubilee Dinner attended by all the surviving Prime Ministers of her reign, 29 April 2002. Photo: Tim Graham/Getty Images

One of two Camilla Milton dinner suits, early 2000s. Estimate £1,000-1,500. Offered in
Mrs Thatcher Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

One of two Camilla Milton dinner suits, early 2000s. Estimate: £1,000-1,500. Offered in Mrs Thatcher: Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

The blue dinner suit embroidered with scattered sequins (above, right) was worn by Mrs. Thatcher to the dinner at 10 Downing Street attended by all of Her Majesty the Queen’s surviving Prime Ministers to celebrate her Golden Jubilee in 2002. She wore a similar café au lait ensemble, also by Camilla Milton and offered in the same lot,  to the unveiling of her statue in the House of Commons.

Mrs. Crawford explains that Mrs. Thatcher generally wore quite restrained jewellery, ‘Except on very formal occasions, such as President and Nancy Reagan’s farewell dinner in the White House’. It was on this occasion that she wore the multi-strand seed-pearl necklace shown below.

Cultured pearl and diamond necklace, bracelet and earring suite, Chaumet. Rectangular-cut diamonds, cultured pearls of approximately 4.1 mm, French marks, necklace 49 cm, bracelet 20.5 cm, earrings 2.5 cm, signed Chaumet Paris. Estimate £6,000-9,000. Offered in
Mrs Thatcher Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Cultured pearl and diamond necklace, bracelet and earring suite, Chaumet. Rectangular-cut diamonds, cultured pearls of approximately 4.1 mm, French marks, necklace 49 cm, bracelet 20.5 cm, earrings 2.5 cm, signed Chaumet Paris. Estimate: £6,000-9,000. Offered in Mrs Thatcher: Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Mrs. Thatcher’s husband, Denis, gave her a ‘pebble’ bracelet (pictured below) that she always wore, and which is also offered in the online auction, while a pretty two-row cultured pearl necklace with a sapphire and diamond clasp is typical, says Mrs. Crawford, of the pearls that Mrs. Thatcher ‘wore virtually all the time’. 

Margaret Thatcher meeting Nelson Mandela in 1990 — four years before he became president of South Africa. Photo Trinity MirrorMirrorpixAlamy Stock Photo

Margaret Thatcher meeting Nelson Mandela in 1990 — four years before he became president of South Africa. Photo: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo

The attractive 18 carat gold and amethyst ring, below, was another of Mrs. Thatcher’s favourites, having been chosen for her by her children. Together with the pebble bracelet and pearl necklace it formed her ‘uniform’ jewellery — pieces that appear in most photographs of her at the height of her career, including the one with Nelson Mandela, above, and others taken on election days, at treaty signings and at the dispatch box. Clearly treasured, they remained a staple for the rest of her life.

18 carat gold and amethyst ring, London import mark, 1968. Estimate £1,200-1,800. Offered in
Mrs Thatcher Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

18 carat gold and amethyst ring, London import mark, 1968. Estimate: £1,200-1,800. Offered in Mrs Thatcher: Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Hardstone pebble bracelet, 1960s. 20.5 cm. Estimate £1,500-2,500. Offered in
Mrs Thatcher Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Hardstone 'pebble' bracelet, 1960s. 20.5 cm. Estimate: £1,500-2,500. Offered in Mrs Thatcher: Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

Mrs. Crawford kept detailed diaries of what Mrs. Thatcher wore, and when, together with which accessories. ‘When she went abroad I did everything,’ she explained. ‘We packed as little as possible — navy shoes or black shoes, and one pair of cream shoes, for instance.’

Mrs. Thatcher arrives at No. 10 Downing Street to take up office on 4 May 1979, wearing the gold and amethyst ring offered in Christie’s online sale. Photo PAPA ArchivePA Images

Mrs. Thatcher arrives at No. 10 Downing Street to take up office on 4 May 1979, wearing the gold and amethyst ring offered in Christie’s online sale. Photo: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

Things really changed in terms of Mrs. Thatcher’s look when she went to Russia in 1987 to meet Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev. ‘I knew that Mrs. Gorbachev was extremely smart and always dressed in Yves St Laurent, so I went to Aquascutum and chose a black coat with a black fox-fur collar and a beige coat with a sable collar,’ recalls Mrs. Crawford, who borrowed two fur hats to match.

Three winter coats and a pair of high boots, Aquascutum and Jean Muir and Rayne. The first coat is of thick black wool, mandarin collar and glossy black buttons; with black waterproof grosgrain boots; the second is of cornflower blue wool with gilt-trimmed buttons; the third is of bottle-green wool, all bell-shaped and with mandarin collars and slit pockets. Estimate £600-900. Offered in
Mrs

Three winter coats and a pair of high boots, Aquascutum and Jean Muir and Rayne. The first coat is of thick black wool, mandarin collar and glossy black buttons; with black waterproof grosgrain boots; the second is of cornflower blue wool with gilt-trimmed buttons; the third is of bottle-green wool, all bell-shaped and with mandarin collars and slit pockets. Estimate: £600-900. Offered in Mrs Thatcher: Part III, 2-9 May 2019, Online

‘As she came down the steps of the aeroplane wearing the black coat and fur hat, holding a bunch of red roses, she looked absolutely beautiful. But to me elimination was always best; I remember a photograph of her wearing a simple navy and white checked suit with a small stand-up collar. She never looked better.’

Christie’s online sale offers numerous other treasures, including notes for Mrs. Thatcher’s speeches and autobiography, portraits, and even chairs from her study.

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The final auction of Mrs. Thatcher’s belongings will be available to view from 16 April. The sale series began in December 2015 when Property from the Collection of The Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher realised £3,280,745 at Christie’s in London, with the collection total rising in a subsequent online sale.