Alexandra Shulman’s Notebook: Smart women don’t dress to please men

I was in Egypt last week so I’ve only just caught up with the big breaking news, revealed in a Financial Times interview, that David Beckham isn’t wild about the way his wife Victoria dresses.

Why does she need to wear those weird sleeves and baggy trousers – like the ones pictured below – he ponders? And he could probably go on. How about the high-neck shirts and floor-scraping tent skirts? What happened to those skimpy Posh Spice bandage dresses?

Naturally, the fact that she continues to go her own way further endears her to me, as does her husband’s understandable confusion about her style. Because it means that they are just like most couples.

News broke that David Beckham isn’t wild about the way his wife Victoria (pictured) dresses

News broke that David Beckham isn’t wild about the way his wife Victoria (pictured) dresses

News broke that David Beckham isn’t wild about the way his wife Victoria (pictured) dresses

In many areas of co-joined life, the aim is a happy fusion of taste: the plants in the garden, the colour of the sofa, the holidays you take.

But when it comes to clothes, there is a different dynamic. While most women quite like their partner to admire how they dress, they don’t want to feel pressured into looking a particular way. A shared decision over what type of kitchen worktop to buy is one thing, but what you put on your body is something else altogether.

Most men have long given up trying to have any input over their other half’s wardrobe, but there are some women who are happy to be dressed by their husbands – delighted to know they are a vision of sartorial perfection in their bloke’s eye. They are, though, in the minority. If not plain weird.

More common are those like myself who are stubborn and, despite knowing that certain items cause a kind of pain to our partner, insist on wearing them because… well, we really like them. The wardrobe I took on holiday consisted almost entirely of clothes that the man in my life finds ‘unappealing’: kaftan-style dresses (‘Oh, not another Demis Roussos moment’) pyjama trousers, smock tops, flip-flops. For him, the droopy stuff of nightmares. But who cares!

The fact that Victoria continues to go her own way further endears her to me, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured)

The fact that Victoria continues to go her own way further endears her to me, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured)

The fact that Victoria continues to go her own way further endears her to me, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured)

Of course, when it comes to what he wears, it is an entirely different matter, and at the first hint of a seersucker jacket or lobster-printed swimming trunks (‘Everyone else loves those’), I’m out of there.

Double standards, of course. Always.

At least someone loved our empire…

Everywhere  we visited, Egyptians of all ages spoke of the pre-Suez British presence with fond nostalgia. It was odd to hear the days of the protectorate referred to with such warmth when, back here, so many are self-flagellatory about our colonial past. 

No doubt this enthusiasm wasn’t shared by all Egyptians at the time, but the distance of years colours collective memory. Certainly there was a great deal more acclaim for the contribution of ‘the British’ than there was for any aspect of current life in this beautiful country that has long abandoned the hopes for greater freedom that flared up in the days of the Arab Spring.

Talks with Theresa always go nowhere

A friend sat next to Theresa May at a recent dinner and likened the experience to being on a StairMaster exercise machine. You had to continually think three steps ahead as you knew that no matter what the subject, the conversation would inevitably go nowhere.

Brexit chaos! We’re running out of kale

My local greengrocer says she can’t find British kale anywhere, and the small amount she hunts out is more expensive than the Italian variety. This is apparently because in the pre-Brexit panic, British suppliers aren’t growing enough vegetables to keep up with demand. Sounds like growbags will become the new It bags.

A noble act – but the public will lose out

I was in the Sackler Study of the London Library when news broke that the Sackler Trust had agreed with the National Portrait Gallery to withdraw a £1 million donation. On Friday, Tate, previous beneficiaries of the Sacklers, decided not to accept any further funding.

The Sacklers are one of London’s most generous benefactors, and the National Portrait Gallery donation became controversial because the American artist Nan Goldin, the subject of a proposed retrospective, refused to participate if the £1 million was accepted. Sackler cash, Goldin claimed, was dirty money due to the family business profiting from opioid prescription drugs and the addiction that much of her work addresses.

While the donation’s withdrawal might have resolved this issue short-term, in the longer term it’s a very unhelpful precedent when our public institutions are so dependent on such gifts.

I’ve been on the board of the National Portrait Gallery and know how vital sponsorship and philanthropy is and how difficult it can be to find. Government funding requires such institutions to act like commercial businesses and show growing numbers. The system functions a little like when parents incentivise their kids to get gap-year jobs by offering to match what they earn. To get continued government funds, additional money needs to be raised to ensure the attention-grabbing exhibitions and free access we demand of our galleries.

Undoubtedly, donations should always be scrutinised but there needs to be a reality check. While I don’t agree with the phrase that ‘behind every great fortune there is a crime’, it’s certainly true that if you dig deep enough, many great fortunes have murky elements.

But how much do artists care about the provenance of the wealth of someone who buys their work? Isn’t the Nobel Foundation partially founded on armaments? Isn’t money like the Sacklers’, (who reject the charges against them) best put to good use in the vast number of cultural, educational and health initiatives they support?

In my opinion, by allowing Goldin’s intervention to succeed, the losers will ultimately be the public who flock to enjoy the National Portrait Gallery’s exceptional and unique collection.

BA’s comedy act is just plane stupid

I’m one of BA’s most loyal customers. But why does it have that ludicrous Comic Relief safety announcement with Joanna Lumley and David Walliams camping it up? If, like me, you are a fearful flyer, the last thing you need is somebody making it sound like the seat belts are a joke. Please can we go back to the stern commandment to pay attention and the no-talking-at- the-back-of-the-class approach?


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