Why Tracy Brabin got it wrong with her ‘shouldergate’ outfit - Christa Ackroyd

Tracy Brabin has announced she is auctioning the off-the-shoulder dress that drew criticism after she wore it in the Commons. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire
Tracy Brabin has announced she is auctioning the off-the-shoulder dress that drew criticism after she wore it in the Commons. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire
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A few months ago a reader of this column sent me a photograph dating back to my Calendar days on Yorkshire Television with the words ‘nice shoulder pads’. It would have been quite amusing apart from the fact I had no shoulder pads in the outfit I was wearing. They were, in fact, my shoulders. I was never what you would describe as waif-like.

What was far worse to me now looking at that publicity shot from the late 1990s was the massive bubble perm and the dustbin lid earrings, though fortunately they seem to have gone unnoticed.

And I thought I was so smart, so newsreader-ish.

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Over the years I received many letters, now like shoulder pads a thing of the past, commenting on my outfits.

I could sit next to my lovely on screen husbands, Richard, Mike and Harry and hardly a word would be said about their choice of garb, despite Richard’s infamous stripey jackets and outrageous ties often worn together (he once turned up by mistake in his dinner jacket trousers and no one said a thing), not to mention Harry’s unconventional and, dare I say it, rather loud choice of socks.

No matter how conservative I thought I was being, whatever I wore seemed to attract comment.

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A dark jacket became too funereal. A bright jacket too garish. Trousers too manly, a skirt too sexy. Make-up too heavy, fresh-faced washed out.

I soon realised as a woman you were judged by what you wore not what you said. And you couldn’t please all of the people all of the time. So I chose to wear largely what I liked and stopped writing back about the quality of my interviews being more important than whether you liked my outfit. It was a waste of time and certainly a waste of energy.

But if I often broke the fashion rules – and I did – I had one rule and one rule alone. It was sacrosanct. News is serious and I vowed I would never look like I had interrupted a night out to present it. I thought of those at home watching often devastating details about themselves or those they loved and I tried to look respectful and serious, which meant no low-cut dresses, still a pet hate of mine for news presenters, and certainly no off-the-shoulder little numbers.

This of course leads me on to the backlash received by Batley & Spen MP Tracy Brabin who, quite rightly, has stood up to the outrageous and totally over-the-top trolling that saw her described as a tart, a slapper, a drunk and worse, all for wearing a little black dress, that revealed a shoulder in the House of Commons. It’s hardly the most daring fashion statement but was it appropriate? I think not. If, like a news presenter, you are called unexpectedly to make what you believe is an important point, as she was, what’s so wrong with hanging a jacket up in your office to cover all eventualities, including a shoulder?

To be business-like you have to dress as if you mean business.

Look, let’s get one thing straight. I would defend a woman’s right to wear exactly what she wants any time anywhere. But am I the only woman who admits they had to actually Google later what Ms Brabin was actually talking about, so enthralled was I about her garb and whether it would slip further? And that, I am afraid, is the problem for women the world over. It always was and it always will be. We are too often judged by what we wear, not who we are, or what we say. That’s not being sexist. It would be just as distracting if a male MP turned up in shorts and a singlet.

Let’s agree that Tracy Brabin wore a nice dress, so much so it been selling like hot cakes. It suited her. She looked great. But it put the emphasis on her attire rather than her message, just as Theresa May will be forever remembered for her kitten heels. It might not be right, it might not be just, but it will ever be so. We, and I include women in that, often judge first by our eyes and not by our ears.

Which brings me onto the red carpet glamour of the Oscars and the Baftas. I do love a good frock. Give me dresses I can never afford, let alone have a cat in hell’s chance of getting into. Not for nothing is Hollywood named Tinseltown. The more glitter, the more sparkle, the happier I am. And if that makes me shallow so be it. But don’t let’s pretend they are wearing them for the sake of saving the human race.

This year at the Baftas stars were asked to recycle dresses to save on their carbon footprint. That’s despite most of them flying across the Atlantic in first class. Renée Zellweger was the winner for me both for her outfit and her performance in Judy.

Although the Duchess of Cambridge came a pretty close second having dragged a fabulous gold embroidered Alexandra McQueen number from the back of her wardrobe even though, shock horror, she had once worn it in 2012. Of course she did. It’s a nice frock and must have cost a fortune. Especially when wearing thousand of pounds’ worth of jewellery from Van Vleef and Arpels.

It was hardly an ‘oh this old thing’ moment. And since when does recycling dresses mean anything other than wearing the same dress twice? Who in the real world thinks ‘I have worn that, time to throw it in the bin’. No one other than Hollywood actresses, who, let’s face it, are often given or even paid to wear such and such designer’s creations. But then this isn’t the real world.

Being an MP is. And whether we like it or not, I am reminded of something my mother always said, there is a time a place for everything. Or to use another of her sayings that always stood me in good stead, ‘Christa, this is not a fashion parade’.