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Fashion helped me find my feet when I joined the House of Lords

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Even as a child, I loved fashion. I was fascinated by the transformational power of clothes. I could dress to blend in or stand out, and sartorial choices could lift my mood and confidence.

As a shy, studious teenager, interesting outfits couldn’t actually make me cool, but they saved me from being a complete social outcast. 

But money was a limiting factor. Clothes shopping was a big treat. That did not change much over the first decade of my City career. As a young working mother with a large mortgage, I had little extra money or time.

But after rapid promotions, I found myself earning a lot of money just as online shopping took off. I indulged my love of fashion to the point where I had far too many clothes. This realisation coincided with the cost-of-living crisis, and I could not justify any new purchases. 

Much of my wardrobe would work better for a socialite or a member of the royal family

So, my 2023 new year resolution was simple: no new clothes for a year. Essentials such as underwear and tights were allowed, but otherwise, my self-imposed rules were strict. They were designed to break a spending habit and make better use of my vast wardrobe. 

There was one additional goal: to sustain my Instagram ‘career-dressing’ account – @helenamorrissey – by finding new ways to wear old clothes and mixing and matching outfits. With help from my six daughters, who became both stylists and generous lenders, that became a fun challenge.

I became much more imaginative, especially with accessories, which can truly make or break a look. And there were lovely surprises: I rediscovered pieces that brought back beautiful memories. 

Apart from items with sentimental value, anything unsuitable has found its way to charity shops, my daughters’ wardrobes, or been expertly altered – in turn supporting small local businesses. Full-scale transformations are especially satisfying; several old-fashioned evening dresses have been converted into wonderful jumpsuits.

The experience reinforced what I already knew: not only do I have too many clothes, but much of my wardrobe would work better for a socialite or a member of the royal family. 

I am in favour of incorporating some fashion fantasy into my life (as everything purely utilitarian would make things dull), but in reality, that life is more about work and less about partying – despite what a wardrobe filled with numerous beautiful evening gowns might suggest. I spend my time in board meetings (many involving travel), working from home, delivering keynote speeches, and attending sessions in the House of Lords.

I was introduced to the House in the midst of Covid, and repeated lockdowns meant it took me a while to figure things out, including the Baroness’ dress code. It’s simple, really: a smart jacket paired with separates or a dress. 

One dapper gentleman on the opposition benches regularly compliments me on my attire, once saying: “That dress you were wearing the other day made my heart soar.” The nicest thing to say, especially to someone still finding their feet.

The House can feel rather intimidating. I’ve learnt that taking minor risks on the sartorial front can help break the ice and create unexpected conversations. I have a pair of shoes that look conventional from the front but give the illusion of floating from the back. They became quite a talking point when I wore them on a day with multiple votes; conversations in the voting lobby can sometimes feel a bit awkward. However, when Baroness Brady noticed those shoes, we started chatting, and soon several others, both men and women, joined in. I made several new acquaintances that day.

Substance rightly trumps style in the House, but I’m a big fan of utilising everything and anything in our arsenal that can help us feel confident, create talking points, and expand our connections. 

 

Baroness Morrissey, Conservative peer 

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