How Our Political Women Have the Final Say: The Enduring Power Play That is Their Fashion Choices

This article was written on February 21st 2019, the day of Julie Bishop’s departure from Parliament.

Julie Bishop’s resignation from Parliament on the 21st of February 2019 came as no surprise to her fans and her detractors since she was unceremoniously removed from her position as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party on the 25th of August 2018, which led to her resignation as our esteemed Minister for Foreign Affairs. 

As Australia considers the legacy of arguably our nation’s greatest female politician currently and historically, and laments the loss of a skilled lawmaker, brilliant diplomat, and intelligent leader, much of the focus is once again returned to the lasting symbolism of Ms Bishop’s time in power: her fashion.

While some may be dismayed that just as we are losing a great politician, the public, media, and even our Prime Minister seem to be focusing mainly on what she wears, the fact that the imagery of her outfits is sustained and fills public dialogue is a testament to her power.

Every outfit that Bishop wore inside or outside Parliament House was a deliberate decision. Bishop knows all too well that when a female is in the spotlight, the media likes to focus more on what they are wearing than what they are actually saying or doing. This is the case with not only politicians, but female leaders in business, celebrities, and indeed any female public figure. 

Instead of ignoring this fact and instead of attempting to mould to the male template of power, Bishop always took what diminished the power of women by reducing them to their outfit choices, and transformed the matter of clothing into statements of her own power. 

Her now-famous ‘resignation heels’ that she wore the day she resigned as Australia’s first female Foreign Minister, memorialised in a timeless photograph in which her red heels stand in stark contrast to the crowd of male shoes, have become a symbol of female power. In dedicating these heels to the Australian Museum of Democracy and continuing the iconography through her prolific use of the red high heel shoe emoji in her social media, Bishop has created an icon for aspiring female politicians. It empowers women to lead as women with all of the passion and ferocity embodied in the colour red, rather than attempting to mould into a conventional image of a powerful male. It inspires the next generation of female politicians to recognise the power of femininity, and to continue Bishop’s legacy as being a politician that will not apologise for being female. Her red shoes that she donned for the occasion of her exit, sharply contrasted against her black dress and the sea of dark suits, is the perfect image of Bishop’s power, and indeed the power of any female politician. 

Following her resignation from Parliament, the attention is once again turned towards Bishop’s choice of outfit. Highly conscious of the effect of her red resignation heels, and anticipating the media attention around her parliamentary exit, Bishop’s outfit choice was exceptional. She rose from the gum-green bench and her dress instantly creates the exact message she was hoping to portray. The choice of a white dress is a tribute to the Suffragette women, as without their historical contribution, Bishop would not be able to be a Member of Parliament. Bishop places herself along the narrative of political enfranchisement and empowerment of women, where she rightfully belongs given her own contribution. As she walks out of Parliament House to face the press, we, the public, get a look at the full outfit. Sparkling gold heels; the colour of victory. Bishop’s resignation from her position isn’t her losing a battle following the ousting of her Prime Minister and the loss of her position as Minister and Deputy Leader. It’s the recognition that she has served her time, paved her way for women who will lead after her, and created a truly amazing legacy. It is the recognition that her services to the cause of enhancing female engagement in politics is now best served outside Parliament, given the current state of her party and the broader political climate in Australia. She chose heels of victory, because although she may be the great Prime Minister that painfully we never had, over her twenty-one years of service, she has won a great number of battles, and women in politics, her party, and the nation at large owes her great thanks. 

Julie Bishop isn’t going anywhere. Indeed what she does next will make headlines, will trend on social media, and will be the subject of much public attention. We don’t know what she will do next, but we do know that she will do it in style. Along the way, she will make lasting political statements through her fashion choices. It’s okay to discuss what women in the public eye choose to wear, so long as we are paying more attention and attributing more value to what they’re saying and doing. Bishop’s achievements as a Member of Parliament, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, and Foreign Minister deserves long-form articles, biographies, and biopics, but an inevitable part of such memorialisation of her career will be her fashion, as she deliberately intended.

Julie Bishop making her Valedictory Speech in the House of Representatives

The feature image is of Julie Bishop announcing her resignation as the first female Foreign Minister. Photograph by Alex Ellinghausen (Sydney Morning Herald)

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