Mrs Brown’s Indian dress

Sarah Brown, the wife of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has been attacked in certain sections of the media for wearing Indian dress on a visit to Delhi as part of a visit with the PM to India and China. The clothes were made by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, based in Bombay but with a shop in London, who have also made clothes for Dame Judi Dench to wear at the past four Academy Award ceremonies. Alison Pearson, writing in today’s Daily Mail, said that she looked lovely, and I agree (you can see a picture of her here). However, some twerp calling himself Ephraim Hardcastle, in the same paper, said she should have been wearing western clothes, and people sympathetic to him on this morning’s BBC London phone-in asked when “the robed and veiled women” from that part of the world would start wearing our clothes when in this country.

First thing is that Sarah Brown is not a politician herself; she is Gordon Brown’s wife and has no obligation to represent this country at all. She is quite entitled to wear whatever clothes she likes, in the UK or India. Second, her dress is magnificent, in my opinion at least, and I don’t think any British designer could have produced something approaching it. I don’t think Versace would have - excuse the pun - cut it either (and if she had worn Italian, nobody would have complained). Third, the British clothes manufacturing industry has been run into the ground over the last few years - the vast majority of clothes sold in the UK, including expensive clothes, are made cheaply in third-world countries.

But the most important of my objections is that women from “eastern” countries, both Muslim and Hindu (and most Indians are Hindus, not Muslims), are seen wearing western clothes in both west and east all the time. On any day, you can see women wearing mostly western dress with a headscarf on the streets of any town in England with a significant Muslim population, and if you visit Arab countries outside the Gulf, the dress worn by religious women often consists of a long skirt and a loose top with a headscarf. For men, traditional clothing is often suppressed by the state. Anyone who talks of foreign women wearing “our” clothes, when they usually do while we wear clothes made in India and China, is an ignoramus.

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