Winston Churchil had his cigar, on the other hand, Margaret Thatcher had her handbag. During the 1980s, the Conservative British prime minister rarely appeared without a glossy handbag gracefully hung over one arm.
It became synonymous with her charismatic, not to say browbeating, presence that one Cabinet member is said to have quipped while waiting for Thatcher’s arrival at a meeting: ‘Why don’t we start? The handbag is here.’
A verb, ‘to handbag’ – meaning to treat ruthlessly or insensitively – was even coined in the Iron Lady’s honor. The handbag, the most feminine and placid of accessories, had graduated to full-blown superpower. It was an apt-enough attribute for the UK’s first female prime minister and a woman able to wield both ‘masculine’ strength and ‘feminine’ sex appeal.
Thatcher’s favourite handbags were made by Ferragamo. Classic in design, beautifully crafter and with a restraint suggestive of the PM’s pent-up energy and resolve, each was a bag like an unlit bomb.
The enduring fascination with both Thatcher and her handbag was in evidence in 2000 when one of her Ferragamo bags was sold at a charity auction for more than $150,000.
Now that is soft power.