This post has been updated.
Along with her monetary policy, Margaret Thatcher had an image that was hard, harsh, and intimidating, a perception reinforced—or perhaps even cultivated—by how she dressed. Her memorable power suits and beloved pussy-bow blouses remain a symbol of her conservative reign, and her handbag a notorious icon of punishment.
But when Thatcher’s estate recently offered London’s Victoria and Albert Museum the chance to take some clothing, jewelry, and handbags belonging to the Iron Lady for its fashion collection—by the museum’s own accounting, the “largest and most comprehensive” in the world—the V&A politely declined, according to the Telegraph. Apparently Thatcher’s clothes just aren’t fashionable enough.
As a V&A spokesperson reportedly explained, “The Museum is responsible for chronicling fashionable dress and its collecting policy tends to focus on acquiring examples of outstanding aesthetic or technical quality.” Thatcher’s wardrobe instead would be “best suited to another collection which would focus on their intrinsic social historical value.”
Once the news spread, however, Nicholas Coleridge, chairman of the V&A, told the BBC the museum had never been made such an offer.
Still, critics didn’t hesitate to pounce. The museum, after all, isn’t simply a preserve of haute couture. It has devoted time and space to noteworthy bits of pop culture, such as David Bowie’s fantastic costumes. Thatcher’s clothes arguably are just as significant, in a painful-reminder sort of way.
“Surely, the clothes that defined Thatcherism are just as historically important as David Bowie’s platform heels or Alexander McQueen’s corsets?” wrote Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones, who likened the decision to the Louvre’s failure to purchase Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the 1920s and said it was missing the chance to add a “modern masterpiece” to its collection.
Anyone who does want a piece of Thatcher’s collection for themselves will have a chance to get it. Christie’s will be auctioning the pieces online instead, beginning Dec. 15.