Just how much money is it acceptable to spend on a pair of leather pants?
If you are the (female) British Prime Minister Theresa May, then the answer appears to be: a thousand pounds.
The price of designer pants may seem an odd issue for the Brits to be fixated on given the continuing gyre of doom-laden global news, but Theresa May’s photoshoot with The Sunday Times two weekends ago wearing a pair of expensive Amanda Wakeley-designed leather pants has blown up into the most unlikely political row of recent years.
Mrs. May was taken to task for the pricey pants by a fellow Conservative MP, the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who told The Times, "I don't have leather trousers. I don't think I've ever spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress."
She implied that Mrs. May’s sartorial choice defined her as out-of touch, and, referring to a provincial agricultural town in her constituency said: "My barometer is always: 'How am I going to explain this in Loughborough market?"'
“Trousergate”, as the affair has come to be known after the British word for pants, has grown legs, and more than two weeks after the original photo shoot, the story is stubbornly refusing to die.
In part this is because of the leaking of a series of angry text messages to the Mail on Sunday between May’s joint chief of staff, Fiona Hill and an MP, Alistair Burt, in which Morgan was dropped from a list of Conservative MPs to be given a private meeting with the Prime Minister.
“Don’t bring that woman to Downing Street again,” Hill texted Burt, the paper said.
Morgan apparently saw the text and responded to Hill directly: “If you don’t like something I have said or done, please tell me directly,” she wrote. “No man brings me to any meeting. Your team invites me. If you don’t want my views in future meetings you need to tell them.”
Hill’s response was: “Well, he just did. So there!”
Mrs. May’s defenders have leapt to her defense as the row has deepened, accusing her critics of sexism.
Conservative backbench MP, Nadine Dorries, sometimes described as Britain’s answer to Sarah Palin, said, "Nicky Morgan's comments were sexist, because she never criticized David Cameron's extremely expensive suits."
Critics rejoiced when photographs were produced of Morgan toting a £950 handbag. Her supporters briefed the press that it was a twelve-year-old gift, but that has made little difference to the perception of hypocrisy.
The plot thickened as it emerged that the Prime Minister has a discount card for the Amanda Wakeley store, which she has noted on her official register of interests since 2013.
The PM’s spokesperson has refused to say if the card was used, perhaps concerned that admitting to use of the card would mark Mrs. May as a privileged (read out of touch) VIP.
Why so much fuss about the price of pants?
Well, it turns out that Trousergate, in the best of British traditions, is actually about something quite other than what it appears to be about.
It’s actually about Brexit.
The connection between the price of leather pants and the UK vote to leave the EU in a referendum earlier this year may be hard to figure at first.
But Morgan is a renegade Tory ‘Remainer’ who was sacked by May when she came to power, and now stands accused of seeking to undermine Mrs. May by attacking her pants.
Dorries encapsulated the government’s position neatly, saying, “Sadly, the ragged band of nutcase Europhiles will find any excuse to take a pot shot at the Prime Minister.
“They do not believe the result of the referendum should be honored. They are working to find any means possible to undermine the position of the PM and her Brexit ministers.”
In a piquant detail, it was noted that the color of the trousers was listed as "bitter chocolate" by the designer.
How very appropriate.