Written by Bertie Bowen


Dressing Like… The Good Life

Fashion stylist Bertie Bowen channels the clothes and spirit of a fictional character. This week she’s looking at Barbara and Margot in The Good Life and finding there’s room for both.

 The Good Life cast shotI recently moved house. We now have a yard with flowers (mainly weeds) and fruit (a rogue strawberry plant) and we (okay, my fella) have planted tomatoes, which may have influenced my ‘Dressing Like’ ever so slightly.

Both Barbara and Margot have impressive costumes in The Good Life. And they are complete opposites, which is reflected in the way they dress. But the 1970s influence on current fashion is what really drew me to these two brilliant female characters. Feeling confused about how to wear the ubiquitous 70s trend this summer? Perhaps having a character muse will help.

So the only thing you need to decide is this: are you a Barbara or a Margot?

COLOUR: loud and proud or soft and cool?

Colour speaks volumes and Margot’s brash and bold choices reflect her character. Tangerine, cerise, turquoise, scarlet – anything bright will do. Margot also loves a large print. Barbara favours faded pastels and cool colours with a washed-out (well, worn) fade to them such as pale blue and moss green, mirroring her more relaxed personality.

Margot in a blue dress and headscarfFABRIC: robust or delicate?

When I think of Barbara, I picture her in dungarees or high-waisted flared jeans (both of which are very on trend right now). She dresses for manual labour, hard graft. She spends her time outdoors and she needs resilient fabrics: denim, wool, flannel – purely practical.

Margot is often in dresses with voluminous sleeves and frills. She dresses up for dinner out or leisure time at home, preferring fabrics that are light and floaty, sheer or shiny: chiffon, silk, cashmere – pure luxury.

Tom and Barbara diggingSHAPE: boyish or feminine?

I just watched an episode in which Barbara is mistaken for a boy. She is devastated. The way she dresses is dictated by her lifestyle and in no way means she is any less of a woman. I happen to believe she looks just as beautiful in her oversized shirts and roll necks as Margot does in her elegant maxi dresses with maximum cleavage. If you’re going for a Barbara look think ‘borrowed from your boyfriend’ with your style: comfortable, simple and spontaneous. Margot’s look is more ‘Amazonian woman’: smart, striking and bejewelled.

WARDROBE ALLOWANCE: bursting at the seams or make do and mend?

Margot is given a clothes allowance by her husband (*gulp*) and it shows. She has several outfit changes per episode and I’ve never seen her in the same thing twice. She must have a huge wardrobe.

Barbara, on the other hand, must make do with what she already has since Tom is no longer earning a wage (*gulp again*). Her clothes are worn over and over, and are often tatty or darned. In modern terms, the two women’s contrasting styles are fast fashion versus up-cycling.

Tom and Barbara with goatCOLLARS: Big, or well, BIG.

One thing’s for certain: collars were big in the 70s. They were very popular and, literally, they were huge. Both women wear a lot of shirts and collared tops, so finally some common ground: collars – the larger and pointier the better.

ACCESSORIES: minimal or maximal?

Barbara and Margot probably differ the most when it comes to finishing touches. Barbara doesn’t tend to accessorise at all (it would be dangerous on the farm); she never wears any jewellery and barely any makeup. She does sometimes wear a flat cap or headscarf but for practicality’s sake rather than style.

Margot? Well I could write a whole article solely about her headwear. Large hats, silk scarves and turbans, jewellery galore, manicured hands, full makeup and coiffed hair. Margot is a goddess. She even uses a cigarette holder: pure class.

These two women represent two style extremes: earthy simplicity vs high-maintenance glamour, functional vs flawless. Don’t worry, though; you don’t really have to choose. I dress like a Barbara but my head is more Margot; I’ll water the tomatoes wearing my dungarees then don my sunhat and sip a G&T while painting my nails.

That’s the best thing about fashion – you can pick and choose the bits you like depending on your mood or the occasion. Either way, 70s fashion was glorious and I am glad it’s back.


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Written by Bertie Bowen

Stylist, writer and mother living in East London. A clompy shoed, curly haired, Radio 4 enthusiast. www.mothershoppers.com