Big Spider Love: The Brooch That Ate Brexit

The New York Times Lifestyle 1 month ago

On Tuesday, while announcing the British Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had illegally suspended Parliament, Lady Brenda Hale — the court’s first female president — wore a brooding fantastical diamanté spider brooch.

Its exact species was up for debate, though many social media observers thought the animal shape on the left shoulder of her black dress closely resembled the flesh-eating camel spider.

They also thought it was a silent message to Mr. Johnson, a man often seen as unaccustomed to facing consequences for his actions.

“We stan a brooch queen,” wrote Tom Rasmussen, author of “Diary of a Drag Queen,” on Twitter, using social media shorthand for obsessive love.

One particularly imaginative sleuth wondered if Lady Hale, 74, could be referring to “Boris The Spider,” a 1966 song by the Who, the lyrics of which include: “Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly/ Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly/ He’s come to a sticky end.”

Others breathed a sigh of relief; this year’s Halloween costume, finally sorted. Within hours, Balcony Shirts, a British T-shirt company, started selling a “Lady Hale Spider Brooch T-shirt,” featuring a silver spider motif.

It was the most heralded use of a brooch in politics since Madeleine K. Albright, the secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. In 2009, she published a book, “Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box,” and the following year lent more than 200 of her brooches to an exhibition at the Smithsonian Castle.

Madeleine K. Albright, wearing a peace dove brooch, during 1997 testimony on NATO expansion. Ms. Albright, then the United States secretary of state, was known for choosing her jewelry to match events or express opinions.

Ms. Albright’s pin penchant began in the mid-1990s, while she was ambassador to the United Nations. The Iraqi press referred to her as an “unparalleled serpent,” so she wore a snake brooch to her next meeting on Iraq.

She was the only woman on the Security Council at the time, and she has said in many interviews that she came to see her costume jewelry choices as an asset; a neat way to illustrate her opinions or intentions. For example, after learning a conference room near her State Department office had been bugged by the Russians, she wore a giant bug to her next meeting with them.

By contrast, Lady Hare’s brooches arguably leave room for debate, and speculation. It also may be a rehabilitation of sorts for the accessory, which in Britain had a turn in the spotlight in 2017, when Princess Michael of Kent wore a blackamoor brooch, a stylized bust of a black man, to the Christmas lunch where she was introduced to Meghan Markle, who is biracial.

Unlike the princess’s brooch, which seemed to represent little more than tone-deaf, fusty upper-class taste, Lady Hale’s spider pin was playful, witty, a little weird. It also echoes the style that has become her signature. For her official Supreme Court portrait, she wore a large, bejeweled centipede. At other times, she has worn a reclining fox, a giant gold butterfly, a spider web, a gingerbread man and various species of frog.

Her look seems to celebrate the accessory’s associations with older women, while simultaneously toying with ideas of appropriateness. The spider was both traditional and rebellious.

After all, on a bespectacled gray-haired woman in black, the large spider conjured thoughts of hocus-pocus, of caldrons and curses. It suggested female power — call it “Big Witch Energy.” And who’s more scared of who?


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