May 13, 2011 10:07 pm

A not-so-desperate housewife

The Duchess of Cambridge is making stay-at-home wifery the new chic, but it’s not easy being one without the money to facilitate the look

Housewives are back in fashion and they’re hot – tsss. That’s right; and it’s all down to that minxy Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, who is now sitting around in Anglesey making stay-at-home wifery the new chic, the new go-to-workery, the new whatever the old new thing was before the new new thing came along.

The proclamation came in one of those facile Sunday newspaper articles. Apparently, the Duchess is showing that “a life at home is not only respectable, it’s for hotties”. Fab news; there can’t be a woman hoovering her front room who doesn’t already feel better about herself. We men remember Working Girl, we know how “hot” vacuum cleaning can be. Tsss. That said, the image of Melanie Griffith, wearing only high heels and knickers as she vacuumed her flat in the movie (all women vacuum that way, right?) may be a little off the mark for the Duchess. Presumably, she’ll perform her chores in a tiara and a lace number from Alexander McQueen.

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Robert Shrimsley

But let’s park the detail for a moment and focus on the big idea: that being a housewife is hot again. That’s right ladies; forget about a career, don’t go wasting your pretty little heads on self-improvement, if you’ve got a killer body it’s sexy to work it pushing a trolley round Waitrose.

The premise is that women can feel good about being housewives again. But, let’s face it, the whole hot housewife thing is not actually aimed at women. It is primarily a male fantasy – if you don’t believe me try typing “hot housewife” into Google and see what comes up. Let’s just say it’s not your archetypal future queen content.

I say primarily a male fantasy because I suppose there must be some women who do, indeed, fantasise about nothing but health clubs, lattes and Glade air freshener. But in the main, this is a guy concept. What man hasn’t at some stage been tantalised by the idea of an intellectually unthreatening babe who spends her day beautifying herself in readiness for his return, whereupon she will rustle up a tasty supper and ravish him rotten – although preferably not at the same time; otherwise it’s a recipe for indigestion. Such dreams have their downsides, too. Marry a hot housewife and you’ll spend the day worrying about whether she’s having it away with the gardener or pool boy; we all know what happens on Desperate Housewives. That said, the pool boy thing is less of an issue in Britain. Somehow, the pond boy doesn’t sound quite so threatening.

There’s also, frankly, the question of whether the Duchess ticks all the role-model boxes. For a start, there’s the children issue. Many women wouldn’t dream of quitting work just because they have kids, and many others couldn’t afford to, but we do at least understand and respect the lifestyle choice. Chucking in work before you have kids so you can concentrate on hanging out at the gym is also a lifestyle choice; it’s called freeloading. This may be manageable if you are a royal; there’s any number of buildings that need dedicating if you’ve got a title. But it is not practical for most people. Hot housewives can’t waft around the local shopping centre in the hope that a new branch of Greggs might need opening.

No doubt there are many “hot” housewives out there living happy lives and good luck to them. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the underlying heat could be more to do with their looking attractive than with their skills at unloading the dishwasher. In other words, a “hottie” will be so in most guises. Housewifery is not actually any hotter for numbering the Duchess among its ranks than it ever was. It is possible that she has made being a Duchess “hot” again but that’s of limited value since vacancies arise only occasionally.

It’s not easy to be a hot housewife without a substantial chunk of cash to facilitate the look. Reflux stains, for example, look so much better on the nanny’s shoulder. Kate may be making unemployment sexy, but only when it comes with chauffeurs, designer outfits, cash and cleaners. So the only thing that’s really hot, it seems, is the market for piffle on princesses. Tsss.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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