We have a lot to thank the 1980s for; rock music, the rise of Apple enterprise, Madonna’s debut but most importantly, it was the introduction of the “working woman” era. Great strides had previously been made in the crusade for women’s rights, which enabled the women of the 80s to leave behind their more “traditional” homemaker lifestyles and enter the working world. Before then, working women were confined to stereotypical female occupations, such as secretaries and nurses, but as time passed, women ventured into more “professional” occupations, thusly serving as lawyers and corporate executives. However, in male dominated spheres, women found it harder than anticipated to earn respect from their peers. Seemingly, while women secured the right to earn a living for themselves, they were still perceived as outsiders and unequipped to handle the business sector.
Fortunately, this was around the same time Coco Chanel entered the picture by introducing the Chanel Suit. Coco Chanel had observed the ease and authority men were rendered by their suits and decided there were women who could benefit from such a powerful outfit selection in the professional realm. Thus, her iconic power suit redefined and expanded the field of dressing for women by incorporating a polished and sophisticated style that was one of the few professional clothing options for women at the time. In fact, the suit in which she designed specifically for women encouraged many to continue pursuing their professional goals and independent lifestyle.
It was one of the few reasons the term “power dress” was coined, because such an article of clothing which conveyed confidence and power helped women make an impression in a male-driven workplace.
Though even today, many women have a hard time understanding the correlation between power dressing and its relevance towards your career.
The key concept of this style is presenting the best possible version of yourself to the world. Making sure you are impeccably dressed in clothes that fit and flatter you will endow yourself with an air of confidence and assurance that you will no doubt carry into that important business meeting or job interview. Assurance in your abilities and how other people are going to perceive you is important and the right attire helps you do just that. Power dressing does not necessarily mean purchasing an expensive tailored suit to make a statement. On one hand, while donning a tailored suit in a flattering colour and suitable hemline is bound to make you feel self-assured; the power is all about the details. In other words, there is only so much you can say in a 10-minute interview with potential employers about your great work ethic, so it’s important that you also try to present yourself as professional and competent through how you look. Taking the time to ensure there are no coffee stains on your shirt or missing buttons from your suit jacket makes all the difference. When you look unkempt or untidy, your appearance starts being associated with your professional image and work ethic. If you give the impression that you pay attention to details when you dress, it indicates that you would do same within your profession and assures employers that you will pay that little extra attention needed in situations that require it. In essence, knowing you look good in clothes that fit well will afford you with confidence no matter the situation and that’s the basis of power dressing.
Power dressing is by no means a brand new innovative idea. It is an art of style that has evolved for decades and recently with Hillary Clinton and her favoured pantsuits taking centre stage in 2016, it’s hard to ignore this trend that has once again been thrown back into the spotlight. Initially it was thought that in order for women to be respected by men they had to dress “as” or at least similar to them which was why originally, most female suits included masculine tailoring as well as big-shouldered blazers to mimic strong, broad shoulder. This sort of exaggerated masculine style worn by women was also meant to signal that their career ambition was equal to that of men. In a similar way, women were recommended to wear high heels in the office as a way of commanding attention and overcoming their height disadvantage compared to men, for example, when meeting a man for the first time and shaking hands. With this in mind, women seem to suffer dress-code stress more profoundly than men. More often than not, women’s clothing choice are accused of appearing “too sexy” for work or conversely, excessively masculine. For instance, high heels were suggested as a method to gain height and look more manly but on the other hand they highlight a women’s sexuality and emphasise her femininity. Finding a balance between both competing expectations has taken a toll on working women as they continue to struggle with the old masculine concept of power dressing by concealing and suppressing their femininity at the workplace. These contradicting expectations pressure women and they are made to feel out of place at work as they find it impossible to blend in and not be the focus of male comments.
However, a new era of power dressing has arrived, as recognised by Giorgio Armani who says, “Women no longer need to wear powerful-looking clothes in order to earn respect from their peers in the workplace.” Power dressing used to be all about the power suits but it has come a long way from that notion because now fashionable and feminine items are considered just as impressive. The most modern and relevant concept about power dressing is to express who you are and display your brand through your clothes. While you may be aware of the fashion conventions surrounding office attire, it does not mean you need to be bound to them. From the runways of Marc Jacobs to Giorgio Armani, designers are coming out with office wear that includes lace, leopard prints, floral designs, and soft feminine colours that demonstrate the unnecessary need for a suit jacket to prove authority. In fact, most outfits offer a way for women to look professional yet still retain their unique flare.
This new wave of fashion has begun dismantling the assumption that just because women want to wear something that looks less like corporate armour and more like high fashion; it does not mean they are not highly intelligent and serious professionals.
As acknowledged by Theresa May in an interview at the 2015 Women in the World summit: “I’m a woman, I like clothes. One of the challenges for women in politics, in business, in all areas of working life, is to be ourselves, and to say you can be clever and like clothes.”