When office worker Nicola Thorp was sent home from a temping job with PwC for refusing to wear high-heels she launched a petition on sexist dress codes that attracted 150,000 signatures.
The crux of her argument was that mandatory high heels and make-up sexualise female office wear in a way that’s not conducive to equality.
So corporate dress codes are seen by some as a relic of outdated 1970s business culture.
But whether you’re self-employed or work for a multinational, what you wear does make a difference to how you feel and the way you’re perceived.
So here are four dress code hacks businesswomen can use to empower themselves and their staff.
Pinstriped jackets with hefty shoulder pads were de rigeur for female bosses in the 1980s.
Perhaps these were pastiches of male sartorial styles designed for women elbowing their way into the business boy’s club rather than blazing a trail on their own terms.
But the powder blue Louis Vuitton ensemble French First Lady Brigitte Trogneux wore during Emannuel Macron’s inauguration oozed feminine elegance while projecting a powerful aura. This type of power suit has a feminine cut but looks perfectly professional. And Brigitte’s body language is bold — she’s usually front and centre during public engagements.
This isn’t always the case with fellow first ladies — Melania Trump dresses equally well during public engagements, but she’s eclipsed by an alpha male spouse shunting her one step behind.
The business casual look is the default style setting in many creative environments — but it still puzzles prospective employees preparing for interviews.
This relaxed-yet-professional look lets you combine skinny jeans with a blazer, t-shirt and string of pearls.
Or a slightly edgier alternative might match a denim jacket with cropped trousers and baseball shoes.
In the right setting these styles feel comfortable and project confidence.
Model Miranda Kerr pulls off this look with panache — take a look at her business casual credentials online.
Socialising greases the wheels of most businesses. But choosing an elegant evening outfit can pose a challenge when you want to blend beauty with professionalism.
The primacy effect is still influential — unfortunately, first impressions from a fashion faux pas can lead to long-lasting judgments on your capabilities.
If you’re as bold as Bjork you might don a spectacular swan dress to a business awards show.
But aiming for something a little more reserved might be wiser — you’ll look like you mean business in a long-sleeved black midi dress.
Empowering your staff
If you’re a female entrepreneur mulling over the dress code for your own employees, this blank style slate provides an ideal opportunity to start from scratch.
You can decide what aspects of the code are advisory or mandatory while ensuring equality is inbuilt.
But bear in mind that employees feel more confident and in control when they’re comfortable — and they perform better too.
So a repressive dress code might leave them looking immaculate but feeling frustrated.
These four dress code hacks should help you combine shrewd business acumen with superb style.
Do you have a favourite business look? Share your advice in the comments section.