Ask any powerful woman and they will likely tell you that what they wear to work has a real impact on how they feel, how they act, and how people perceive them. Rightly or wrongly, the clothes people wear give us an immediate impression of them as people, and in the workplace, an immediate judgement might be made on someone’s skills – or lack of them – if they are shabbily attired.
The right clothes can give people the confidence they need to chair difficult meetings, deal with disgruntled clients and tackle difficult colleagues, not to mention the confidence boost it can give to a nervous interviewee.
Women are already at somewhat of a disadvantage in many workplaces, with the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling. It is therefore vital for women to step up and feel their worth. Feeling confident is the very best place to start.
Power dressing isn’t a modern concept – in the 1960s, a notable decade in the fashion world, fashion designer and icon Yves Saint Laurent helped to bring couture back into public consciousness. Yves Saint Laurent was the first fashion house to develop and release a credible prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) collection, a change which has rippled through to the high street and impacts the way we buy clothes today.
Building on Coco Chanel’s trend of women wearing men’s clothing, in 1967 he launched ‘Le smoking’ – a tuxedo for women – followed by a ready to wear ‘pant suit’, the like of which can still be seen in high end and high street fashion today. The rise of the pantsuit, or trouser suit, became successful in parallel with the women’s movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was championed by powerful women in fashion hubs like Paris, New York and London.
Speaking before his death in 2005, Saint Laurent said: “For a woman, le smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”
This makes an important point, and one that is vital when building your own power dressing wardrobe – power dressing is all about elegance and eternal style, not fleeting fashion.
Shopping has altered significantly over the past few decades, with high street shops churning out fashionable, short-life items to encourage impulse purchases, rather than investing in fewer quality pieces lasting for several years – but when it comes to a business wardrobe the best way to go would be buying a few key items, which may cost more in the short term but will last in the long run. This then becomes the building block for a flourishing office wardrobe.
How to ‘power dress’
- A well fitting suit. Your suit is a wardrobe must and you’ll be in it week after week. If you’re buying made-to-measure you can guarantee impeccable fit. But, if not, research a good local tailor, who can adjust high street purchases to fit you perfectly.
- Choose skirts and trousers in neutral colours and classic styles, then modernise year after year with the latest trends in shirts, shoes and bags.
- Finish your outfit with smart, simple heels, statement jewellery and a classic leather bag, but don’t overdo it – elegance is the key.
Dressing appropriately at work won’t make you do your job better, but it will increase your confidence and create a lasting impression throughout your career.
As Coco Chanel once said: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman”.