Has The Power Suit Finally Died?

 According to The Wall Street Journal, the old fashioned power suit look for professional women is over. The new power look for women includes soft color (like pink), beading, prints, patterns and very feminine tailoring—all of which were once considered fashion sins in the workplace. This fashion movement is being sported by women at the executive level who have the confidence to embrace a more integrated and diverse look. We are seeing this trend because there are just more women in these top positions and they are determining what is an appropriate look for the office.

There has been a shift in what is considered appropriate for women in the workplace. It has moved away from women trying to fit into the stiff, male-influenced power suit. Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal wrote, “The matched crimson suit—once deemed essential for a female executive—reflected an era when women tried, often clumsily, to fit into male molds. There was also a militant element to that office apparel.” She wrote of her days at Procter & Gamble in the 1980s when she  was informed by a boss that only the “secretaries” wore dresses.

There has been a “seismic shift in what’s considered appropriate for powerful women to wear” around the globe, Robb Young, author of “Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion, told the WSJ. Work fashion now includes peplum, pleats, darts, draping and shawl collars. Well-known designers including Diane von Furstenburg and Zac Posen are catering towards this customer base as well as brands like J.Crew and Banana Republic. First Lady Michelle Obama and Argentina President Cristina Kirchner have been attributed as pioneers of this fashion movement.  The power suit “has had a total demise,” says Bridget Brennan, chief executive of Female Factor, a Chicago-based consulting firm that advises clients on marketing to women. Brennan thinks this is happening because women are more comfortable in their own skin and are owning how they dress.

There does seem to be a certain fashion rite of passage for women in the workplace before they can really start wearing more unconventional attire. In the fall we wrote about how female executives at Goldman Sachs were seen wearing leopard heels. In the male dominated world of finance, this was considered significant.  “Women pay more attention to how people dress,” says Brooke Moreland, the CEO of Fashism.com told The Grindstone.. “I think a lot of women have a group mentality and feel that if one woman dresses inappropriately it represents us all in a negative light. We don’t want our own sexuality to be a factor of how we are perceived in the workplace so we resent the women who ‘take it there’.” Binkley noted that women will still get sanctioned if they show too much cleavage or sport short hemlines. Women are still held to higher standards for attire in the workplace.

Rachel Aubie, a Research Administration Analyst at McMaster University, says that clothing and age/status in the office are irrevocably linked. “Office attire is affected by the ‘stigma’ attached to being a young person in the workplace,” she says, adding that she overcompensated by dressing more formally than she was required to. “Women rise to this challenge exceptionally well, because we have to, and we are very fashion savvy. But it’s just another highlight of how different the workplace is for younger people who are just trying to move-up and succeed.”

So is this the end of the power suit? Well, I don’t think you have to throw them away any time soon. What this trend really shows is that women have more power in the workplace and don’t have to conform to what men decided years ago was the appropriate way for professional women to dress.  ”The power shouldn’t come from the clothes, but rather from the person,” says Rachel Roy, a New York fashion designer.

Featured photo: Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock


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