Power Dressing And The Power Struggle It Brought

Power Dressing And The Power Struggle It Brought

Indulge in the fable of the birth and renovation of power dressing for 'the modern woman,' brought to you by the ever-evolving fashion industry.

The fashion industry has always painted a skewed portrait of the battle of the sexes, one that would successfully put Picasso to shame. From cladding women in faint-spell-inducing corsets solely engineered by men to sermonizing about the authority that power dressing will bestow upon women, fashion has always subserviently inherited societal mores (no matter how problematic they are) into its landscape.

Power dressing as a concept was an attempt for women to “establish their authority in a professional and political environment traditionally dominated by men.” Being loose, the power suit generally had the motive of de-emphasizing the breasts to drive away sexual attention rather than celebrating women’s sexuality which by the way, still haunts society. Infused with masculine elements, the power suit shouted crystal clear, “fit into men’s shoes to be successful.”

Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent: First Tuxedo for women
Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent: First Tuxedo for womenGetty Images

How it all started

Historically, the satirical power the suit claimed to provide stems from the idea of broad shoulders often advocated as a sign of dominance as well as authority and apparently not just too much muscle.

Socially, the power suit was meant to push women into the white-collar industry and paint them as authoritative figures in this sector to eventually break through the glass ceiling.

American models in the 1940s clad in blazers
American models in the 1940s clad in blazersCNN International

But, the mental revolution needed for that wasn’t going to erupt with women shrouding themselves in the 'men’s uniform' to be respected and taken seriously. Rather, it imbibed the ideas of de-feminizing and associated the capability of women to merely their clothes which like a tempest still continues to drown them.

Using brand ‘power’

The Chanel suit, introduced in the 1920s was the power dressing’s debutante ball to the society. The power suit hung loosely on the body and intended to glamorize tweed, usually associated with old-school professors. Even though the intention was to free women from the shambles of corsets, it threw them into a more dangerous domain where mimicking men became the norm.

The Chanel suit
The Chanel suitGetty Images

These power suits initially were made in a land far away from any blindingly vivid colors, silk silhouettes, and fur that was commonly associated with feminine fashion, signaling the entry into the masculine sphere. Designers like Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani churned out loose, shoulder-padded suits with metallic blazer buttons, a military influence to lend the garment with ‘more power’.

Dawn of the new power suit

Forwarding to the 1980s, designers finally started to move towards the light which led to the personalization and re-defining of power dressing, or maybe it was the third wave of feminism that hit England like a truck. The power uniform then became bejeweled with destructed shoulders, soft silhouettes, and vivid colors including blouses with statement sleeves in an attempt to reclaim the idea of power dressing and shedding off the male gaze from it.

Balmain longline blazer
Balmain longline blazerVogue Arabia

Despite this, even now, the picture-perfect image of a modern, independent and working woman is successfully projected only by a crisp pantsuit. Here the runway is definitely aiding by showstopping oversized blazers with no shirts and/or no pants, blazer dresses, cropped blazers of the Hadid sister fame and basically, molding it in anyway it can be reconstructed. While many workplaces still urge women to find refuge in the 'understated' (read: people-pleasing) appeal of a power suit, we try to find refuge in the fact that its sexist connotations are gradually but steadily being sent off for renovation.

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