The Evolution of Female Power Dressing
Female empowerment and advocacy for equality in every aspect have been causes of paramount significance for centuries, but it’s inevitable to notice that the voices of women have become louder and larger in numbers in the past year, and it was about time. We’ve all heard stories about certain men who have abused their position of power, and after decades of silence, we are finally here and it looks like we have no intention of ‘toning it down’ ever again. In the wake of the recent events that have transpired, discussing fashion and attempting to equalize its evolution to that of women’s roles in society may seem insubstantial and flimsy, but we beg to differ.
The evolution of power dressing almost goes hand in hand with the amount of power we’ve gained fighting the good fight, and this is as good time as any, if not the best, to take a trip down memory lane and see how our corporate attire has changed along with our role in the corporate world.
The Very Beginning
The suffragette movement was the creator of the first ensemble that remotely resembles that which is today known as a suit. The jacket, the blouse, and the ankle-length divided skirt that, unlike the restrictive hobble skirt, allowed the wearer to take long strides, marked the beginning of a new era, and era of long and bold strides both literally and figuratively.
Fake It ‘Till You Make It
Of course, we have Coco Chanel to thank for creating the first official female suit. Still, one can’t help but notice that the suit in question although innovative wasn’t inventive as the inspiration for its design was heavily drawn from men’s suits. Given the climate at the time, this proved to be a smart and calculated choice. She managed to create a look that would be acceptable, for both men and post-war women who were keen on keeping their newfound freedom.
The End Of An Era Indeed
With the increasing number of women joining the workforce in the ‘30s, the real pantsuit was created by no other than Marcel Rochas. While the very suit would seem frumpy now, being gray and woolly, with pants that matched the jacket with big shoulders, it was groundbreaking. It even caused quite a stir with Vogue. Even though these pieces looked very little like the amazingly stylish pants and jackets of today, they were still pants, which was enough to make the world go crazy.
Joining The Boy’s Club For Real
The end of the ‘70s marks the moment when women started to notably penetrate the corporate world and playing in the ‘big leagues’ otherwise known as the boys’ club. Understandably, when entering an unknown territory ruled by others, the goal was to blend in, not to stand out. Thus, under-the-knee pencil skirts with matching jackets, usually in a sullen grey shade paired up with inconspicuous pumps and a white shirt were the represented a kind of ‘unwritten’ dress code, a uniform of sorts.
The fashion guru of the era John T. Molloy went as far as to write a guidebook – The Woman’s Dress For Success Book in which he highlights that everything else is deemed unacceptable. Women were to remain inconspicuous and avoid such items as platform shoes, peasant dresses, floral patterns, and sweaters which convey nothing else than a loser-like quality. There are multiple ironies to note; on the one hand, women are fighting to enter the corporate world, yet they are told to dress in a way that makes them virtually invisible, and by a man, too.
Where Is The Sensuality?
Trying to mimic men, somewhere along the way business women forgot about the importance of embracing and emphasizing their femininity and sensuality, and Donna Karan was the first to take note of that. It’s understandable that women looked like all the same, like office drones. Mimicking men in the way we dress was probably seen as the only way to be taken seriously, so a bit of our innate femininity and parts of what makes us women were probably a bit lost along the way.
So, 1985 Karen created her own version of the power suit, consisting of soft-shouldered jackets, cashmere knits, skirts that wrapped like a ballerina’s, and stretchy bodysuits with her signature “cold shoulder” cutouts. It was her own way of making women’s busy lives easier and her response to the traditional suit.
It wasn’t however, until the grunge era when Helmut Lang and Jill Sander decided to mix feminine and masculine that the lines were blurred and the suit started to climb up the ‘cool’ ladder. Then came the queen – Phoebe Philo who with her cerebral, fierce designs embodied the attitude of smart, cultured women. It was a time of carelessly saggy pants and fur-lined Birkenstocks, and women loved it.
What Goes Around Comes Around
By now we’ve learned that nothing in fashion is ever completely new – it can be repackaged, improved, mixed and matched in ways it hadn’t been previously done, but every designer that ever was and all those that are yet to come will always look at the times passed for inspiration, and this year’s collections are proof of that. Philo is pushing fashion forward, but by looking back and rethinking the ’80s office-wear, only in an immensely more feminine manner. We have Marc Jacobs and his spring line full of oversized and slouchy suits that are highly reminiscent of the ‘90s suit. Stella McCartney was here with an incredible line of suits and tuxedo dresses that can make any woman instantly feel a mixture of sexiness and power.
However, one thing has changed – we no longer have to choose from the suit family in order to exude power, ooze power and be taken seriously. We are now in a position to march into an office wearing a red dress and Adidas originals, wear millennial pink and look fierce. We no longer have to neither hide or accentuate our curves in order to get ahead. Now we wear grey because we like monochromatic and not because a Molloy told us to. We wear read despite it being considered ‘provocative and ostentatious’. There is no guidebook – powerful clothes are the ones that you deem powerful, and as long as they are tasteful and put you in the powerful mindset, you are good to go.
Sophia Smith is an Australia-based beauty and style blogger. She is very passionate about the latest fashion trends and graphic design projects. Sophia writes mostly about beauty- and fashion-related topics in her articles. She has contributed to a number of publications including: Viva Glam Magazine, How to Simplify, Whytt Magazine and Carousel.