Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama: these three women are all powerful political figures, they will all be remembered in history and they certainly all know how to ‘power dress’. It is interesting to contrast their ‘power dressing’ prowess with the proliferation of gender fluidity in the fashion industry; a concept that has recently been highlighted by celebrities such as Jaden Smith and Kanye West.
When one first thinks of ‘power dressing’, images of large shoulder pads, muted colours and tailored blouses spring to mind. First initiated in the 1970’s, ‘power dressing’ was the practice of adopting a style that conveyed a sense of authority. Women often assumed ‘power dressing’ in male dominated industries, (think Margaret Thatcher), and so suit jackets, pencil skirts, low heels and understated pieces of jewellery tended to be staple pieces. The practice of ‘power dressing’ supposedly presented women as powerful, ‘serious’ and ready to work. It was a method of de-sexualisation: one that situated women on ‘the same level’ as men.
Even though ‘power dressing’ is perceived to be a 1970’s/1980’s trend, it has recently made a return. With Dolce & Gabbana dressing its models as matadors, it is clear that the trend is back with a bang. Donne Loveday, who co-curated the Design Museum’s exhibition on ‘Women Fashion Power’, stated “It’s not power dressing. It’s using clothes to suggest power.” What she is implicitly stating, then, is that first impressions count. If a woman is ‘smartly’ dressed, it is more likely that she will be taken seriously in the workplace. As much as we like to shun the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, it is a sentiment that is still largely ignored both in and out of the workplace.
It is interesting to bring Jaden Smith into this discussion, as Louis Vuitton recently revealed that he would star in its most recent womenswear campaign. Gender fluidity is being vigorously discussed in the media, with the concept being articulated by Lady Gaga, Ruby Rose and in Tom Hooper’s film ‘The Danish Girl’. Jaden Smith has inspired the movement with his appeal for clothes to be non-gender specific, meaning that men can wear skirts and women can wear boxer shorts, if they so wish. Jaden’s petition, then, presents a stark contrast to the notion of women wearing men’s clothes simply to communicate a sense of power.
Traditionally, women have a much wider variety of clothing to choose from. Skirts and dresses were, and generally still are, perceived as female fashion. However, celebrities such as Jaden Smith, Kanye West and the late David Bowie have broadened the horizon for gender fluid fashion. Yes, women can ‘power dress’ in the workplace, purely because they are drawn to that particular style. Yes, men can wear skirts just because they want to. We would all do well to remember Jaden’s message – ‘Wear what you want and don’t care about traditions or what people say, it’s ‘personal’ style for a reason’.