How to be powerful, now


The collision within the past fortnight of two events; the death of Margaret Thatcher, and an internship interview, naturally made power dressingme think about the politics of power dressing. Thatcher’s navy, broad shouldered suits, pearls, and the obligatory handbag became, in the Murdoch media’s eyes at least, a symbol of her forthright leadership style. It seems that almost every eighties professional reflected the competitive commercial ideal of Thatcher’s ‘City boys’ in their office wear; in masculine silhouettes and clean lines in makeup and tailoring. But time has moved on, in line with a new, choice led feminism, but also in the way fashion wants us to construe ourselves. Patterned skirts, feminine cropped jackets, and even floaty dresses have become increasingly acceptable. For men, increased individuality is reflected in different cuts, hues and patterns which deviate from tradition, as well as the more than occasional ‘dress down Friday’ without a tie.

The term ‘power dressing’, in light of this new relaxation of the rules, now seems somehow misplaced. On first glance, at least, we don’t feel so bold anymore. But perhaps we are braver. I would like to suggest that this is the result of no longer feeling that projecting authority is at the helm of career advancement. Yes, one can see that women no longer feel so constrained by a work wear stereotype, perhaps a result of entering the workplace in increasing numbers, gradually, at higher positions where they are no longer so valued for what they wear, but what they produce. Or in men’s choice to take paternity leave.

Actually, though, I think it is more down to a new sophistication  – a sense that office dress can reflect personal style. Far from signifying a lack of confidence, it is a sign that people are actually more comfortable. Which is why, in a post-Thatcherite environment, I’m comfortable in a structured cotton blazer, fitted white shirt and tribal print skirt in the office. The blend of traditional and modern acknowledges trends whilst remaining formal. And with this season’s amalgam of textures and shape, there is no better time to mix up your work wardrobe.

Whilst I acknowledge the debt the fashion world owes to the age of the power dresser, office wear is now more nuanced. Thatcher would cast one either as one of’ us’, or ‘them’. But you can choose to be neither.


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