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Trends & Subcultures

10 May 2017

Power dressing for modern times

It’s not just politics giving us feminine power dressing icons, either – think Emma Watson’s trouser suits and Anna Wintour’s uniform of tailored shift dresses. 

power suits for women

The British politics of fashion


Not too long ago, power dressing for women in the UK was all about pussybow blouses and conservative (with a small c) two-piece suits. During Margaret Thatcher's reign, fitting into a man's world meant making only the tiniest of concessions to femininity in your ensemble.


Thankfully, times have moved on and today's politicians such as Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon are pulling off power dressing in a whole new way. Whether she's wearing Roland Mouret dresses or leopard print kitten heels, May, in particular, is making her own rules. One of her finest style moments of SS16 was launching her leadership campaign wearing a tartan suit designed by Vivienne Westwood – and owned by Cara Delevingne. 


Since becoming Prime Minister, May has showcased a colourful array of footwear and statement jewellery, revealing a feminine and fashion-conscious side of herself. She's particularly enamoured with British designers such as Amanda Wakeley, Burberry and high street label L.K. Bennett. May frequently pairs brightly patterned flats with monochrome suits and oversized necklaces, creating a distinctly contemporary aesthetic.


Nicola Sturgeon is also busy creating an iconic sartorial image in Scotland. From her neatly highlighted bob to her numerous three-quarter sleeved shift dresses, Sturgeon exudes femininity. She even has her own take on the 80s power shoulders, often opting for cap sleeves or cuts with extra height to emphasise her dynamism. 


White House wardrobes


In the US, Hillary Clinton is offering a how-to in power dressing for modern times. Rather than force the feminine issue, Clinton has instead “degendered the playing field,” says Deb Rox (in an essay in the book Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox edited by Joanne Cronrath Bamberger).


For her public appearances, Clinton sticks to a simple pantsuit, opting for varying paintbox-bright shades and, according to Rox, making comments on her appearance “as innocuous as ‘what colour is his tie today?’”. This basic but brilliant fashion choice gives Clinton a neutral canvas from which to work – creating less discussions about her hem lengths and more about her politics. 


For their AW16 collections, Dries van Noten and Gucci both imitated Clinton’s staunch love of pantsuits – although the latter’s pussybow blouses also had an unmistakably Thatcherite quality, too.


It would be remiss to talk about American power dressing icons without mention of Michelle Obama. In her seven years as First Lady, Obama has shown a penchant for bare arms, experimental designers and vibrant prints. Having worn a striking red and black dress from Narciso Rodriguez on the momentous night that Barack Obama was announced as the USA's first African American President, she has since changed all FLOTUS fashion stereotypes. Gone are the simple pearls in favour of layered Tom Binns jewellery and, rather than twinsets, she opts for offbeat Jason Wu dresses – a relative unknown before Obama wore his designs. 


The Hollywood edit


It's not just the world of politics that's a rich source of power dressing ideas. International Human Rights Lawyer Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) has taken the fashion world by storm. Although her red carpet looks are unfailingly stunning, it’s her work wardrobe that has us captivated. The acclaimed lawyer opts for simple shift Oscar de la Renta dresses and William Vintage in monochrome shades, with subtle embellishments and striking red lips. Her fondness for offbeat handbags means she's often spotted carrying eye-catching Salvatore Ferragamo shoulder bags and Christian Dior.


When it comes to pulling off power dressing, there are few in Hollywood who do it as successfully as Angelina Jolie. As a celebrated humanitarian, Jolie frequently has to leave the glittering gowns at home in favour of UN-appropriate attire. She takes her lead from Clinton’s pantsuits, regularly turning up to summits wearing sleek Saint Laurent trousers or tuxedo shirts. There was a time when Jolie’s wardrobe was distinctly masculine, but these days she's started to turn to labels like Michael Kors and Gucci for a more feminine aesthetic. 


Gone are the days of boxy skirt suits and sensible pumps – power dressing for modern times calls for creativity and imagination. Take inspiration from the Americans with a sharply tailored trouser suit, or embody Scotland’s First Minister with a patterned shift dress for your next promotion meeting — there’s no need to tone down your sense of style for the boardroom. As Britain's future PM said at the Women of the World conference in 2015, “you can be clever and like clothes. You can have a career and like clothes.” 



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