Evolving Power Dress, Evolving Women

The rise of independent designers and retailers within the Artisanal/Avant-Garde niche satisfies an obsession for all things meaningful and handmade.

Brands and marketeers have tapped into a cultural shift that surrounds the empowerment and burgeoning agency of women, embracing the myriad ways in which contemporary women live and work.

Power dressing is a prime case study of the shift from the agency of women being largely influenced by the public sphere, to how in the modern day it seems to come increasingly from within. The definition of power dressing has evolved, from a phrase coined some five decades ago bringing to mind the sombre grey and pinstriped Thatcherite suit, to the exaggerated shoulder pads and cinched waist of the clichéd 80s suit, to the multitude of different things power dressing means to modern day women.

The saying that we emulate our screens rings true in the case of power dressing—the presentation of Margaret Thatcher in the media during her reign was marked by what she wore. Conservative hued jackets and pussy-bow blouses with skirts was a power dressing formula adopted by many after her. Moving into the next century, screens were no longer the sole domain of the TV kept in the living room but rather a thing we have come to pocket, swipe, tap and bring into our most private lives in the form of our phones. 

Social media has transformed the way in which we engage with media, becoming a platform on which individuals can not only express but also cultivate cultural shifts such as the evolution of power dressing. #powerdressing on Instagram conjures a slew north of 50,000 posts tagged by vastly different women donning drastically different items that they consider power dress.

There is no longer one definitive way in which success looks - women are leading varied lives in varied ways, creating a whole host of opportunities for brands and marketeers to satisfy new needs and desires but above all connect to a diverse audience of women as individuals.

The Deck in London is a tailoring house exclusively for women, by women, created by founder Daisy Knatchbull. At their core is the belief that no two women are the same, a motif that is sewn into the personalised pieces they create for not only the workplace but beyond that. The Rake quoted Daisy as “a woman creating ripples in an industry dominated by men”. Their offering of customised suiting for women has freed the stayed image of the homogenous and masculine women’s suit in place of personalised tailoring that is a statement of style and individuality in and out of the office.

American hijab brand Haute Hijab’s mission is to enable every woman to feel confident through their inclusive brand of contemporary and quality hijabs, satisfying a sore need for the acknowledgement of diversity of women in fashion. Dress can be a very personal form of empowerment, meaning different things to different people. For founder Melanie Elturk, the hijab is a tool of empowerment as much as it is a signifier of identity. 

Contemporary power dressing is as diverse as contemporary women are

Contemporary power dressing is as diverse as contemporary women are, as we’re able to voice our beliefs and take action on them more than ever before. The recent #KuToo campaign in Japan has created social awareness in a conservative society around the country’s highly gendered office culture. Spearheaded by actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa, the online movement is a pun on the Japanese words for shoes “kutsu”, and pain “kutsuu”. Ishikawa submitted a petition which has amassed over 20,000 signatures against employer-mandated high heels to her country’s labour minister, Takumi Nemoto. 

In response, Nemoto states that wearing high heels in the workplace is “necessary and reasonable”, eliciting a ripple of ridicule and retaliation from Japanese women. The idea that heels in the workplace is necessary and that it must represent professionalism is truly outdated. Power dressing and the workplace were inextricably linked in a past era, but no longer.

The largest shift in what we call power dressing has stemmed from the increasing diversity of women, the lives they live and the different ways in which they interact in public and personal spheres. It is no longer about camouflaging into a male dominated workspace, a brute show of dominance in the office, or a drag masquerade. Power dressing has become detached from the office altogether, instead becoming more about how clothing makes individual women feel—confident, authentic, and able to celebrate their unique version of femininity as powerful. 

From campaigns that centralise the theme of celebrating the power of women as individuals, to e-commerce platforms like The Modist who celebrate modest dress as a tool of empowerment—scores of brands across fashion, beauty, healthcare, food and drink industries have tuned into an evolution that seeks to empower women in a way much greater than those ill-fitting shoulder pads could have.



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