Conservative, powerful, consistent: these three words encapsulate the masculine aesthetic behind power dressing – the traditional Washingtonian woman’s wardrobe at work. Tailored suits, padded shoulders and knee-length skirts in somber colors gave power dressing the redheaded stepchild relationship to playfully feminine fashion. Everything about power dressing was meant to deemphasize the fairer sex; just the smallest hint of pearl, ruffle or pattern was allowed. The more adventurous would dare a pinstripe or houndstooth. But why are politicians on Capitol Hill and businesswomen on K Street bound to leave their personalities in the closet?
The progenitor of power dressing could be no other than Margaret Thatcher, whose conservative skirt, exaggerated shoulders, pussy-bow blouse and pearl strands defined power dressing for more than two decades. In tones of Oxford blue and tweed, the Iron Lady’s look lent her a formidable armor. “I’m always safe in it,” Thatcher said of her signature style. Indeed, her tough approach to negotiation coupled with that notorious Asprey handbag inspired the phrase handbagging – when one is scolded into one’s place. The prime minister certainly commanded attention.
With the turn of the century, the power-dressing mold is just now beginning to crack, as lighter textiles and more feminine prints peek from beneath the regimental black and blue façade. The reason for this shift? Women are now setting the agenda, rather than following it. Rooted in formality but not stifled by it, the modern woman’s approach to power dressing is far more liberated. It is a uniform of expression – the carapace that defines your public-facing self. Fabric, cut, color and accessory are each opportunities to have a little fun and be a little playful. No more imitating the boys’ game. It’s time to stand out and lead. That’s the Spey way.
Business style should be a reflection of your character: formidable, but authentically you. Let your feet do the talking with a fiery stiletto, or tell them you’re worth it with cashmere and silk. Have an eye on comfort? Dress up a pair of flats with a sporty blazer. Take cues from other women at the forefront of industry. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, adds three accessories to her work uniform of lawyerly black: an Hermès scarf, dangling pearl earrings, and a je ne sais quoi attitude of confidence. It is the perfect blend of authority and charm.
That is the new way of power dressing. A signal of ambition and authority, the most important accessory to power dressing is confidence. Just keep a respectable modesty to the décolletage and hem; you should want your personality to shine through, but also your good judgment. All else is up for play.
Of course, the pearls are non-negotiable.