Theresa May, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama – arguably some of today’s most influential political figures. Oh, yeah, and they’re women. This fact would have been a minor detail if the media attention focused upon them was not skewed by gender norms, and the distinction between them and their male peers delineated by the uneven balance of headlines devoted to analysing the colour, print or length of whatever they choose to wear.
Of course, women should not have to work to reconcile their interest in fashion with their intelligence and professionalism, and some argue that what politicians wear just is not important – but it would be an oversight to ignore the impact that these choices have on not only how we are perceived by others, but on our self-image and confidence.
Fashion in general traditionally revolves around the female form, and hence women’s clothes have always been socially and culturally significant – take, for example, when pioneer of design Coco Chanel first designed her jersey suits for women in the early 1920s. She revolutionised the idea of dressing, embracing practicality – and, shock horror, even trousers – over the traditionally restrictive styles of the era. Fast forwarding an odd 60 years, the concept of ‘power dressing’ emerged in the 1980s, with shoulder pads and sharp tailoring the mainstays of working women’s wardrobes everywhere, sending a clear message of ‘I am in control’ to whoever dared to doubt their authority in the workplace.
The concept of power dressing today is different for everyone – most of us no longer feel the need to pad out our jackets or shoehorn ourselves into stilettos to increase our physical size in comparison to the opposite gender. With schools and workplaces relaxing dress codes, the idea of dressing to feel at one’s best and most confident is more than ever open to individual interpretation.
Art director Matilda Kahl caused an online stir last year when she publicised her desire to be free of these daily decisions, choosing a monochrome ‘uniform’ to be repeated every day of the working week. Smart, personalised decisions like these only go to show the myriad of ways in which self-expression through clothing is possible and dressing for ‘power’ is interpreted.
[Image: SmileyCreek @ Flickr]