There’s no question that a good outfit—you know, like, a really good outfit—can give you the confidence to do the kinds of things that would typically have your stomach in knots. Things like asking for a raise, breaking up with your emotionally abusive friend with benefits, or demanding the guy at Starbucks spells your name correctly this time. It’s called “power dressing” and while the phrase may conjure up images of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, it means different things to different people and only involves pantsuits if you want it to. “Power dressing is an expression, almost a metaphor,” explains London-based stylist Hikmat Mohammed. “Different women wear different outfits to feel powerful, e.g: Hillary Clinton in a Ralph Lauren pantsuit, Zadie Smith in her turban, and Bianca Jagger in white, especially her wedding one.”
Power dressing is about being the very best version of you, whether that means sneakers or stilettos. That being said, regardless of what your career field, budget, and personal aesthetic may be, there are some strategies that anyone can employ to look and feel like a boss babe. And they’re not always what you may think.
“Power is in the heel(s)—the higher it is, the closer you will be to the holy trinity: God, Gianni Versace, and Donatella,” Mohammed says. “What does it cost to be powerful? Just ask Carrie Bradshaw how much she spent on shoes. The answer is $40,000.” While Sex and the City-style strappy stilettos are, understandably, not everybody’s bag, consider a pair of platforms, a chunky-heeled boot, or even a kitten heel (yes, they’re back). Heels have a magical way of forcing you to stand up a little straighter and walk a little more confidently, plus, they automatically make whatever else you’re wearing look more elevated.
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We hear all the time about the importance of investing in a signature bag and that’s all fine and good, but really, there’s nothing like your favorite jacket to make you feel like you (the very best version, no less) regardless of where you are or what else you’re wearing. It could be a trusty leather, a showy fur, or a classic trench, but it should fit like a dream and embody exactly what you’re going for with your personal style. The best signature jackets have a one-of-a-kind feel, so if you’re in search of one, try scouring vintage stores, sites like Tradesy and the RealReal, or peruse our list of top indie designers.
Okay, so I know I said power dressing doesn’t have to mean pantsuits—and it totally doesn’t!—but seriously, what feels more powerful than a classic blazer or a sleek pair of trousers? Nothing. Unless you work in a super corporate environment, the chances that you’re suiting up every day are slim, but that doesn’t mean you can’t garner inspiration from people who are. Try pairing suit-inspired separates, like this silk jacket and tuxedo pants from Fleur du Mal, with more low-key items like denim or a tee shirt, to channel your inner executive without looking stuffy. Make sure your suiting fits perfectly and keep everything else—especially your hair and makeup—a little undone. Oh, and always think Bianca Jagger.
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When we think of power dressing, we often imagine big, ’80s-style shoulder pads. That’s definitely a strong look, but it’s also one that’s about making the female silhouette look more masculine, which implies that women need to be something other than themselves to radiate power. Obviously, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, emphasize your womanly curves by cinching your waist with a belt, or rocking a full-skirted a-line dress, because anyone who says pretty isn’t powerful is living in the wrong decade.
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Stereotypical power dressing is about clean lines and classic items, and that’s a look for sure, but there’s also something very powerful about being able to rock a look-at-me statement piece—or three. Think about street style stars like Leandra Medine or Anna Dello Russo. Their power comes from the fact that they know their pants don’t match their coat, and they don’t care. Or, remember the episode of Girls where Elijah dresses Hannah in a fruit bustier and plaid short and dubs it “power clashing”? There you go. Don’t be afraid to let your fashion freak flag fly, because chances are, everyone else will be too scared to question it.