The Vagenda

Power Dressing

When done correctly, power dressing can be like donning invisible superhero armour
I work in one of those offices where you’re expected to dress ‘well’. You know, where the guys come in in Topman and the girls come in with a dress by Ms Celine, whose services were prioritised over Mr Heinz, Mr Kingsmill, and Messrs Ernest & Julio Gallo.
I’ve always thought dressing up for work to project a ‘brand image’ is pretty wanky. Do the people I put on hold whilst I swear loudly and hit the computer know or care whether I’m wearing 5-inch heels or porous Primark pumps?
Nah, I reckon not, but after months of wearing a T-shirt and jeans to work, I overstayed my welcome at the 24hr eatery known as chez parents and came back to find the jeans did not fit. In fact, the jeans stopped fitting quite dramatically when I sat down on the train and almost took out the person opposite me with the button, but that is another story.
So I decided to start ‘dressing’ for work, and realised how good power dressing can be. I know I shouldn’t need to wear a damn fine pair of cigarette pants to feel more capable of ordering photocopier toner, but for some reason, it helps.
That said, it did irk me somewhat when they felt the need to make Scarlet Johansson’s character in The Avengers change from normal clothes into a tits and arse oneise when she went into save-the-world mode. Now I know the same applies to Captain America, but there’s something *somewhat* sexualised about a black cat suit with a half done-up front zip. An American flag suit with a shiny star hot glue-gunned on to the front isn’t quite so ‘come get me out of this, boys’ (or is it? Captain America is pretty camp, come to think of it). Though I’ll forgive Scarlett’s unzip-me zip, because the film ended without her having to hook up with one of the leading men, as is usually the fate of the ‘strong woman’.
So, in short, I reckon power dressing shouldn’t be something we feel bad about. While in the eighties power dressing was associated with the worst kind of person, the yuppie, there’s a lot to be said for the trail they blazed with their ridiculously proportioned shoulder pads. By dressing like men in a men’s world, they forged ahead to the point that now, while it is still a men’s world, we can negotiate its pitfalls without having to look like complete twats while we’re doing it. 
It’s a shitty world out there, and clothes are a good armour, whether your work involves making your boss’s coffee and worrying, or saving the world. Power dressing is for empowering, not sexualising, and as long as bosses and employees alike know that ‘brand image’ should not involve getting your baps out on days when important male clients are in, everyone’s a winner.

19 thoughts on “Power Dressing

  1. I’m not buying this. Really I object to having to wear clothes at all when it’s not too cold – it’s certainly not natural. But having read the article on not shaving and the entertaining comments does it make sense not to conform over hair but to conform slavishly to the arbitrary whims of fashionable dressing ?

  2. It’s not so much to do with conforming with fashion- dressing a certain way, as the author says, can make you feel stronger and more confident. That doesn’t mean that you have to look like you’ve just walked off a catwalk, but a freshly ironed shirt can make a world of difference. You can be a feminist without being anti-fashion. A lot of fashion is stupid, but when it is at its best it’s like delving in the dressing up box as a kid- you can play with your identity in the same way as you would, aged six, when parading around in a wizard’s cape.

  3. Remember the post about body hair was about choice. I think we do feel like we have the choice to dress how we wish, unlike body hair where a shaving seems mandatory if you come with a vagina.

    I have always found heels empowering (not the ridiculous ones that cripple your toes), yet my boyfriend really hates them and thinks they’re designed to please men. I think it’s just cause he’s short. :)

  4. I just wrote a post on how wearing beautiful clothes is about having enough self-confidence/love that you think you have a right to them. I think power dressing is a sort of fakery of this, and also our real-world equivalent of donning the cape.

    PS I’m pretty sure Scarlett’s character hooks up with Jeremy Renner’s off-camera. But given that she got her nickname from her habit of killing the men she’s slept with, I don’t think it bodes well for hi.

  5. “when parading around in a wizard’s cape”

    yes but doesn’t power dressing fall into a very narrow channel of possibilities ? Never mind that it’s out of reach of those lacking taste (like me) or funds (and the time to get everything right). I can’t help feeling that it really betrays a lack of confidence and hence the need for artificial props.

    Also by the by I don’t think this is even a femisist issue as it applies to both sexes.

    [disclaimer: I am inveterately scruffy by choice]

  6. now I’m wondering how the way you dress can really be relevant to success at work compared to doing the job and communicating properly.

  7. That’s a very good way of describing it. Dressing a certain way sometimes enables you to ‘fake’ the confidence you don’t have, it’s like donning a disguise.

  8. Hi Simon, yes, both genders are under pressure to dress a certain way in many workplaces. But men and women deserve separate analyses since the pressures and clothes themselves are different and come from different gender expectations.

    “now I’m wondering how the way you dress can really be relevant to success at work compared to doing the job and communicating properly.”
    Well, my boyfriend worked at an accounting firm a few years ago where the women were were required to wear skirts and heels. It was an unwritten rule, because that wouldn’t be entirely legal, but the women he asked about it said they would never, ever turn up to work without a skirt and heels because they’d seen the treatment women get when they did. So, if your superiors and peers at work make you feel like crap for daring to break an unofficial dress code, that will certainly affect your work.

  9. Human beings are visual beings. Whether we like it or not people pass judgments and make decisions/create opinions on us based on how we present ourselves. Wearing something that makes you feel good will make you feel more confident and therefore you can do your work better and be taken seriously.

    Women have way more pressure to look sexy all the time. ‘If you don’t look sexy you’re probably not dressed well’- is for some reason how I felt and still sometimes feel. To me this article reminded me that I can look and feel good without sexualising myself.

  10. Hey guys – Simon’s worked out how to get round society’s pressure to conform to stereotypes! JUST IGNORE IT, DUMMIES.

    Man, you’ve solved it. You could probably teach Gender Studies now.

  11. that’s a non-gendered issue – we’re all pressured to conform, but it’s your choice if you bow to the pressure…

  12. I went to a high school where the female teachers were actually told they had th wear a skirt. And single male teachers had their laundry done for them, but single female teachers didn’t! At the time my father was a teacher at the school, and I remember him making a big deal about this, and insisting on doing his own laundry. Female students also had to wear skirts, and still do. When I contested this I found myself having to report to the deputy head every morning so he could make sure I was ‘dressed appropriately.’ ridiculous that people don’t think this is a feminist issue.