Often when we talk about power dressing in women, we think of women in suits. This concept was derived from John T Molloy’s 1977 book- Women Dress For Success which is basically a man once again talking about fashion errors committed by business women and how to correct these errors. This notion was popularized in the 1980s power dressing movement where women dressed in what was termed as authoritative clothing, also known as male tailoring in order to establish their authority in the corporate world. To date some of those elements such as suits and other forms of male tailoring remain when we talk of power dressing.

Whereas this is symbolic still, it is not wholly, what power dressing is about. Power dressing transcends the corporate world to encompass all aspects of our lives where we need to take space.

So let’s discuss,

What does power look like?

I would like us to focus on some principles:

My signature style is blazers because I like structure

First – Influence

To be able to inspire, you need a voice or a presence and therefore we ought to present ourselves in a light that facilitates our ability to access the disproportionately distributed power among men and women. Power is central to feminism; it is a resource, a sense of domination, and a source of empowerment. Men hold power in all fields of life and then spare some to police our bodies on top of that.

Well, there are so many ways to fight this, which the feminist movement is doing, but for this discussion, we would focus on power dressing and how we can harness it through fashion.

As mentioned earlier, we can use fashion to create a presence. How do we create presence using our sense of fashion you may ask? I would say there is a spectrum of how this can go; it really depends on the individual in question. Some women may say they would like to be known for their talent, intelligence, and competence and therefore they would like to suppress physical aspects of themselves by dressing modestly to elevate their strengths. That is totally fine. On the other end of the spectrum is the group who have decided that our bodies are objectified anyway therefore they are going to harness that power for their gain. Women come with breasts, butts, and thighs and that is what defines our femininity so it should not be shocking if you see these features on women. Moreover, if for any reason you are not emotionally mature, enough to handle this then sadly you have to deal with it.

The woman shows some skin in an outfit

Dressing like a man to show I am a strong woman? How did we get here?

Where do I fall on the spectrum? I for one I identify as a 1980s power dresser, I have chosen the blazer or suit as my symbol of a power dressing. In as much my choice is purposely for the style, as I tend to like structure and symmetry, I often battle with myself what this actually means. A suit is typically a man’s clothing; at least they started it, therefore choosing that as the clothing item that makes me feel powerful, am I in effect saying that I ought to be man-like to feel powerful because power is not typically female?

Fashion icon and feminist Vivienne Westwood has made her opinion known on the idea of women wearing blazers. She is quoted as saying “I’ve never thought it powerful to be like a second rate man”

Despite that, the point I am trying to create is the importance of creating a signature look. Of course, you can be flexible with it but the idea is to establish some consistency in what you represent. For example, the former first lady of Ghana was known for her headscarf which was unique to her. There was a consistency about it, which in itself sends a powerful message of this is who I am. Someone may say these are just clothing why are they important? May I remind you that we live in a society where despite how resourceful or high up a woman is, her appearance is continuously under scrutiny. There are so many examples of this all across Africa and the diaspora.

Femininity and power. How do we draw power from our feminine side?

Michelle Obama Image Group LA ABC via Getty


Second- Fluidity

We all come from different walks of life; therefore, power dressing may mean different things to different people. Michelle Obama’s power dress may be very different from what Megan Thee Stallion may consider hers. There was a time in history when power dressing was the preserve of the middle and ruling class professionals. Now it is accessible to everyone. In the same way, power is fluid and materialises in different ways, so is the idea of power dressing and how it relates to us individually. Modern power dressing is any and everything and therefore a clear-cut definition is almost impossible, this should indeed be celebrated as a successful dismantling of a patriarchal relic

Power comes from the inside out, not outside in, then how do we radiate confidence and power?



Third- Grooming/ Self-care

Personal care has everything to do with how we are perceived. The fact remains, the world is judgemental. Presenting yourself as unkempt loses you respect and gives off the impression that you are not a good candidate to take care of others and be able to handle responsibility. Let us keep up with the showers, put on makeup if it is your thing and generally care about ourselves. The importance of self-care abound; it nurtures you physically, mentally, and emotionally so you can put out your best. It is a mental exercise that helps us to validate and honour our own worth which in effect enhances true confidence and promotes self-esteem. I am loving this movement on Instagram about women prioritising self-care. It is important to shift our thinking about looking at self-care as just pampering to owning our personal power and self-worth.

Fourth- Adaptability

I do not know if there is anyone here who would like to challenge this argument that clothing has emotion. The way we feel when we wear loungewear is not the same way we feel when we put on a button-up shirt for work. What we wear has an effect on how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. Take for example how putting on a pair of heels suddenly adjusts your posture and makes you feel somewhat confident. Unless of course, you are rubbish at wearing heels then this doesn’t apply to you.

Yes, it is important to define your feminity, which in itself gives you power, however you want but also, try and relate your outfit to the environment. If you are going for an interview to work in politics, for example, that might not be the time to wear your ‘freakum’ dress. The skill of adaptability is a superpower in this challenging world. You should be able to maintain your identity but calibrate it somehow in keeping with your surroundings.

Before I conclude, let us discuss

Feeling confident in what you wear is key


Harnessing power through fashion is accessible to all of us. What we make of it is up to us. I’ll quote myself- so whether power dressing to you means wearing a suit, showing skin, or wearing a tutu skirt, these are all good examples of how we should be unapologetically ourselves in our expressions of who we are and to take up space while defining our femininity with grace, edge, sass or however you are empowered to do so.

I’ll finish with a little advice; that we do not only perceive the concept of power-dressing as just a dress code but a medium to assess resources, empower and dominate where need be.

Power Dressing and how we can harness it through fashion

What does power look like?

Dressing like a man to show I am a strong woman? How did we get here?

Femininity and power. How do we draw power from our feminine side?

Power comes from the inside out not outside in, how do we radiate confidence and power

What I like vs what the world wants to see. Can you truly express yourself and get the same respect? How do we do that?

How does employee regulation affect women’s choices on what to wear? How can we make them reflect our decisions and choices?