Dear “Power Suits”,
I’ve been hesitant to write this letter because I didn’t want you to take it the wrong way. It’s not you, it’s… well, it’s not really me either. It’s everyone.
I guess to help explain, I’ll start from the top of our relationship.
The First Time We Met
Let’s start with the first time we met. Do you remember those “professional development” classes in high school where we had to practice things like interview speaking points and how to give a strong handshake?
I remember when we got to the chapter about how to dress for success, the teacher told us, “It’s always best to play it safe. When in doubt, a black, grey, or dark navy power suit is always the best option”. She would go on to remind us to wear our hair simply and pulled back, minimal makeup, and a very low or no heel. I guess I didn’t take this class too seriously because when I look back on pictures of myself dressed up for the class presentations, I’m wearing a floral wrap dress, wedges, hair down and curled. With a perfectly coordinated tote and big, fat smile.
Did I still look polished and professional? I think so. Did I feel like I was putting my best self forward to kill the presentation? Oh yeah. Did I cringe when I saw all the uncomfortable, frumpy, grey, ill-fitting “power suits” my friends wearing? A little bit.
It wasn’t the way they looked that made me cringe; they all were beautiful young women that would have looked hot in a burlap bag. What felt off is that they didn’t look anything like themselves. I was so used to seeing my friends in layers of color, trendy accessories, their favorite lip-gloss, bouncing around in whatever shoes we were gushing over at the time.
But that was high school, and I never really gave you much thought after that, dear “power suit”. Let’s face it, we all made some horrible outfit choices back then, so I gave you a pass.
Jump forward a decade or so, and I’m now a 25-year-old personal stylist, getting to work in the closets of some pretty incredible women. Women that are CEO’s, business owners, creatives, mothers, entrepreneurs, leaders in the community, and all-around badasses.
Over the last couple years, I’ve noticed a repeat offender while doing closet edits with clients- and that’s you, “power suit”. I apologize that I keep putting you in air quotes, but I’ve just become so confused by your usage of the word “power”.
You see, when I would have clients try on these suits that had been living in their closet for years, I kept finding the same verdict- they were unflattering, didn’t fit their body OR personal style, or were just all around NOT GOOD. Time after time, I would ask these women, “Why have you held on to this?” or “What made you want to buy this?”, since it obviously didn’t bring them any joy when they have worn it.
To be honest, the answers I got kind of made me feel like a dumb millennial for not figuring it out sooner.
These clients explained to me that as they’ve been building their careers over the last several decades, these “power suits” were what was expected of them to wear because it helped them blend in. Blend in meaning – not stick out as a feminine energy while competing and working with their male peers.
A client told me once, “Back in the 70’s when I was working my up the company I was with at the time, I knew better than to show up in that boardroom filled with men in anything that as so much showed I had a shape, let alone a dress.”
I had to let it sink in for a moment.
I was so hard for me to understand how after years and years of success, these women felt like they had to reign in their personal style in the workplace.
Let me just take a second here to say: I DO NOT hate suits. They can be extremely beautiful, tailored masterpieces. I actually love wearing modern, menswear-inspired pieces, as well. Androgyny is a common aesthetic in Europe and has made its way over into The States’ fashion scene in recent years. I digress.
What I DO hate is the idea that anyone (male or female) would feel the need to cover or hide they’re personal style as a means to get ahead, or just merely fit in.
Of course, dressing appropriately and in lines with a dress code are very important parts of being in the workforce, but that’s a totally different subject. What I’m talking about here is the tragedy of having to burry and neglect one of the only forms of outward, personal expression we have as humans (aka personal style) every day when you go to work.
Time’s run out for a lot of negative norms in this country. I think you, “power suit”, need to follow suit (pun totally intended).
Women (and men) should only use your name when they’re wearing something that ACTUALLY makes them feel powerful, and that’s going to look different across different fields. For some, maybe it is a kick-ass suit. For others, maybe it’s a floral wrap dress and wedges. My point is, we should never feel like we have to blend in to survive or get ahead.
What you’re wearing can change the way you feel on the inside. But, what you feel on the inside can also be reflected by what you’re wearing. It’s my dream to help my clients tackle every situation with a great sense of empowerment; not just because they’re dressed that way, but because they truly feel that way.
So frumpy, dull, grey, shapeless “power suit”, I’m moving on, and I hope everyone else does too. The “power” you once had has worn out.