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The Power Suit: PowerLess?

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on August 13

power suit.jpg

Since I am obsessed with all things sartorial, I couldn’t help but be riveted by a recent Wall Street Journal story about fabulously powerful people who self-ban the wearing of suits.

Is wearing a suit now the sign of a macher manque?

In the course of my reporting travels during the past year, all of the sources with whom I interviewed who had the most power—wielding the most clout, capital and all-around largest power footprint—were all adorned in anything but a suit.

By contrast, when I recently did a favor for a friend and picked up her repaired Tag Heuer at Tourneau, the watch salesman was donning a three-piece summer-weight number that was decidedly NOT off the rack. A lucre side gig? Family money? Power user of Woodbury Common?

I’ve noticed this a lot in the service sector: they are all dressed up, while we in Corporate America are all dressed down. Even the halls of once-starchy P&G and once white-shirt-only IBM are filled with some awesomely casual gear.

The upshot is that if you want to see someone turned out in the above-shown Gekko gear, you are more likely to see it on the body of a Barney’s salesman than in the lobby of a midtown hedge fund. In these circles, the new uniform is the dry-cleaned, many-hundreds-of-dollars jeans paired with a bespoke shirt and couture jacket. The women are rocking the jeans with the mini blazer.

The power suit is becoming powerless. Wearing whatever you want now seems to be the new emblem of a new kind of power. As in, I am so incredibly amazing and fabulous that corporate dress codes and social norms do not apply to me.

Is this one more upside-downism in a world that seems increasingly topsy turvy?

Jeans (albeit crisp and pressed): the New Power Wear?

Reader Comments

Mike Wilkerson - 2GuysTalking

August 25, 2008 11:29 AM

One of the prevailing winds I've been hearing about is that if you don't "deal with customers regularly, you can dress more casually." Not so strangely this has become a very slippery slope for many companies, opening the door to the dreaded spaghetti straps and flip flops.

While I don't disagree that if you're hardly seen by customers (begrudgingly sighs) - ok, but what about the impression that you're supposed to make to others at work? What about the effect you "dressing casually" has on coworkers? What about the "occasional customer" that doesn't understand that just because you're hardly seen, doesn't mean that the whole company is "like that?"

There are much more significant implications derived from what you wear at work that deserve a lot more discussion.


August 19, 2009 03:58 PM

Fashion comes and goes, style remans. The Power Suit and image of it, has gone down. Why? Because trend setters did it in the 80´s then the band wagon effect hit in the 90´s so what did the BWs do? Copied it, and sudently everybody wore jeans and a sports jacket. But suits have been, and always will be the thing seperating the boys from the men. Especially if you know how to create the propper effect.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



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