Gracey on Power Dressing

Today I’m going to talk about power dressing.

I think that a lot of people associate power dressing with the 80s:

Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington

 But, according to Wikipedia, the concept of power dressing was actually popularized in the 1970s by the books Dress for Success and The Women’s Dress for Success Book:

Woman's Dress for Success Cover & Text

Wikipedia goes on to say that “while references to the style apply more typically to women, the look is the same for both sexes: medium-length parted hair (trimmed on the back and sides for men); dark, conservative, usually matching pants and jacket (sometimes a long skirt for women); and bold, colorful “accents”, such as ties, kerchiefs or brooches.”  This look was supposed to convey competency and confidence and therefore, power.

As exciting as that look sounds, I’m not talking about 70s or 80s power dressing today.  Today, I’m talking about knowing what makes you feel confident, and yes, powerful, and how you dress to enhance that.  We all have something that we’re very confident about; something that makes us strut a little bit, even if only in our heads.  These aren’t necessarily the things everyone else likes about us; they are the things we like most about ourselves.  These are our power features.

For some women, this feature might be their sexuality, for others, their intelligence and for still others, their hair, a flat stomach, long lashes or even wealth.  And when you dress to play up your power feature, I call that power dressing.

Personally, I consider my power features to be my height/size, my strength and my personality.  I’m tall and I’m strong, but I’m also fun.  When I power dress, my outfit reflects all of these things in single outfit.  Like this one:

Power Dressed Gracey

In this look, I played up my height with heeled boots and played up my broad shoulders with faux-epaulets created by the blouse.  The wide, studded belt also shows off my strong shape.  But, the look is fun too, lightened by the stripes and the bow on the blouse, as well pockets and neon pink earrings.

How about you, Reader Friends?  What’s your power feature?  And what do you do to show it off?


Top two images via The Guardian and

_ _ _

Already Pretty contributor Gracey hails from from Fashion for Giants. She’s essentially your average blogger, except that she’s taller than average (six foot) and bigger than average (size 14). She also likes to think that she’s more amusing than average, but that could just be vanity. In addition to being tall and plus-sized (and possibly hilarious), she’s also a thrift store shopper, a vintage lover, an Oregonian, and a bike commuter.

Likes: Gracey likes to shop, to blog, and to terrify her co-workers with brightly colored outfits.

Dislikes: Robot uprisings, too-short skirts, and leggings as pants.

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18 Responses to “Gracey on Power Dressing”

  1. Tina

    Gracey always looks so put together! I love her looks. BTW, she states that she is “bigger than average”–well, size 14 is the norm!

    • Cynthia

      There’s a world of difference in how a woman will be perceived as a tall, rangy, big-shouldered size 14 vs. a small soft round size 14. Gracey’s talking about that, not just about clothing size.

  2. Cheryl

    Hello Gracey::
    What a blast from the past! I was so excited to see that you posted images of John Malloy’s book on Sally’s blog today. The clothing styles that he advocated back then had a huge impact on my success when I was just out of graduate school and looking for work. He was hired by corporations to research how to give their employees an edge over the competition by changing their clothing. His books summarized his findings so that the rest of us could learn how to increase our authority at work–not a small thing for women in the 70’s. What was unique then, and remains unique today, is the fact that his recommendations were based solely on research. He dressed mid-level corporate employees and then measured the outcome of the changes to their dress by looking at whether they were promoted and whether they made more sales for their corporations.

    Since that time, power dressing has come to mean something far more subjective. As far as I know, there isn’t anybody conducting the sorts of studies that he did, or at least there appear to be no popular books on such studies. Stylists now help people who are in need, and their suggestions aren’t based on research. Not in any way to demean what stylists do–helping people to look and feel better is important, but it’s definitely different than John Malloy’s message way back then. What I wear to feel powerful isn’t the same as what actually conveys power to the people with whom I interact. I can BELIEVE that showing off cleavage makes me more powerful, but it would only make me BE more powerful in certain circumstances, and those circumstances probably don’t include climbing a corporate ladder. And showing off cleavage at my age, by the way, would be pretty hilarious.

    • Miss T

      Very interesting points, Cheryl. I also read Malloy’s book when it came out, and the messages were indeed powerful and effective. And, his book is what engendered the idea of a corporate “dress code” — i.e., every company wanted that competitive edge. Of course, there was an unspoken dress code before him, but Malloy was the first to question it, dissect it, analyze it, and reconfigure it to make it a competitive tool for business. Having lived in both corporate eras — power dressing for everyone vs. wear what you like — I can say that there was always something exciting and optimistic to me about sitting in a meeting where everyone was dressed “professionally”. And I do believe that power dressing was more individualistic than corporate dressing is today in the sense that when Malloy was writing, there was no such thing as the corporate “team”, it was every person for themselves. So, your own interpretation of power dressing was typically acknowledged and there was a sense of approval and belonging and as a result, higher productivity. With the advent of the team approach in business, the “power” is now expected to be shared, direct acknowledgment of one’s contributions are rarer and more generalized, and this has an impact on dressing, too: now the object is to dress like the team — to not stand out — which is somewhat different than dressing for a corporate advantage (where the “team” is the entire company). I mean, both paradigms still exist, there are still general corporate dress codes, but a person nowadays is more likely to be judged in a personal way, as opposed to a professional way, by their clothing. These are generalizations, of course, but are based on my 35 years in the corporate world.

      • Gracey at Fashion for Giants

        Thank you both, Cheryl and Miss T, for these observations. Interestingly enough, when I wrote this post, I hadn’t actually read this book. Only snippets of it that I found online. Since that time I was gifted a copy of the book and it’s pretty amazing reading it now, when things have changed so drastically. Obviously as I read it, I couldn’t apply a point of view from the time he wrote it, so I find it very interesting to hear from women who read it, and used it, when it first came out. Once I finish reading it, it might be fun to delve into it further here.

        Anyway, thank you both again for writing!

  3. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    OMG Gracey, I owned and studied that wretched Dress for Success book early in my career. We were supposed to look like men in skirts! Times have changed, hooray. Love your look – you look strong and confident and very fabulous.

  4. Une Femme

    Gracey, I love the belt! You look great. For me, boots are my “power dressing” weapon, as are clothes with a bit of movement.

  5. ClaraT

    First, how funny that a man wrote the book on dressing for success for women (we’ve come a long, long way–not that a man can’t have relevant comments about women’s fashion, but I would say I look to women for this more than to men because of the relatability factor!)

    For me, ‘power’ dressing is wearing something that I feel confident putting on in the morning and can then forget about.

    I want to move, talk, think, discuss, present without worrying about my clothes. I want to be comfortable–physically, yes, but mostly mentally. I want to gesture without gapping and be able to lean over and pick something up without worrying about a loose blouse. I shy away from revealing clothes in professional settings as they may distract from my contributions, and I love how Gracey’s outfit is form-fitting but not revealing. That is my ‘power’ style, too.

  6. Ann

    Having the same “Dress for Success” flashback as Cheryl and Patti. I had SUCH a collection of little neckties!

    Hmm. I don’t know about a “power feature,” but I feel most powerful when I’m in a suit with a great scarf or vintage brooch, and heels.

    Gracey, you have to consider your smile in the running for your “power feature!”

  7. Anne

    Oh boy do I remember John Malloy! It was practically required reading when I was graduating. Well, on one hand he was right. (dressing for the company culture is important) My first interview out of college was for an assistant designers position at North Face. I showed up in my navy blue suit and I was so out of place in a company where everyone else was wearing shorts and hiking boots. I felt awkward and completely out of place, and not surprisingly, I blew the interview., I’m pretty sure at some point I burned his book.

  8. Grace H

    Gracey, your little bio at the end of this just made me smile! Adorable.

    And yes, I don’t care how svelte you are, leggings should never be worn as pants. 😉

  9. sarah

    For me, the first step is heels. Nothing above 3 inches (and usually more like 2.5 inches – or higher if the heels involve a bit of a platform), so that I can walk and move easily. Like you, Gracey, I’m tall – 5’11” – with long legs and a determined stride (thanks to a childhood of training in ballet and ballroom dance). In heels, I’m not only tall, but my stride is commanding. I’ve found that wearing a floor-length maxi skirt only enhances the effect of my height, and I enjoy getting the “how tall ARE you?” comments. =)

  10. Natalie

    I’ve always been slightly self-conscious of my height (not even that unusually tall, really–5’7″) because I don’t like to stand out in a crowd, but reading what you said about your height being one of your power features really struck a chord and the thought popped into my head, “Hey, how about I use my height for confidence, not an embarrassment!” So, thank you for that new mindset that I will be working on!

    • Ashe

      Natalie, I’m with you! At 5’7, I HATE standing out in a crowd (maybe it’s because I’m also plus size), but reading Gracey’s post definitely has me reconsidering it all…

  11. Chris

    I have an entirely different concept of power dressing. It has nothing to do with style and everything to do with functionality. For me, tough but flexible pants, shirt, jacket or vest, hiking boots with substantial ground gripping soles and ankle support make me feel like I can tackle any challenge nature can throw at me. A selection of appropriate outdoor tools easily accessed from strategically placed pockets completes the outfit. Especially well fitting, comfortable, hiking boots give me the confidence to traverse any kind of scree, shale, muddy, sticky, slippery surface. It’s a great feeling to know my footwear won’t let me down.

    Sadly, hiking attire does not play well in the office or at a public meeting. Unless, I’m talking to a room full of hikers and Sierra Club members!

    I have not discovered what clothes make me feel powerful in my work setting. In the office setting, I’m quiet, shy, and like to hole up in my small office. This can be a problem as I am expected to speak with authority on some occasions. I am confident of my ability to talk about work, but I sure don’t look very confident. I do have to give Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen a lot of credit for helping me with this. With her guidance I have purchased a few dresses that are comfortable and look good on me – no easy task! Now, learning to feel powerful when I have to talk for work is a whole other level that I continue to aim towards.

  12. DocP

    Agree that there are two issues here – being seen as powerful and feeling powerful. According to Molloy’s blog (which he put on hiatus last summer to concentrate on finishing his next book) things HAVEN’T changed all that much according to his current research. He never recommended blue skirted suits for every woman – the recommendation was aimed at women in corporate America who needed to convince their mostly male colleagues, bosses and customers that they were competent. Of course, that was what got picked up by the popular press. There was less discussion, but he had differing recommendations for women in female dominated companies, design/art fileds, and more “hands on” type of work. If I recall correctly, there was a line in the original book about not showing up for an interview as a mechanic looking as though you were afraid of grease. Styles have changed, but the principle that it is important to look the part has not.

  13. Duchesse

    In the corporate C-suite or the courtroom you would not look powerful in this ensemble; you’d look ad fun and hip, possibly “cute”, which is not a powerful stance but will add to your likeability. It’s important to differentiate between feeling powerful *yourself,* in your witty dress, and being read that way by a conservative, not fashiony executives who nethertheless know good talioring when they see it. It’s also a midlevel/freelancer/creative type look- great for what it is, but you are not looking the part for a boardroom.

    To see true corporate power clothes, check the the pieces formerly made by Britt Lintner here:
    or Paul Stuart.

    Don’t confuse feeling powerful yourself with picking up the code.