Powerful Tips for Power Dressing Without the Shoulder Pads

Colette Werden

Style and Image Specialist

“No one will tell you this, but you can’t be a man. Don’t even try. Be a woman. It’s a powerful business when done correctly”.

Mad Men fanatics will recognise this as a line delivered to Peggy, courtesy Bobbie Barrett, when she was fighting for the coveted corner office and, when it comes to power dressing, we can all learn a lesson here.

image via pinterest

Women who are ambitious in their career are generally authoritative beings naturally. Sometimes, this translates into masculine ways of dressing and diminishes their natural feminine qualities. Clients have said to me that they feel like they’re putting on a mediocre ‘uniform’ every day and masking their personality. And, those in a male dominated environment, have said that choosing how to present themselves freely without losing the whole ‘take me seriously’ vibe can be even more challenging. How frocking exhausting.

One of the biggest misconceptions about power dressing is that it involves a suit. As I work with more and more organizations, their cultures are relaxing; personal branding is booming and their dress codes are moving away from strict corporate to allow for expression of identity. When a woman, especially, utilizes this allowance of authentic expression through her image well, it becomes her biggest marketing tool; her self-confidence sky rockets and presence in her workplace radiates.

The joyous news is that we do not need to look like Quarterbacks (hello shoulder pads) to show we mean business. The key is to look professional, yet retain femininity. I propose this through subtleties; the faint scent of perfume, a cinched in waist, delicate fabrics and a peak of the skin on the décolletage. Overall, power dressing is culturally relative and job specific. And, these days, even more so reflective of one’s personal brand. But, there are certain universal principles that apply.

Women, take note.

1. Fit for a #GirlBoss

Never, ever, compromise on fit. The quickest way to diminish the perception of professionalism is through an ill-filling outfit; one that looks like we borrowed it, rather than “own it”. When mentoring clients on their image, this is on the priority list when choosing an outfit and funnily enough, we’ve found that most women dress a size or two too big for their frame. A few things to take note of; make sure fit across the shoulders is spot on (on the shoulder, not off the shoulder); sleeve length is to the wrist (not the top of thumb), and get acquainted with The Ratio System – get your proportions right and dressing to fit your body will be a piece of cake.

2. Contrast your Colours

Wearing an outfit with contrasting colours creates the psychological impression that you mean business. It states that you have an opinion, you stand for something; there is no grey area. Leaders who are trained with image development nail this every time. Think black and white, navy and crème, red and tan.

3. Wear a Blazer Like Your Armour

You cannot help but feel like you’re in control as soon as you slip on a well fitted blazer. Now, I’m not talking about the traditional ol’ boring corporate blazer here, rather one with a unique point of difference. Your physiological behaviour will sharpen up, so will your look.

blazers-power-dressing4. Mix Structure with Flow

Structure signifies masculinity and flow; femininity. Balance your outfit with a mixture of structured garments (pencil skirt, skinny pants, waist belts) and flowing garments (blouse, dresses). Too much of either; like flow on flow reduces the perception of authority. Too much structure eliminates approachability and flexibility.

5. Point your stilettos

As Marilyn Monroe once said; ‘Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world’. In the world of power dressing, go point, always. Apart from being a great pair of weapons, these pointed toe babies express ‘woman on a mission’.


6. Structure your handbag

A handbag can make or break an outfit. Avoid slouchy bags and opt for handbags or totes that have strong definitive lines. It will give off the impression that you have your ‘stuff’ together, in an organised way. Always hold your bag to your side (over your arm), instead of guarding your body with it – it conveys open body language and eliminates the ‘wall’ between you and the person you’re meeting with.


7. Align your Look from Top-to-Toe

When asking our professional clients how they want to be perceived in the workplace, one of the most common answers we get is, ‘someone that follows through’, or ‘someone with high attention to detail’. Power dressing is about conveying your strengths through your image. To portray the perception of the ability to follow through and/or high attention to detail powerfully, our look must be aligned from top-to-toe. Now, none of us want to spend hours getting ready in the morning, so consult a make-up artist that can teach you how to do a day look in 5 minutes, and call on your hairdresser to show you how you can style your hair effortlessly. Game on.

8. Ditch the Excess Jewellery

Save your statement necklaces, dangling earrings, layered bracelets and finest rings for play; when it comes to power dressing, less is more. Think studs, watch and elegant fine necklaces.

9. Watch your Length

When Harvard University released the results of a study about the 11 decisions people make about us in 7 seconds, the 11th decision was ‘social and professional desirability’. Too much exposed skin in the office can take a potentially professional look to the bar very quickly. Watch the length of your skirts, dresses and neckline in the office; just above the knee and below, and just above the breasts and higher. The power in power dressing lies in highlighting a feminine silhouette whilst leaving a lot to the imagination.

10 Own it

It’s been proven that what we wear affects our self confidence levels, how we walk and how we communicate. The right wardrobe will help elevate our self-certain demeanor, encourage us to walk like we deserve to be right where we are and speak with the tonality that we know exactly what we’re talking about. Own it. You’ll have the corner office in no time.

Follow Colette: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Images: Shopstyle.com.au

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