- Getty/Alex Wong
- The power suit is back in vogue with women.
- The look is most commonly associated with the 1980s, a decade marked by an economic boom when women started to command more power in the workplace.
- The power suit has returned as a way to underscore women’s empowerment.
After two decades in the darkness, the power suit is back.
Fashion editors swooned over the broad shoulders and stiff lines that took a leading role on the runways of New York Fashion Week this month, appearing in Marc Jacobs’, Alexander Wang’s, and Tibi’s collections.
While women’s suits have been creeping their way into fashion over the past few years (Hillary Clinton formed a campaign around hers) what we see now, and what is slowly trickling into our stores, marks the beginning of something decidedly different.
- Getty/JP Yim
“It’s not as relaxed as it has been. There’s much more structure and emphasis on the shoulder and the waist,” Lizzy Bowring,catwalks director at trend-forecasting company WGSN, told Business Insider.
Today’s style veers away from the so-called “pantsuit” and harks back to the 1980s, a decade when women started to command more power in the workplace and dressed in bright-colored suits with big shoulders.
The suit is now being used to make a statement for women’s empowerment and by high-profile figures to assert their own power.
Ivanka Trump is a good example of the latter. As a woman in a high-profile position in the Trump administration, her style decisions are often viewed as political statements. She’s recently been seen swapping trendy dresses for sharp suits to emanate an image of power and credibility in her father’s administration.
The power suit has re-emerged during a important cultural moment for women speaking up against sexual harassment and assault with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns. These movements are not only impacting what is designed but how women choose to dress.
“A fashion show does not exist in a vacuum, it is reflecting our culture,” Conde Nast artistic director Anna Wintour said in a video discussing New York Fashion Week trends.
She continued: “The biggest cultural shift in the last several months has been women and how they have been treated in the workplace. There is no way this was not on designer’s minds.”
In this way, there are two trends existing side-by-side: the suit, and how the suit is being interpreted.
“Designers manifest cultural moments in their collection – it’s an interpretation of that moment,” fashion historianDeirdre Clementetold Business Insider.
She added: “When people take fashion and do something cool with it, it has its own meaning. People infuse it with meaning by physically wearing it on their body.”
- Getty/Dimitrios Kambouris
The power suit’s ties to the economy
The return of the power suit is also economically significant. Historically, the look has been associated with booming economic times, like the post-war 1940s and the 1980s.
“These are both spending economies,” Clemente said.
The resurgence of the suit could now be signaling that the frugal spending habits ingrained in consumers post-recession are beginning to wane as we become more confident in the economy.
“People have been keeping their hands tied to their pockets, but we are now in an era of enlightenment. People are being freer with spending,” Bowring said.
It’s also indicative of a shift away from frivolous spending at places that sell fast fashion, as the power suit is considered an investment piece, not a throwaway item.
Fast-fashion retailer Zara has created its own versions of the power suit, and you should expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars on them.
This Zara suit pictured at right costs $218 and is an atypical power suit with exaggerated shoulders and a nipped-in waist that gives it a feminine touch.
And it seems to be resonating with customers. We visited one of Zara’s stores in New York’s Flatiron District and saw that a large proportion of store space is dominated by these higher-priced items.
“People are growing tired of fast fashion,” Bowring said.
Whether the trend will stick remains to be seen.
“But the pendulum always swings in fashion, from one extreme to another,” she said.