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  • Writer's pictureSian Hourican

Who wears the trousers now??

The power suit- this probably conjures images of shoulder pads and boxy blazers, but the power suit is a phenomenally significant symbol of female equality; it demonstrates the lengths to which women will go to be viewed as equals in the workplace. Of course, there are far more pressing issues surrounding women in the workplace (equal pay, paid maternity leave, alleged ‘career breaks’ preventing promotions or raises) so you’d be forgiven for thinking that trivial commentary on a woman’s professional wardrobe does little to further the cause of women’s liberation.

On Wednesday, 20th January 2021, the world watched as Sonia Sotomayor (the first woman of colour to be appointed to the Supreme Court) swore Kamala Harris into the Office of Vice-President of the United States of America. But before history was made, we were treated to a parade of powerful women, all of whom had chosen bold and impactful outfits, some in power suits, to celebrate the momentous occasion. One might think this is nothing to pass comment on; haven’t we spent an eternity trying to turn attention away from our wardrobes and towards our accomplishments?

This is different, though- the power suit was always a symbol of male success, so women put their own spin on the men’s staple in an attempt to present themselves as equals to their male counterparts. Women, when allowed to actually enter the workforce, were immediately aware of the fact that they were expected to look pretty and provide their bosses with a ‘view’, as well as support in the workplace. It is thus unsurprising that women commandeered the power suit in an effort to gain respect.

Nowadays, a power suit is just a suit- a natural and expected wardrobe choice for professional women all over the world. They are virtually the uniform of Washington D.C.’s female political elites, but Inauguration Day was an opportunity for these women to really make a statement. Dr. Jill Biden wore powder blue, Hillary wore her trademark power suit in a shade of violet, and Michelle Obama wore a plum ensemble which was typical of the effortless style we’ve come to expect from the former First Lady. Kamala, inarguably the star of the show, along with Dr. Biden, opted to wear dresses, with matching coats and gloves- not quite a power suit in a traditional ‘Hillary’ sense, but they packed a punch, nonetheless.

Kamala’s Vogue cover sees the VP in her power suit, Converse and pearls, portraying to the world a woman who knows the burden of power but is more than capable of bearing the weight. Whilst not uncontroversial, it does illustrate the power of the ‘power suit’. Even when it’s a dress, it still tells the world that this woman is not one to be trifled with, but one to take seriously and treat with respect.

Women such as Kamala, Michelle and Dr. Biden (she worked too hard for the title to just be referred to as ‘Jill’) are admired, respected and highly capable- the power suits merely facilitate the impression of power that well-dressed male professionals have been enjoying all along.

There are, of course, naysayers- those who believe that what a woman wears is inconsequential, and discussion surrounding a woman’s wardrobe serves only to undermine the genuine issues. Regardless of your stance, we find ourselves in a new era- one in which women seek to reclaim their power, but it’s also the era of women’s power suits, and I think we can all agree that it’s a real treat to see women in positions of power who are unapologetic when it comes to their professional style. After all, when have men been asked to qualify or defend their choice of tie???

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