Stylist and our Editor-in-Chief
Power suits and politics have been synonymous with successful women in Washington DC since the early 80s, when Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein began exploring the masculine meets feminine trend in their designs. The fashion world quickly embraced the new look and elevated the power suit to a status symbol for the stylish woman entrepreneur.
Capitol Hill became a virtual runway of strong shoulders, nipped in waists, high end head-to-toe looks and pinstriped suits—all speaking to the era of excess and signifying strength, wealth and exclusivity for the serious businesswoman. After all, if a woman dressed like her powerful male counterparts, how you could not take her seriously, right?
Many of you know that the real roots of menswear for women can be attributed to Coco Chanel back in the 1920s, when the trailblazing designer famously traded her corset for a pair for trousers teamed with that signature strand of pearls. The rest, as they say, is fashion herstory.
Icons like Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn put their own spin on power dressing in the 40s, and Yves Saint Laurent followed suit with the launch of his now iconic “Le Smoking” in 1966, which was the first male-inspired couture evening suit. His ironic take on menswear for women was racy, androgynous and sexy—setting the fashion world ablaze and still making waves some 50 years later.
The short story is, strong women have been borrowing from the boys for decades when it comes to dressing up for business—and pleasure, and today is no exception. The rules have changed a bit, but the game remains the same. Just because these styles are based in classically tailored menswear, there’s no reason you can’t put a feminine twist on your suits and put the wow back into your entrepreneurial ensembles.
When Gina and I first started working together, she had a few suits in her mix that she reserved for special events. They were great designer brands, cut for a woman’s body and they fit her well, but they weren’t in her grab and go arsenal—not even as separates. To Gina, they always felt a little too structured and masculine and in sharp contrast to her normally feminine and glamorous style. Basically, if there was such a thing as a sheer caftan suit we would’ve been in business, however until CAMILLA starts adding lapels to her necklines we had to find a better solution.
Over time—and some hilariously experimental fittings—we discovered some fabulous ways to up Gina’s suit game and feminize her best business looks. Using all the things she loves in her every day dressing and incorporating the look and feel of her brand, we created Gina’s version of the power suit that was soft, pretty, dramatic—and yes, sometimes even printed.
I call it the new POW-her suit and here are some ways you can find your own statementy style…
This is the most obvious place to start when it comes to making an impact and adding a feminine touch to your suit. For me, there’s nothing more corporate, masculine—or sterile—than a basic button down in white or blue. Unless you’re wearing a stylish version in a decidedly fashionable way, there are lots feminine layers to play with, so please avoid this default situation. Opt instead for your most feminine tops, tanks, bodysuits and even lingerie-inspired camisoles. Be in your feminine power and show some skin at the neckline, which is something men can’t normally do when they wear a suit. Now, I’m not saying you need to show cleavage or be overtly provocative, but since most suits keep things very covered up you can really soften your look, and lengthen your neckline in the process by revealing some of your décolletage. Plus, it opens you up to some serious accessorizing. Some of your favorite style icons opt for nothing at all under their suit jackets, which can be a sexy statement you may want to reserve for dressy evening looks only.
Basic suits in classically masculine colors like black navy and grey are lovely, easy to buy and will certainly get a ton of use in your wardrobe, but are they the most feminine choice? Maybe not. One of easiest ways to separate yourself from the men is in your choice of suit color. White, blush, ivory, metallics and even bold pops of pink, scarlet, cobalt or persimmon are wonderful investment colors and will rev up your style. The more you break the rules and push the envelope the better. These novelty choices are especially great when you already have the basics in place, but you don’t have to wait if you fall in love with a colorful option. They’re gorgeous as statement-making daytime looks and can be dressed up easily for your most fabulous evening events.
Anything But Basic
This is where you can really start to have some fun. Even the simplest patterns, prints and textures can have a huge impact on your style. From pinstripes and plaids, to boucle, houndstooth, velvet and brocade—and yes even floral and animal, a printed suit crushes the competition when it comes to feminine and fabulous. Think Gucci, CHANEL, Dolce, Cavalliand Valentino. Five go-to names that are always on our lips here at DL Magazine. In fact one of our biggest regrets remains an un-purchasedleopard print Dolce suit that Gina and I found on our very first shoppingtrip a couple of years back. Sigh…you have no idea Ladies…it was pretty spectacular and such a missed opportunity. (Some nights we still light a candle in homage and reminisce.) But I digress. The takeaway here is always think outside the box and never be boring!
This might be another obvious one, but when was the last time you saw a hot man in a suit wearing a statement necklace or earrings? Exactly. Instead of taking something away like Coco Chanel use to say, add something in. Layered necklaces, chokers, brooches, earrings, bracelets, watches and bold rings are all a wonderful way to contrast the clean structured lines of a suit and can be super feminine and interesting. More can be more when it comes to beautiful baubles—as long as you don’t leave the house looking like a Christmas tree. I’ll be watching.
House of Scarves
Scarves are always ladylike and chic and they lend themselves beautifully to a suit. You can simply wrap one around your neck and tuck in the extra length into your buttoned jacket to frame the lapel of your suit and your neckline. You can roll a smaller square into a long scarf and knot it around your neck like Audrey Hepburn. Tie a triangle around your neck like a bib for a chic cowled look, or knot it up like a riff on a man’s tie. And when worn over a simple fitted tank, your scarf can even look like a pretty printed blouse. I also love a simple black ribbon tied into a pussy bow on a chic white blouse. It’s a favorite of fashion bloggers and celebs and a chic way to add tons of style with little to no effort or expense. However, one of my FAVORITE things on earth is the Hermès “Silk Knots” app that teaches you a zillion different ways to tie a scarf. Download it immediately HERE. You’re welcome in advance.
Shoes in Charge
This one should be a no brainer. If you’re wearing a basic pointed black pump with your suits, or any shoe style that starts with the word “basic” you’re fired! Seriously. What could be more mundane? You are (hopefully) not basic in your business as a modern woman entrepreneur, so please don’t choose to be with your most important accessories. You can go to town with your shoe choices and your bags should also have the same wow factor. Metallic, strappy, fringed, printed, woven, wedged and mirrored. The options are endless, so get busy. Trade in your practical business bag for a feminine statement maker that will get you noticed. You can do almost everything on your smartphone these days anyway, so lugging your laptop around in a ballistic nylon briefcase will simply not do, especially when that printed Valentino rock-stud clutch is calling…Hello? You should really answer that call.
Yes, this makes a difference. And yes you need to make a bit of effort here. Sometimes a swipe of mascara and a powerful red lip might be all you need, but you do need something. I LOVE when a woman in a suit has a gorgeous face of make up and a sleek hairstyle like a high pony or a topknot. Maybe this harkens back to my Madonna Express Yourself days? Maybe not, but the contrast of masculine and feminine is everything for me when it comes to dressing in power suits and Madonna practically invented that empowered look—with a little help from Jean-Paul Gaultier. A great face of makeup is a fun aspect of your style to play with and one you should never ignore—especially when you’re wearing a decidedly masculine silhouette. Dowdy and boring in a suit is just that.
The style of your suit is of great importance and really where it all begins, especially when it comes to being feminine. For some of you, that means fitted, skinny and cropped, or short and peplumed with a long pencil skirt. And for others still, it means double-breasted and curvy with a wide-leg trouser. Choose the style of jacket and corresponding bottoms that best suits your body type, age and style personality. Pay attention to the stopping and starting point of hemlines and look for sharp peaked lapels or rounded shawl collars that balance your torso and add some much needed flare. The waist of your jackets should be nipped in to follow your curves or create some if they don’t exist. The style of your pant or skirt is also ultra important. Make sure they always play up your shape and reveal your most feminine lines. Above all, please have your suit tailored no matter what. This is a critical step with an investment like this and what really sets your silhouette apart from the boys.