These 5 Icons Define Power Dressing

Boss up like the power dressers of today and yesteryear

power dressers

Words: Marilyn Suto | Illustrations: Lapin Blanc

The myth that smart women are indifferent to fashion is fast being debunked with many women emphasising the fact that it is possible to read both Vogue and The New Yorker

Power dressing affords women a chance to say who's the boss without actually speaking. The phenomenon has its roots in late 70s fashion but was firmly entrenched in the 80s with the migration of women into the workforce in the West. Power dressing served as an armour women wore, and still wear, in order to navigate male dominated industries. 

To celebrate National Women's Month we curated a list of our favourite power dressers, from politicians, business women and royalty. Take inspiration from these wonder women and boss it up in your own life. 

Princess Diana

Royal fever has been at a fever pitch since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tied the knot to become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Of late it has become acceptable to be interested in the British royal family, but that was not always the case. It used to be that individuals who took an interest in the royal family were scoffed at, that is until Princess Diana entered the picture.  She was a modern princess and understood what this meant as was reflected in her dress sense. Once the most photographed woman in the world, Princess Di always looked the part whether she was attending an ambassador's ball or meeting with statesmen. Of her countless looks, she will always be remembered as much for wearing a combination of pencil skirt, blouse and blazer in an assortment of colours, textures and patterns, as she will be remembered for that little black dress. 

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

From one royal to a queen from a different house, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Fighter, firebrand and fashionista – whether she was dressed in army fatigues, Xhosa regalia or the green and gold of the ANC Women's League, Mrs Mandela always dressed to prove a point. The late great's fashion taste is undeniable and she makes the list because of how she represents power dressing of a different kind, which incorporated traditional wear. Mrs Mandela was not shy to wear a doek with traditional beads and bangles in addition to donning a classic power suit.

Jackie O

Whilst Winnie-Madikizela Mandela was the unofficial first lady of South Africa and had to settle for the Mother of the Nation title after she and Madiba divorced in the early nineties, Jackie O was an actual first lady and the first of her kind. There had not been a first lady like her until JFK came into office. In fact, most first ladies, especially those from America, dressed in conservative fashions designed to detract attention. Jackie O changed all of that, accompanied with a complete overhaul and makeover of the White House itself. Jackie O made it acceptable for future first ladies to embrace fashion and blazed the trail for the likes of Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama. Jackie O's staples included her oversized sunnies, shift dress paired with matching trench coat, pillbox and completed her look with a string of pearls. Of course we cannot forget her perfectly styled hair.

Michelle Obama

Since her husband took office Michelle Obama has been a permanent feature on a number of best dressed lists, and understandably so given how she managed to put her own unique twist on the White House dress code. Remember the talk around bearing arms, which seems so banal now, along with many articles and even a coffee table book published celebrating the former first lady's style. The characteristic she's most celebrated for is her mix of high and low style. Mary Brun, author of the book, Mrs O: The Face of Fashion Democracy, writes that Mrs Obama was probably the most accessible first lady because of how ordinary women could easily recreate her looks, as she wore clothes from department stores such as J.Crew. In a way, besides looking great, Mrs Obama's greatest achievement is that she used her years as a first lady to boost the careers of upcoming designers by wearing their designs instead of only wearing well established and well known designers – and in that lies her power – a true power dresser.

Felicia Mabuza-Suttle

Rounding off the list is South African media personality Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, whom some Gen Z'ers won't be familiar with, but her impact in the South African media space is indisputable. Mabuza-Suttle is often referred to as the Oprah of Msanzi, which is a lazy label as it does a disservice to her many contributions. Felicia was one of the first South African celebrities to enter the merchandising space back in the late 90s with an eyewear collection and clothing line. However she is best known for being a talk show host where her signature look was a crisp white shirt paired with a silk scarf and a designer pair of spectacles. 

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