Power Dressing: how girly fashion lost its appeal | IsabelleOC

Re: Power Dressing

Reading Marta Represa’s lovely blog the other day I started into her Power Dressing post, in which she recounts a work meeting which turned out to be a not-so-subtly engineered semi date with an editor:

In a nutshell, for two pages he rambled on about my “incredibly feminine nails”, my “beautiful tied up hair” (which I had tied up because it was filthy and I was too much of lazy slob to wash it, not with the objective of seducing men with my dainty neck), and my overall delicateness and frailty. And that’s what got me most enraged: what on sodding earth do women have to do to stop being viewed and treated by men as fragile objects who need to be protected (by them, obviously)?

It got me thinking about the way I dress, it’s not really that girly. On the spectrum of how your typical fashion blogger dresses I definitely fall into the more boring end: I don’t really wear heels, I love jeans and most of the time I plan outfits around whether I’ll be able to cycle in them.

I have a bit of uniform which consists of stretchy trousers and maybe a shirt or a floaty dress, gussied up with a strong watch or some bracelets. When I wear this I feel ready to do stuff, not to be looked at. I like to wear clothes that make me feel powerful, not in an 80s boardroom ballbreaker way, but in control of myself. Heels don’t make me feel powerful, trainers make me feel powerful because of the things I can do in them. Like walking to Tesco to get a cake. Similarly a constricting skirt or peplum doesn’t appeal just because of how it will hinder my daily business. I dress for my life, not the other way round.

That doesn’t mean I want to be walking around in a tracksuit, but there’s a fetishisation in fashion/celeb culture of a kerb to cab lifestyle which creeps me out. Obviously that centres around displays of wealth: the only people who can really get away with Daphne Guinness-style dressing are people who have Daphne Guinness amounts of money. I wouldn’t want Daphs to start wearing leggings and trainers to a catwalk show any more than I would want to wear Givenchy couture sat at my desk at home, but relying on being carried around in a motorised sedan chair like modern-day royalty is a little weird. Being comfortable makes me feel empowered and that is much more important than being the object of someone’s gaze.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Patti Smith

Practicality might be a symptom of getting older, I was talking to my sister the other day about how neither of us don’t like dressing too girly anymore, probably because we aren’t girls. I enjoy no longer being a girl, having a few more years life experience racked up is so much more pleasant. Peter Pan collars are one of the things that stick in my head that I don’t feel I can get away with over 30, probably because of their twee-factor more than explicitly my age.

There’s a charm in masculine dressing, embodied by people like the trueledge Katharine Hepburn and the Charlottes Rampling and Gainsbourg. It’s a simplicity and a confidence that I really admire.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve learnt the value of being strong, both physically and mentally, and this is reflected in the way I dress. Maybe this is part of being a woman, there’s a bit in Louis CK sketch where he talks about the difference between girls and women saying: “when girls go wild they show their t*ts to people, when women go wild they kill men and drown their kids in a tub.”

Katharine Hepburn

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11 comments to Re: Power Dressing

  • Mia

    Spot on, excellent post.

  • Sarah Drinkwater

    This is SO GOOD. I just worked on a V&A book about Hollywood Style and my feedback after the first readthrough was where’s Hepburn. So many Audrey Hepburn quotes and not a sausage on Katharine – delicate vs. strong, I guess.

  • Marta Represa

    Fantastic post! And I agree with you, it has been during the last few years that I’ve discovered the importance of beng strong physically and emotionally, and the confidence and empowerment that derive from that. And thank you so much for mentioning me and for your kind words! X

  • Monkey

    Buzzkill.

  • Nick

    This reminded me of a quote from Victoria Legrand of Beach House, in which she said “I don’t like wearing dresses on stage, because I’m not a girl. I’m a 30-year-old woman.”

  • gracie

    I feel powerful in heels but only with trousers or jeans. The feeling is different in a dress. I love tomboy dressing but I have a big bust and it just doesn’t seem to suit me…. waaah

  • Anonymous

    Dressing for Real Boobs is a whole other ballgame, can be really tough to do the tomboy look.

  • Anonymous

    Love this quote more than words

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! I LOVE Katharine, she’s so cool. If I could set fire to every Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s canvas painting, I think I would.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for inspiring a train of thought! Yeah it’s cool being a woman and not a girl, life is way more fun.

  • Chuck

    Oops, just got sucked into a Louis CK YouTube black hole and lost 20 minutes! Totally agree about so much of this post. I’m working in a trad office at the mo and sometimes I wear pencil skirts and killer courts which is a fun costume and makes me feel like efficient worker bee but, as a rule, if I can’t run away in my shoes/clothes I feel vulnerable and powerless. Also, I don’t feel like I can do girls anymore – I am too big and old, it looks weird! X

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