From the moment I saw it, I fell in love with the film “Working Girl.” That said, I wasn’t all too excited to learn recently that the power suit is back in fashion, not so much because I don’t find the look flattering but because of the message this new trend sends, specifically that strength is communicated only in the traditional workplace.
According to an article published earlier this year in Business Insider, “The power suit has re-emerged during a [sic] 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.”
By no means a recent phenomenon, fashion has historically reflected periods of political and social change, both on a collective and individual level. The question is how integrally tied is our style to our message, here specifically to women’s strength in the workplace, and must we rely on it to convey our commitment to these movements? As someone who works from home, I can tell you firsthand the power suit has no place in my wardrobe. There was, however, a period when it did.
Late to the game in 1998 when I purchased my first workplace power suit, a time when, says Wall Street Journal fashion journalist, Teri Agins, “…women began to hang up their broad-shouldered jackets to favor the softer, more luxurious fabrics used by designers like Donna Karan,” I believed I needed one. Working in a field outside my chosen profession of law, I felt reliant on the power suit to communicate who I was and that I, too, deserved to be there.
But there was a catch: a few days earlier, I learned I was pregnant. The suit, black jacket, coordinating skirt, and cream silk blouse I had bought for an upcoming third interview, which only a few weeks before would have served as an extension of my identity, now felt like a costume. It was the reason why I returned it to the store on the same day I was supposed to wear it. With debilitating morning sickness, the consulting job I had been pursuing up until then, the position that would have put me on a plane to the west coast every week, became impractical. I canceled my interview and traded my power suit in for maternity pants.
Eleven weeks into my pregnancy, a sonographer explained that my fetus did not have a heartbeat. In my future mommy attire, I realized I had no baby and no job prospect. Once again, I found myself wearing clothes that did not communicate who I was.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I could have gone back to my pursuit of the corporate career I always said I wanted and the power suit I always envisioned myself wearing. After my miscarriage, though, it no longer felt right to me. The trouble was I couldn’t find what did. I floundered until I discovered my voice as a writer following my divorce more than a decade later and started a business.
From my desk at home five years ago, I found my passion and strength. Nowadays, I rediscover those qualities every time I walk down the stairs from my bedroom to the desk where I do my writing. Thanks to my first power suit, I am often wearing a pair of pajamas when I do and have finally become the empowered working girl I always aspired to be.