The concept of ‘power dressing’ feels obsolete in this day and age. Rigid dress codes have largely been relaxed since the stiffly shoulder-padded Eighties. For every suited and booted corporate titan, there’s a Mark Zuckerberg in a hoodie, grey T-shirt and jeans – with the power to buy them outright.
Indeed, some argue that 21st-century power dressing is wearing what you want: you’re so rich and important that nobody’s going to call you on it. But nobody’s going to respect you for it either. If you actively want to wear bad clothes, what does that say about you?
True power dressing is about demonstrating mastery, not flaunting your wealth or peacocking. It’s showing that you know how to play by the rules, and bend them to your will. It’s knowledge of what’s appropriate: not dressing like a teenager when you’re the boss, or ‘for the job you want’ when you’re still on coffee duty. Because knowledge, after all, is power.
Here, FashionBeans codifies five precepts of contemporary power dressing – ones that are relevant for Wall Street and Silicon Valley alike. Time to update your status.
That classic power dressing staple, the pinstripe suit, is no longer on point. It’s as outdated as Gordon Gekko’s rig at the denouement of Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.
Even in conservative, tailoring-heavy environments, there’s something a tad abrasive about a pinstripe suit. You’re telegraphing your ambition too loudly, like an Apprentice candidate shouting into the end of their phone. And in casual workplaces, it’s totally the wrong call.
You can trade for a chalkstripe – a wider, fuzzier line – which softens pinstripe’s sharp elbows. But for a power dressing commodity that’s rising in value, invest in a plain double-breasted jacket, whether a blazer or part of a suit.
A DB takes skill, confidence and a perfect fit to pull off, which is why not many try. It’s a subtle (as long as it’s not pinstripe) but unmistakable flex that stands out just enough in the stuffiest boardroom – or trendiest ‘breakout space’. DBs are beloved of contrary fashion types precisely because they have a reputation for being difficult. DBs, that is, not fashion types.
A DB is also literal power dressing; it adds visual heft to your upper body. Who you calling a wimp, Gordon?
A gold watch like Gekko’s Cartier Santos ticks the old-timey power dressing boxes. But pricey wrist candy doesn’t prove anything in and of itself. Except that you’re rich.
Ask yourself: is your watch totally dialled into your outfit and surroundings? Do you understand the semiology of horology: what makes a timepiece formal or sporty, appropriate for a black tie event or a barbecue? Have you, say, picked out a colour on the dial elsewhere in your ensemble? An affordable watch, deployed expertly, trumps an expensive one worn badly.
A couple of years back, this author was in the presence of Lapo Elkann, the Fiat heir and swag lord. He was wearing a grey chalkstripe DB (see above), a light blue shirt and mid-blue tie. Sitting under his monogrammed cuff was a £150 Toywatch – in his shirt’s exact shade of blue.
This power move proved three things: 1) he didn’t need his watch to prove anything; 2) he had an eye for detail; 3) he probably had a walk-in watch wardrobe, with one in every colour.
You don’t have to own an arm’s worth of watches: one good timepiece can suffice. But then you should have chosen it carefully, for maximum versatility.
There are still some workplaces where neckwear is de rigeur. If yours is one, just drop some cash at Hermès and be done with it. Or perhaps try something slightly more imaginative, like a knitted tie, or a different material like wool or linen.
But for many of us, ties are a smart-casual quandary. Wear one and you risk appearing overdressed; skip one and you close off one of your few avenues for self-expression. You’re just another generic guy in an open-necked shirt.
The power move? Cut the Gordion tie knot altogether. Collarless, grandad or band-collar shirts are a swerve but also still recognisably shirts and thus will satisfy most dress codes. Roll-neck jumpers pull similar double duty in the colder months. You’re within the confines of convention, but also outside the box.
Then there are the more casual with-tailoring options like a polo, Henley or T-shirt (in descending order of smartness). These will obviously not fly in certain situations, but nevertheless they’re still power moves: you need the right suit or blazer (looser, less padded) and the right kind of top (luxe fabrics and a trim fit). They’re advanced-level; there’s risk involved. And reward.
A Fresh Fade
Everyone from rappers to footballers festishises a new hairstyle, with good reason: it gives you a literal and metaphorical edge.
A recent trim can make the sloppiest of outfits look pulled together. And the most razor-sharp of tailoring (pinstripe or otherwise) will be blunted if you’re shaggier than Zuck’s dog.
Frankly, any haircut will do as long as it’s frequent. But the fade in particular is powerfully versatile: its origins in the military and uniform means that it’s not totally out of place in the corporate trenches (unless you get a skin fade). There’s a strong hint of aggression and physical capability, but it’s not overt (again, unless you get a skin fade).
As with avocados and Princes of Bel-Air, freshness is paramount. If you normally get your hair cut every six weeks to two months – woah there, Captain Caveman – step it up to at least every four. Maybe even three for to-death freshness.
Extravagant? Think about it this way: your haircut is the one thing that you wear all the time – and can’t take off. Better brush up on conversation topics for your barber.
Good, Clean Footwear
Whether you wear Tricker’s to work or Nikes, there are some power dressing principles with a foot in both camps.
Firstly, quality. You can tell a pair of well-made, Goodyear-welted shoes the second they step into a room. And often the price difference to cheaply made isn’t that steep – especially if you consider that you’ll be replacing those cheaply made shoes inside of a year, as opposed to just getting them resoled (if that).
The same applies to trainers. Believe it or not, Common Projects don’t cost more purely for the sake of it: they’re made with better quality leathers and stitched instead of glued. As with smarter shoes, they’ll last – and look better – for longer.
This interlinks with the other factor: cleanliness, which is next to style godliness. It matters not that your shoes were handmade from the finest unicorn leather by artisan elves if they’re scuffed AF. It’s no coincidence that we talk about ‘looking polished’.
Likewise, just because you can wear your beaters to the office doesn’t mean that you should. Especially if you’re treading the already narrow tightrope of pairing sneakers with your suit.
Besides, even if your office is the skatepark, there’s still a degree of status attached to new kicks – or in this case, new-looking. A weekly clean – and supply of Crep Protect wipes (£6, jdsports.co.uk) in your bag – will make them think that you only wear box-fresh.