x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Katie Trotter: On the problem of power dressing

When will what a working woman wears matter less than her accomplishments?

Think of power dressing and Dynasty's Joan Collins with her American footballer-sized shoulder pads. Or perhaps Britain's favourite matron - the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher - in one of her drab boxy suits.

To stand out in the workplace in the Seventies and Eighties, women tended to adopt a certain kind of armour, a way in which we could literally grow in size - to stand tall and to stand out. Shoulders were widened by padding and the waist was all but eradicated, leaving us dressed in an outfit that looked like it belonged to someone else.

Which, of course, was all done intentionally to defeminise the entire female form.

While these images may be shaken off as nothing more than amusing memories, if we truly examine the socio- cultural principles of women's dress we discover that such an attitude is, unfortunately, still prevalent.

Should a woman in power be subjected to scrutiny for her appearance? Absolutely not. Powerful women existed well before the shoulder pad. But ultimately this is where we are still at. While there is no doubt that clothes talk, - and that, intentionally or not, fashion is a physical projection of status - it seems whatever choice we make to succeed remains an unhealthy obsession of the media.

At one end of the spectrum we have the function-over-form dressers, the sort of woman who would buckle Boudicca, win an arm wrestle and wear only one type of shoe - one that fits well and is flat. Suits are too big and too wide - basically nothing that would threaten to constrict if a punch were thrown. The woman who wears this style is often portrayed as humourless, fearsome, sexless, brusque and always - for want of a better word - a "force" to be reckoned with.

Then there are those on the fence (and for me the worst) holding on for dear life to a middle-management type, navy knee-length suit, preferring to say nothing at all rather than to make a mistake. Such women at a push - perhaps on a daring occasion - might offer up a patterned scarf, a pair of "unmatching" heels or a "fun" bag.

Which leaves us with the "glamo" leader, who chooses to ignore all form and formula and tends to resemble a Park Avenue mum who performs night raids on her teenage daughters' wardrobe. And of course the punters love it. "Frivolous, fluffy, empty-headed and clueless!" they cry.

Which isn't entirely fair. In fact none of this is. That is where the problem lies, and until the hungry hounds of fashion take a moment to stop and listen to what a female leader actually says rather than what her choice of shoe is, we shall remain stuck.

Which seems rather a shame after all the hard work.



This week's highs and lows

HEADDRESS HEAVEN Forget the fascinator. It's all about headdresses now, as seen in Beyonce's new video, "Run the World (Girls)".

SCENTED PENS Michael Kors’s offerings are about as pointless as miniature poodles.

SEVERE PONYTAILS As seen at Louis Vuitton. If nothing else, it’s a less expensive face lift. No?

WILL AND KATE All right, so they got married. She looked ravishing. It was great. We need a break.

MISS GORIGHTLY Taking inspiration from Breakfast at Tiffany's, Celine's new "Audrey" sunglasses are the only shades for the summer.