Power(ful) Suits

Jojo ClarkEach September, I blindly wander around a commercialized mecca to locate the perfect career day outfit.

My intimidation is great. I outsource all fashion choices to a most trusted advisor–my mother. Together, we struggle to craft an image that will project professionalism, confidence, and a flare of eccentricity simultaneously.

Each year I dream of a finding crisp suit that projects sartorial power, without sacrificing femininity or personal esthetic. While proper business attire for women is still confusing, my plethora of choices is indicative of a privileged freedom, one for which my ancestors vehemently fought.

The history of the female suit is rich with inspiring narratives that highlight the perseverant female spirit.

The female suit finds its origins in the feminist movement. The “suffragette suit” helped the 1910 woman navigate her more active lifestyle, with an ankle length skirt that allowed for greater strides. The skirt was paired with a jacket and blouse, and thus the female pantsuit was born. This was in stark contrast to the tightly hemmed skirts of the previous generation, which literally restricted forward momentum for women.

With the 40s came the zoot suits, and  the female equivalent known as the pachuca. These suits projected sheer edginess and toughness, rebelling against the archetypal female role as a mother and nurturer.

Thus, clothing became a tangible embodiment of the evolving feminist movement. Women began adorning their suits with bowties in the 60s, mirroring men’s fashion and challenging gender dynamics.

The 80s transformed the female suit, as the boxiness of shoulder pads confused traditional gender norms, and professional women were able to project seriousness through their new attire. The dawn of the Internet saw a relaxation of power suits, as jeans have slowly and steadily become more acceptable in the office atmosphere.

No longer is it essential for women to fit into male molds to be taken seriously. My career fair options range from pant suits, to skirts, to dresses. I feel thankful for the wide array of options I have.

Masculinity and professionalism have not been completely delinked, however.

I still hesitate to wear my hair down during interviews, and shy away from bold lipstick colors. I worry that stark displays of femininity undermine my professionalism.  While I do not have to wear a pantsuit to prove my authority anymore, it does instill a confidence in me.

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