It's that time of the year when fashion industry starts contemplating forthcoming trends. There was a period when trends endured for a few seasons, but the advent of social media has accelerated the pace of the trend cycle. Yet, amid this rapid evolution, certain dressing styles unequivocally define an era or at least a year. These are usually the ones that reflect the cultural and social moods of the time.
The pandemic, for instance, solidified the status of co-ord sets as the new definition of cool. These coordinated outfits eliminated the need for conscious pairing.
At the peak of athleisure’s reign, and considering fashion’s cyclical nature, it was inevitable that a countertrend emerged: Power dressing, the antithesis of athleisure.
A glimpse at recent fashion shows in India and abroad shows how the trouser suit has taken centre stage for most designers, from Anthony Vaccarello’s Yves Saint Laurent to Shweta Kapur’s 431-88. Yet, this revival of power dressing isn’t merely a replication of the 1980s version—a decade synonymous with power dressing. In the 1980s, power dressing was a reaction to the hippie-chic vibe of the 1970s. Assertive suits, often with shoulder-padded jackets, paired with pencil skirts, bold colours and occasional embellishments, brought a dramatic contrast to the free-spirited, flowing silhouettes of the 70s. It was assertive and blended seamlessly with an era that celebrated all things hedonistic.
Celebrity wardrobe consultant and creative consultant Akshay Tyagi says: “Fashion is always cyclical, and we always find ourselves returning to the origin. Historically, tailoring is the core of all our sartorial explorations and what’s lovely is how it can take any form or shape we treat it.
“Co-ord dressing was a response to laziness during the pandemic and now that we have returned to a version of a new normal, we feel more confident. Hence, the focus is back on looking and feeling the way we need to—tailored, presentable and poised.”
Today’s power dressing exudes a softer essence and encompasses a broader spectrum of ensembles, allowing people to define power dressing on their terms. It speaks about how fashion in the 2000s is about breaking stereotypes and embracing individual style.
“Power dressing today allows women to make fashion choices that embrace identity, gender and personality without making an aggressive statement. The dress, the sari and the suit are all acceptable options. In the 80s, as more women entered the corporate world, power dressing exaggerated masculine fashion tropes as a way to establish authority in the workplace. Suiting with enormously wide shoulders largely masked the female form, as traditional gender roles were being challenged,” says David Abraham, creative director at Abraham & Thakore, a label renowned for its modern, urban aesthetics rooted in textile traditions.
Though many people have moved away from work at home regimes, the lines between office and out-of-office wear remain blurred—people want to go from boardroom to bar, from an executive meeting to a casual coffee with a friend. While people want clothes that have that “work feel”, they don’t want them to look out of place after work hours. Small wonder then a number of established brands are focusing on power dressing. “An A&T (Abraham & Thakore) power suit consists of separates that work together in harmony to create an ensemble that communicates efficiency. This could be an Ikat stripe suit, a jacket and trouser set in shot silks,” says Abraham.
According to Kapur of 431-88, a 10-year-old label that has always championed elevated essentials, “The foundation for suits still revolves around the concept of a ‘co-ord set.’ However, it opens opportunities to wear the pieces as strong individual separates. There’s a connotation associating suits with power, imparting a sense of strength to women wearing tailored suits.”
Her recent runway presentation had celebrity Malaika Arora as a showstopper, wearing a corset under a slouchy blazer paired with wide-legged trousers complete with turned-up hems. Kapur says, “Power dressing extends beyond wearing a suit. Embracing the softer side involves donning a crisp salwar kameez or a traditional sari. Personally, I relish entering meetings clad in a tailored salwar kameez. The tailored suits have also embraced more relaxed cuts. Our most popular suit features a peplum waist, injecting a flirty touch.”
The resurgence of Phoebe Philo, the former creative force behind Celine, seems to affirm that tailored dressing has secured a lasting place in fashion. Blazers and trousers dominated the initial release of her eponymous label, infused with an effortless, relaxed vibe achieved by blending sartorial elements with a slouchy demeanour.
Kapur observes, “It mirrors the evolving fashion ethos. People seek tailored attire but also desire a sense of drape and space. The new power dressing is more relaxed, reflecting the wearer’s state of mind. ‘Quiet luxury’ and ‘stealth wealth’, the prevailing fashion catchphrases of 2024, have tailored separates as core to their aesthetic.”
Abraham adds, “The increasing popularity of tailored styles perhaps reflects the need to look more in control and put together, a sort of return to essentials. The world we live in today is so much more uncertain... strife and war are on the rise, the climate is unpredictable.”
It seems 2024 will mark a resurgence towards a more tailored approach to dressing, reinstating a refined fashion narrative.
Dress Sense is a monthly column on the clothes we wear every day.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.