In sixth form, school tried to gradually prepare us for university, measures included segregating the final year into one house (day girls and boarders) and allowing us to wear home clothes-within rules, it was a single sex boarding school after all! This was hugely symbolic for me. Through the years, I raged at how we were treated as a flock of sheep, repetitive examples of the female species. No one was allowed to slip out of the mould but clothes allowed me to crack the mould.
I love that I do not have a style. Whilst at school, Monday could have been 60s inspired, Tuesday couture, Wednesday Jane Fonda, Thursday my mum’s maternity knitwear, Friday shoulder padded jackets my mum used to wear to work, it all depended on my mood and the weather. My wardrobe acted as a means of armour against those teacher-beings who tried to tell me I could not do something. After one parent-teacher meeting Mum retold how my chic French teacher had spent most of their talk expressing her delight in waiting to see what I was wearing each day in A-Level French class. Another day, I was delighted to hear one of my friends say an incredibly influential teacher called me a ‘power dresser’.
The term ‘power dressing’ is inseverable from those career-defying women of the 80s office who rampaged the previously impenetrable fortresses of boardrooms with their padded shoulders and voluminous, bouncing perms. Power dressing though can not be practiced through putting on a single garment. Examples of fecund strength and power from antiquity to today, as well as what they wear is the subject discussed at the Design Museum‘s current exhibition ‘Women Fashion Power’. The compact display’s offers of photographic, cinematic and garment exhibits of iconic women’s adornment span from seemingly impossible shapes of corsets to the bin bag couture gown designed by Gareth Pugh for Lady Gaga. Of course there was an appearance of garments from illustrious and coveted fashion houses such Chanel’s two piece tweed suit and ‘Le Smoking’ jacket from YSL which allowed women to wear what was previously considered menswear. Undoubtedly these are poignant inventions which liberated women physically and meant they could achieve that which few had dreamed of.
My eyes were attracted to a simple scarlet tunic owned by Miriam González Durante, partner of international legal practice Dechert and the wife of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Party Leader and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The text below the sewn cloth described how it had been worn at pivotal international financial meetings. The provenance of the garment? Zara, and it had cost £20. Then there is the kaleidoscopic dress sense of Camila Batmanghelidgh which is as impassioned and intense as her work. Batmanghelidgh founded the charity Kids Company which provides a safe, caring, family environment tailored individually to each inner-city child that steps across its threshold. It really surprised me that her complex outfit was designed by Batmanghelidgh and her designer friend from the shreds of cloth given to her by some of the children she has worked with.
What strikes me is that no bank load of money is needed to be power incarnate, rather, your clothes become power because of you and your actions.