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    Women dare to dress differently; can the same be said for men?

    The wardrobe of a leader – male or female – may seem an arbitrary point of reference when all things are considered but, while you may not consciously register an outfit, your sub-conscious is noting it down for you. We collect information beyond our cognisance that helps inform our opinions of individuals, especially those in the public eye. For this reason, it’s important to note (whether we like to admit this fact or not) that a leader’s wardrobe is crucial.

    It’s almost a given in our modern-day society that men and women in similar positions, whether that be as leaders of industry or political leaders, dress differently. They don’t have to but, for the most part, they do. It’s the age-old debate: nature vs nurture. Part of the argument is entrenched in gender stereotypes and the other is biological. A women’s tailored suit will be cut differently to a man’s tailored suit to accommodate for hips, a waist and breasts. She might be a female congresswoman in a house full of male representatives, but that doesn’t mean she has to dress like one! She should feel free to honour her gender, if for no other reason than to highlight her rarity in a male-dominated environment.  


    Alan Sugar, British Business Magnate (80s)
    Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa (1990s)
    Koh Dong-jin, the former CEO of Samsung (2000s)
    Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon (2020)

    This evolution in suit-wearing is not restricted to women’s clothing alone, meaning there has also been a turnaround in male power-dressing. Whilst powerful businessmen traditionally opted for classic monochrome suits, recent technological entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of the changing world have sometimes chosen to dress in more casual clothes. This seems to twist the power dynamic of suit-wearing on its head, but what it truly demonstrates is that wearing clothes that make you feel at ease and at the top of your game is really where being a powerful businessperson is rooted. The modern world and its business clothes offers more and more room for personal expression, something that powerful and successful women across the globe have really taken in their stride.  

    Mark Zuckerber, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook
    Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX
    Steve Jobs, the former Chief Executive Officer of Apple

    While the cut and fit of women’s clothes will differ, choices in colours, textures and prints do not and yet, time and time again, women are picking more interesting choices than their male counterparts. Only occasionally are we graced with a flash of bright coral at a political rally or a bold print at a board meeting, even a tweed number at a presidential address or demure silk for a charity dinner.

    Amal Clooney, a Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers
    Indra NooyiIndra Nooyi, a former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo
    Dian Siswarini, President Director and CEO of XL Axiata
    Sheryl Sanders, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook

    Rania Al-Abdullah, Queen of Jordan, has been praised for her impeccable style on numerous occasions. She has bravely honoured her homeland with bold prints woven into the capes of tailored dresses, whilst on another occasion favouring a leather jacket over a blazer on occasion. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who, despite clearly investing less time into clothes, still partakes in colour blocking to a point. Men, it seems, are confined to the traditionally sober suit and tie combination, while women are making the rules as they go.

    Rania Al-Abdullah, Queen of Jordan
    Rania Al-Abdullah, Queen of Jordan
    Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
    Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

    Unfortunately, this emphasis on a woman’s style over her substance when in a position of leadership can be restricting. Women in power are judged in much harsher terms on their outfit choices than men in similar positions – this is a fact. It implies that women in some way must make up for their ‘poor’ performance with impeccable outfits; that they must be nice to look at or people won’t listen to what they have to say; that a poorly executed trouser suit in some way relinquishes all command over a room. But is placing importance on a woman’s clothes always detrimental to her power? 

    Yes, in many ways you could argue that it is detrimental; you could also argue, however, that dressing in a sharp or bold manner gives you the floor before you’ve even asked for it. That’s where power dressing comes into play.

    What was once a prerequisite for the art of assimilation into a late 70s, male-dominated environment has now become a style in its own right. With an origin founded upon mimicking the man, the basis of it now is approaching your outfit choice with a focus on how you wish others to treat you – regardless of whether that means choosing a figure-hugging dress or an androgynous suit.

    Angela Merkel, for instance, is not a pencil skirt advocate, favouring the boxy, pantsuit look. She certainly hasn’t been lauded for her style, but she has a distinct look that, as mentioned previously, you subconsciously associate with her. Her perseverance in ignoring criticism over her style is a power all on its own. Her bright cardigan style blazer over a neutral straight leg pant is now her signature style. 

    The fundamentals of dressing as a man in power boil down to very little: the suit and tie. If we examine three male leaders – Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, and Boris Johnson, for example – we see extraordinarily few variations. Commonalities lie in suit colour (always navy or black) and in shirt colour (always bright white). The only liberty they might take is a bright or patterned tie. Tump’s signature, for instance, is his navy suit and red tie, with a striped number making an occasional appearance.

    Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
    Donald Trump, 45th U.S. President
    Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK

    The main variable that affects our subconscious image of a male leader is how he pulls a suit off. If we analyse Johnson and Trudeau’s approach to dressing, there is a distinct contrast in their presentation. Trudeau’s attention to styling is far slicker than Johnson’s – and Trump’s for that matter – with Johnson’s execution of the humble suit shabby, and Trump’s outdated.

    Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
    Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Congress Representative
    Christine Lagarde, President of European Central Bank
    Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
    Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson of Bank of India
    Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom and Park Geun-hye, former President of South Korea
    Michele Obama, former First Lady of the United States

    It’s a relatively easy task to decipher the stark differences between male and female leaders’ dressing style, but what’s more difficult is decoding why these differences exist. Are women in leadership roles dressing in such contrast to men simply to be heard, or is it an extension of their emotional intelligence – the recognition that the way you dress informs public opinion massively? One thing we can be sure of is the constant evolution of our female leaders’ style alongside the continuation of the traditional suit.

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