Gender Equality & Power Dressing: Can One Exist Without the Other?

What does the return of power dressing say about gender equality? Are women still fighting the same battles fought three decades ago, or is it simply a nostalgic trend?


“Our human nature is always looking back in order to move forward,” Natasha Zinko says. The London-based designer’s latest collection definitely mirrors this belief, throwing it back 30 years to days when Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and films like Working Girl best described women’s goals and struggles. Have times changed? A look at the FW18 runways suggest not.

With accentuated shoulders, go-go boots, angular tailoring, and poppy pinks complemented by sincere grays, Zinko’s collection was indeed referential, if not nostalgic for 80s power dressing.

As women solidified their place in the workforce in the 1980s, a style of dress formed to enforce their empowered stance. And this style is exactly what Zinko brought into her FW18 collection. The formidable trend displayed the fact that women were a force to be reckoned with, that they belonged in the workplace just as any man did.

Power Dressing

Scene from “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” 1991.

Nowadays, we gawk at the gaudy shoulder pads women wore in the 80s, regard them as a tacky mistake of a decade past. But the reality is that the dominant shoulders that defined 1980s power dressing was an artful and purposeful move. They conveyed authority, using fashion to liken women to their broad-shouldered counterparts in attempt to sartorially even out the playing field.  

Zinko is not alone in her reflection on 1980s style in contemporary collectionsthe dominant shoulder trend has been slowly making its comeback for a few years, as evident in designs with attention-grabbing shoulders by both Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana in Fall 2016, then coming more into the puffy, somewhat-tailored shoulder look the following season by designers from Kenzo to Marques’Almeida.

And ultimately, the emphasized shoulders have blossomed into the full-fledged power dressing trend. Alongside Zinko, Marc Jacobs, Jonathan Simkhai, Balenciaga, and others are seeking to empower women through designs inspired by 80s power dressing.

Power Dressing

Natasha Zinko Fall/Winter 2018

“With all the recent events in the news, especially regarding women and our continual journey to educate and to improve and celebrate women everywhere, it is only natural that we are all influenced [by 80s styles],” Zinko tells COOLS. “It was one of the most important decades for women, fashion, technology and social awareness.”The success of the power dressing movement lies within its feminine twists on traditionally masculine styles. Men’s tailoring was brought into womenswear, but rendered in different colorways from the typical grays and blacks in menswear. The larger shoulders were contrasted with cinched waists, reflecting women’s mission to have it all: success in the workplace and their femininity.

When trends resurge, it’s rarely for the simple reason that we’re suddenly attracted to the styles again; there is usually a more profound reasoning behind it, whether we realize it or not. As power dressing originally emerged out of women’s need to secure their equality, its revival represents a similar urgency in contemporary times. We’ve come far from the 80s, but not far enough. Women have long since solidified their right to be in the professional workforce, accounting for 51% of the projected increase in the labor force, yet are still fighting for equality in other matters from equal pay to ending sexual harassment.

In an age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, we need the resurrection of power dressing. While fashion won’t solve society’s problems, it is a means to empower and unite those working for the same cause. The first time around, power dressing served as a way for women to illustrate themselves with styles that represented their inner wants. Maybe this time it can help accomplish the same goals.

As Zinko says, “For me, power dressing is about an attitude, and that attitude is defined by shoulders and cinched waists with a colourful soupcon of femininity.”


No more articles