A new exhibition charts the way women have used fashion to enhance their role in society. Sonya Barber and Liz Darke learn how it’s done (photos by Jean Goldsmith)
The Design Museum’s new show looks at the dressing habits of princesses, models, CEOs, dames and designers, and how their wardrobes have both reflected and affected the cultures in which they live. Strangely, it doesn’t feature any Time Out staff. But power dressing doesn’t need to mean Maggie Thatcher style, as we discovered when we headed to Browns Fashion, the pioneering boutique set up by Joan Burnstein, one of the snappy dressers featured in the Design Museum show, to get a powerful makeover.
SONYA BARBER, Blog editor
USUAL STYLE: Executive goth: a Scandinavian gallery curator who still listens to The Sisters Of Mercy
THE MAKEOVER: In my mind, power dressing means a shoulderpad-tastic ’80s suit and violent blusher. But instead of dressing me like Melanie Griffith in ‘Working Girl’ (which I was secretly hoping for), the stylists aim to make me comfortable. So I end up in a swanky version of what I’d normally wear – high waisted trousers, nice shirt, ankle boots and a soft leather jacket that costs more than my flat. They say they’re going for a ‘rock’ look, but thankfully it’s less Camden Market, and more ChrissieHynde spunks a load of cash on designer clobber’.
THE VERDICT: Having people run around picking out clothes for you instantly makes you feel like a badass. And once I am dressed up, I do feel like boss. Only the trousers are so tight I can’t bend my legs so someone has to put my shoes on for me. But that’s what being a powerful woman means, right?
THE LESSONS: It’s no shocker that wearing expensive clothes makes you feel like a million dollars. And the sad stereotypes still ring true – tall heels, tight clothes and designer labels inspire confidence and the belief that you should get an instant pay rise. Until I get it though, I’ll have to cobble together my ‘executive realness’ look on the high street.
LIZ DARKE, Senior digital producer
USUAL STYLE: Dawn French meets Billy Ray Cyrus: big sacks and denim. It does a good job of hiding my stomach after a packet of Hobnobs. I do try and ‘class’ things up by shopping at Cos and Whistles, but I still get mistaken for a teenager who’s layered up her mum’s clothes in the hope of being served Lambrini in Tesco. It’s not a look that screams ‘I own Google, dontchaknow!’
THE MAKEOVER: After relieving me of my faded Topshop jeans and oversized marl jumper, the stylists present me with a metallic pencil skirt and some fuchsia stilettos. Expecting to resemble a head teacher at the Christmas disco, I am surprised by how chic the outfit looks. I’ve been reacquainted with my waist, and been styled in a way that’s somehow classic and modern at the same time.
THE VERDICT: Do I feel more powerful? Hell, yes! Heels, especially pointy ones, are an instant fix. I’m taller, I feel more elegant and, quite frankly, my legs look cracking. Who could say no?
THE LESSONS: It’s less about clothes, more about confidence. A bit of tailoring and some added height definitely go a long way – but wear items you love and don’t be afraid to be bold. Nothing says, ‘I’m fabulous, now do what I say’ like neon pink shoes.
‘Women Fashion Power’ opens tomorrow Oct 29 at the Design Museum until Apr 26 2015.