RRed lips, pink pumps with a neon green suit, flashy accessories: this is how young businesswomen present themselves today – and they are changing the image of femininity in business and politics. Generation Y – those born between the early 80s and late 90s – is shaping the new “power dress”. For a long time, the generation was considered quite reserved and almost invisible, but now it seems to have found its voice in fashion.
The models are founders such as Lea-Sophie Cramer (Amorelie), Franziska von Hardenberg (TheSissBliss) and Tijen Onaran (Global Digital Women), who demonstrate that visibility can be a guarantee of success and give self-confidence. This also means that women increasingly feel undercover in classic business attire.
The curiosity and desire for modern, consciously feminine “powerwear” has taken over many women, and I can see it in my everyday professional life. Something that for a long time was unthinkable, because in recent decades most women considered adaptation and the extreme desire to perform the basic prerequisite for professional success.
Today we need more personality – and showing personality visually sparks interest. Why not a yellow jumpsuit or a leather skirt instead of black dress pants and a white blouse? The women’s empowerment movement, which is particularly visible on social media, is helping to loosen the dos and don’ts of choosing clothes.
Of course, there have always been women in the past who attracted attention because of their clothes. Women in showbiz set new standards with their looks from the 90s to the 2000s: Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker and Oprah Winfrey showed how their own bold style can make people more interesting.
In business and politics, however, this was seen as dubious. In recent decades, if you got a seat at the table as a woman, you had to adapt visually and not stand out. But Millennials had to realize for a long time that the visual game of hide-and-seek with classic business fashion didn’t necessarily get women to the tables where they wanted to sit.
American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also a pioneer in the new business fashion. In 2018, she appeared with perfectly designed eyeliner, bright red lips and a casual business look suited to street style, consisting of jeans, shirt and blazer. We were not used to such a casual and elegant style from American politicians. Their message seemed clear and needed to be taken seriously. She arrived in Congress in no time – as the youngest member to date – and particularly inspired young voters. Her style and manner brought a breath of fresh air to the somewhat dusty politics.
But there were also models in Europe who shook the image. Sanna Marin, the former Finnish prime minister, is one of them. She preferred to wear ultra-feminine black and white clothing. She paired a sleek white blazer with a plunging V-neck and bold red lips. Gone are the days when it was considered dubious to wear red lipstick at work. In fact, as Marin’s example shows, some women have made exactly this their trademark. And they didn’t lose their knowledge as a result. They show how you can make a strong impact with your personal style. This can serve as inspiration, especially for introverted people who don’t like to attract attention.
Entrepreneur Tijen Onaran, also a member of the television program “Höhle der Löwen”, shows how successful businesswomen can be today: colorful. She is of the opinion: “Only those who are visible will have a place!” However, this only works if the look also suits the personality.
Extroverted women like Onaran have a clear advantage: they are not afraid to accept an award in a blue suit with orange shoes. And color combinations made up of two complementary colors are the strongest form of color combination. Because they support each other in their effectiveness. Furthermore, they also promote self-confidence in a certain way, as using them requires courage and a desire to defend yourself and stand out. Users of such a strong appearance are also assumed to have a strong personality. These looks today radiate confidence and, therefore, competence.
An example from my practice shows how public perception has already changed: I recently advised a client who works in the start-up scene and makes frequent public appearances. She increasingly realized how uncomfortable she felt in classic work clothes. Especially because she knows that modern and expressive looks are now almost a requirement in cool business circles. But even in conservative industries or business casual, women’s style is becoming increasingly colorful and feminine.
However, professions that are still dominated by men represent a major challenge. For example, an architect told me: “If I dress too feminine on a construction site, no one takes me seriously anymore.” That’s why she bases her wardrobe on her male counterparts. This is understandable. And yet, even in this case, small changes are possible that have a big impact. For example, through color details that are used in a reduced but conscious way: it could be a red blouse combined with jeans or colored culottes with a black turtleneck sweater.
The visual diversity that comes with changing dress codes creates a refreshing and exciting atmosphere that one could only wish for – for all industries.
About the author: Dunja Heß, founder of the style consultancy platform Mindful Style, has worked as a certified stylist for 15 years and primarily advises women in leadership positions who want to present themselves more confidently and effectively in their jobs. She combines style advice with coaching elements.