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noun/power dressing: a fashion style that enables women to establish their authority in a professional and political environment traditionally dominated by men.

From the pussy bows and perms of the 1980 film 9 to 5 to the power suits and, well, perms of 1988’s Working Girl, Hollywood’s depiction of women’s corporate wear during that particular decade is there to serve as a lesson to us all.

But such is the cyclical nature of fashion that 80s and 90s office wear actually provided the inspiration for some of the latest catwalk looks from big-name designers, including Céline, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton.

Power dressing took a few decades to evolve for women at work. In the late 70s we were still relatively novel in the office and so women dressed to fit in to a man’s world: dark suits, neck-ties, low heels. By the early 1990s Donna Karan led a movement towards a softer and more practical work wardrobe, acknowledging the corporate woman’s inevitable multi-tasking lifestyle.

Still in the 90s though, masculinity, or at least androgyny, returned via Helmut Lang and Jil Sander and the minimalist look was huge, moving aside eventually as many women took advantage of the ‘grey area’ that evolved through the Noughties and beyond. The grey area? That the corporate world requires men to wear suits and ties but that women can (excuse the pun) skirt around that sartorial rule. Nowadays dressing for the office can be a bit of a free-for-all for the females (depending on the industry), which is as apt an outcome as we of the post-feminist generation could hope for, no? If you’re a female entrepreneur of the dot com era you can get away with ripped jeans.

That said, plenty of research suggests our success at work is indirectly related to our ability or willingness to dress the part.

Here, Shop You’s personal stylist runs us through a few workwear essentials, from the investment blazer to the ‘casual Friday’ must-have.

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