Power dressing, the wearing of expensive business clothing to indicate status, became fashionable among working men and women in the United States and Great Britain during the 1980s. At a time when jobs were plentiful and businesses were thriving, power dressing enabled people to convey an image of success. The centerpiece of a power dresser's wardrobe was a tailored business suit, or power suit. In addition, power dressing included expensive accessories: cellular phones, electronic date books, laptop computers, and luxury sports cars made by BMW, Jaguar, or Porsche. The goal of power dressing was to look like an executive whether you were or not.
For more than fifty years, the gray flannel suit had been a popular style for working men. But power suits were different. Power suits gave the wearer a look of authority and style that had previously been affordable to only the rich. Italian designer Giorgio Armani (1934–) created the most popular brand of power suit. Armani's custom suits were beyond the budgets of regular working men, but the demand for power suits encouraged Armani to introduce less expensive lines of ready-to-wear suits. These suits became a symbol of business success for fashionable white-collar working men.
Power dressing for women made even more of an impact. Before the 1970s most working women were confined to such traditional female occupations as secretaries, bookkeepers, and typists. By the 1980s, however, women were becoming lawyers, politicians, and corporate executives. To complement their new authority, women power-dressed. Such attire communicated the impression of confidence and authority. Power dressing enabled women to be taken seriously in a male-dominated corporate workplace.
Like men, women sought designer label clothing for their business wardrobe. Designers such as Karl Lagerfeld (1938–) and Valentino (1932–) offered fashionable business ensembles of jackets with large shoulder pads and straight skirts to be worn with color-coordinated shoes and handbags. Women softened their look by wearing blouses in muted colors under their suit jacket or blazer or accessorizing their outfit with an ornately designed scarf or pin.
Other than designers, power-dressing styles were influenced by celebrities and television shows. England's prime minister Margaret Thatcher (1925–) popularized tailored evening suits; Diana, princess of Wales (1961–1997), popularized hats, which usually were worn after work; and stars of nighttime soap operas of the 1980s such as Dallas (1978–91) and Dynasty (1981–89) popularized padded shoulders and costume jewelry.