Dress the Part: Using Fashion to Amplify Your Message

Have we finally entered the era of “ask her more?” Beginning on the red carpet nearly a decade ago, the #AskHerMore encouraged reporters to ask women in the entertainment industry more than just the name of the designer they were wearing. The movement sought to recognize women for their career accomplishments and artistic contributions. As the question gained traction on the red carpet and notoriety from prominent celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, and Lena Dunham sharing the idea, #AskHerMore spread to athletics and politics. Many women have found a way to reclaim the narrative by choosing garments that answer the questions they may not get askedliterally wearing their thoughts on their sleeves as they dress the part.

dress the part #askhermore - reese witherspoon on red carpet at academy awards oscars 2015
Actress Reese Witherspoon on the red carpet at the 87th Annual Academy Awards, Hollywood & Highland Center, February 22, 2015, Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Power Dressing

Who was Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wearing as she addressed the nation on November 7th? Chances are, you can’t name the designer. The articles that followed her acceptance speech explained the historical significance of the color white. White is the color most strongly associated with the suffragettes as they chose it to represent purity. Shirley Chisholm chose the color as the first African American woman elected to Congress. Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro both embraced white to dress the part when accepting nominations.

women empowering women President-Elect Joe Biden And Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Address The Nation After Election Win
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris takes the stage before President-elect Biden addresses the nation from the Chase Center November 07, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Of course, the pantsuit itself is an obvious tool for signaling confidence, despite its tendency to open one up for criticism. Those with a more attuned eye would have noticed Harris’ pussy-bow blouse as well; Margaret Thatcher’s signature look, which has taken on even more symbolism under the current administration. Harris’ look as well as her speech, paid tribute to women around the world and across the political spectrum. Women who have paved the way, who have fought for more, and who have made dreams possible for all women.

Amplifying Your Message with Fashion

The chatter isn’t about how Harris looked, it’s about what her look said what aspects of her speech it underscored, and what messages it added.  It seems, optimistically, that we may finally be rounding a corner to a time when a woman’s abilities, experience, and character take precedence over her appearance. Fashion may be less of a minefield in which we have to keep up with trends while simultaneously dressing appropriately for our body type and every possible setting and activity. It is an opportunity for women to send a message to a world still dominated by male voices. 

Fashion Messaging in a Virtual World 

In an age of remote work and social distancing, few of us have a stage to strut our values across. Our podium is, at best, a dual-screen, but most likely a laptop in whatever corner happens to be momentarily quiet. Yet, even as our sweats permanently replace our pencil skirts, the new professional attire is still a chance to share our values and dress the part.

The traditional power look anchored by pants suits and heels may still offer the same feeling of confidence but won’t stand out on a Zoom call. There’s plenty of other ways to play up a look. Solid colors work best on screen, but as we’ve seen can send a strong message. Statement jewelry does what the name implies and reads well on screen. While picking out bold necklaces or earrings, perhaps we could all take a lesson from Madeleine Albright’s brooch collection.

Currently, our wardrobe is not our only means of sending a message aesthetically. In the age of remote work and video calls, our home makes a louder statement than our shoes. We now have the freedom to set our stage, deliberately crafting our background with well-placed furniture and artwork to extend the persona and message we hope to share. Traditionally, our homes are meant to embody and remind us of the moods and ideas we aspire to, but we can craft our workspace to share our values.

dress the part - beautiful woman working from home - Photo by christiann koepke unsplash
Dress the part! (Photo by Christiann Koepke | Unsplash)

Wrapping It Up

Regardless of what you use to build your image, it’s about taking ownership of it. The look, whether it be statement jewelry or a strategically placed bookcase, is yours to control. What you create is an opportunity to extend the message you want to share. To dismiss fashion as trivial is to miss the opportunity it presents as a form of creative expression and communication.

Feature Image: Balmain, Pussy-bow silk shirt

About the Author:

Emma Voigt combines her expertise in Conflict Resolution with her creative passions by exploring the power of fashion in various contexts.  She currently works as a consultant supporting communications and change management efforts. She holds a degree in Social Science with a specialization in Conflict Resolution from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.  Voigt has led fashion based efforts with women from around the world and is always learning about how the challenge of dressing provides us all an opportunity for expression.

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