Power Pieces in the New Normal
Four stylish businesswomen share their current closet staples
In the 1920s, Coco Chanel popularized tweed co-ords that were just the right mix of masculine and feminine––tight skirts and tailored jackets, chunky hardware and soft details. By the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent introduced an updated vision of power and elegance through the Le Smoking tuxedo suit. Fast forward to the 1990s: we witnessed Samantha Jones and Miranda Hobbes parade through Manhattan in oversized blazers with shoulder pads, pencil skirts, and pinstriped pants.
All of this to say that the notion of “power dressing” tends to change and evolve with the times. We at Wonder decided to consult four stylish business owners to see what empowering fashion means to them in 2020––a tumultuous time where most of us are stuck in our own homes with no one to dress for but ourselves.
On work-from-home uniforms: I wouldn’t say I have a uniform but I do rotate certain pieces like cropped tops, linen pieces and light-colored clothing. During the quarantine, I’ve cut some jeans into shorts, flipped sandos into cropped tops that are now WFH essentials. Altering existing pieces is one of the easiest ways to update your wardrobe! I don’t usually wear makeup at home, but I’ll always put on sunscreen! When I do put on makeup, it’s usually concealer, blush and bronzer. When I’m feeling extra, I’ll throw in a fun, colored eyeliner, highlighter and some lip gloss.
On current favorites: I feel like my closet is more casual, and I’ve incorporated more light colors into my wardrobe. Light-colored clothing also tends to make your complexion brighter on zoom calls and just makes for a more presko day at home! I don’t accessorize as much, but scrunchies have been a go-to. The Luma by Rima scrunchies are oversized, so they’re super cute. A good bralette is an essential for me. They’re great for work-from-home because they’re comfortable but still with some coverage and subtle support. My Eairth x The Fore bralette is a new fave. Whenever I leave my house for errands, I always prefer wearing jeans. It just makes leaving the house feel more “official.” My Leon Denim Work Pants are my favorite.
On finding plus size power pieces: I was always limited by my choices in clothing because of my body. As a size 8-12 (it varies in almost every store), shopping in malls isn’t easy and some online stores’ L or XL pieces barely fit. Shopping in thrift stores is therapeutic for me. You get a better understanding of what you like, versus the trendy pieces presented to you in retail stores or online. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, so I would go with a list of pieces I want to find, like an A-line skirt or a sheer tunic. More often than not, things don’t turn out as planned but I always go home with something exciting and unexpected. For plus-size gals, other than shopping in ukay, I recommend checking out the menswear section. Their pants––everything from trousers to denim––have a relaxed fit, which I prefer and tend to last longer.
Style tip: Sunglasses are always low effort, high impact. You don’t really need to think about how to wear them.
On wardrobe changes in 2020: I think power pieces have definitely changed. Bags are harder to carry because of all the disinfecting I have to do after going out. Leather isn’t keen on alcohol, so I have a specific process for cleaning them and that’s a hassle. Clothes nowadays are much more comfort-driven than body-hugging or two to three-piece power suits, so contour or shapewear is a thing of the past.
However, the only thing that hasn’t changed is my affinity for co-ordinates. I think more than ever, people don’t want to think about what to wear and having matching tops and bottoms make it easier to head out. Even PPEs are designed to be matching if they are separates.
I do see that there will be a trend of having little knickknacks come back to hang on our belts or bags. For example, tiny alcohol bottles will be in keychain form to make it accessible for us to disinfect.
On figuring out your own style: Finding your style is very much about knowing yourself. [I’m not a fan of] people who consider “style” as getting the latest designer items and rolling out with that trend just to impress people. I’m not impressed by that and I believe I see right through people like that. I love it when I see a cohesive look, closet and personality through the things someone wears. I understand their intention behind choosing their pieces and that can never go out of style.
That said, style is really about knowing what you like and knowing how you want to express yourself through clothes. If you have the time to do a closet purge, I think it’s a great way not only to show self-care (and to make your parents happy because you finally cleaned your room) but also get to know yourself and realize how you have matured from the different styles you see in your closet. I think that makes a statement about your growth as a person in this world. Knowledge is POWER and knowing more about yourself and appreciating that change and growth is POWERFUL.
Style tip: I do like wearing matching PPEs or very interesting takes on PPEs. Rosbert Villar makes them with pearls and Kenshoppe has them in numerous colorways. Masks come in a wide variety too and so many local designers are making them their own. I think this is a new way to express your personality, too.
On her favorite power pieces, pre-pandemic: I don’t know if I had pieces like this per se, but I always feel powerful knowing I made a positive impact somewhere––that getting dressed is not just for my personal pleasure. In fashion, I see that as making a real contribution to a local brand’s success by supporting them with sales or taking the time to explain what I’m wearing to people who stop me to ask what I’m wearing. I feel like people say “it’s not about the brand, as long as you like it.” But now more than ever, I see that my money reflects my values, and I want that to translate to what I feel, say, wear, do.
On what she wears daily: I’ve worn orthopedic sandals for most of my life, being flat-footed and all. For the longest time, they were these horrid things that I wore in hiding, but when they came back in fashion in the age of normcore, I finally saw how ridiculous it was to dismiss something so extremely functional.
I wear orthopedic sandals all the time now, sometimes––gasp!––with socks, and it’s surprising how much they can anchor an outfit. A pair of shoes having the ability to say “this doesn’t matter so much”? That’s real power.
On investing in loungewear: I spent maybe entire months of quarantine in ratty shorts with barely an elastic band to hold them up, until one day I did the unthinkable and bought what I suppose can be defined best as Fancy Pambahay™. I’ve since been living in knits––I guess that’s contradictory to the weather, but I found some really great ones that are thermal-regulated. It’s never too hot, but also never too cold. I have them in a range of colors, varying slightly in cut or sizing. They’ve been perfect for a slightly dressed up look for calls, but they’re also not too ridiculous.
Style tip: It’s all about finding your clothes in places that aren’t exactly the breeding grounds of couture. Vintage is an obvious place to look, but I find that it’s not really feasible if you don’t have a smaller figure. The sizing is hard to figure out, the cuts are less contemporary, and reworking takes up time and money.
Growing up, a lot of my clothes were from “fluorescent light” department stores, local designers just starting out whom I’d meet with in random malls, clearance bins at outlets, the odd clothing aisle at S&R. I think I learned that way to look for details that make something different, to build something good out of nothing. Most of that stuff, I still have today, and they’ve outlast anything more dated from fast fashion brands.
On power pieces as keepsakes of sentimentality: The Pañuelo tube from my first Ma. collection is easily my favorite power piece. I feel good wearing it not only because the silhouette makes me feel confident (giving me strong yet graceful dalagang bukid armor vibes) but because of what the piece stands for in my life. I vividly remember looking at the pinned version of this top in the mirror and thinking to myself for the first time after starting the project “I can do this––this dream can actually become something.” It is the physical manifestation of years of research (as I wrote my college thesis on investigating the ethical use of indigenous textiles in the Philippines) and the true beginning of Ma.
My most treasured bag is a vintage mini crossbody Gucci bag my grandmother gave me a couple of years ago. She has a matching doctor bag version of it so it feels it’s like our grandmother-granddaughter relationship manifested in bag form. It is my everyday bag so I feel like she’s with me all the time!
On power dressing in 2020: I don’t think my relationship with those pieces have changed. I pull out one of my Ma. pieces every so often for a Zoom event or just to play dress up. My collection of Toqa masks definitely make me feel like I’m ready for everything, they allow me to look cute but stay safe––especially given everything that’s going on.
On living in loungewear: I definitely don’t prefer this perpetual loungewear situation. I just feel so much less productive in life because of it. I used to find so much joy picking outfits to wear for different events and sharing OOTDs with friends before heading out. But I guess the silverlining amidst this situation is rediscovering forgotten pieces in the depths of my closet. Carl Jan Cruz’s pambahay line really reinvigorated some semblance of excitement for dressing up. I throw on my Salungso immediately after it gets out of the wash and am constantly finding new ways to wear my Parihavas. Also, all of my mom’s Uniqlo AIRism tank tops have found a new home in my closet.
Style Tip: I think the most important thing I realized about finding my own distinct style is that it’s OK to disagree with your friends. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and wear what makes you feel good (even if they’re against it!). Only you can make that choice for yourself, no one else can make that choice for you.
What does power dressing mean in 2020? We now have a pretty great idea. If you, too, have power pieces that have carried you through 2020, let us know in the comments below!
Words Mags Ocampo
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver