Synonymous with 80s working girls, House of Cards costume designer shares her thoughts on the future of power dressing.
What does power dressing look like to you? Extreme two-pieces and even more extreme hairdos? This packaged image has served a very real, and important purpose over the years. Look back to Giorgio Armani’s 80s armour; dazzling trouser suits, XL shoulder pads and pin stripe galore. Damn they look good. This was a pivotal moment when women were demanding, quite rightly, MORE: CEO titles, better pay, equal rights with men.
These new silhouettes during this decade offered up a portal into a ‘man’s world’; reflected in their wardrobe, women were able to establish their authority in both a professional and political environment traditionally dominated by men. Fast-forward to 2018, this image has changed shape somewhat. Rightly so. As someone who would happily spend a good chunk of my monthly pay cheque on a good pant-suit, power dressing is too much of an emotional experience to reduce simply to one ensemble. My icons of style? Stevie Nicks for louche 70s offerings, Pat Cleveland for Studio 54 glamour and Annie Hall for ‘man pants’ and oversized everything. Sure, very different in style but equally authoritative in execution. With that in mind, I caught up House of Cards costume designer, Kemal Harris, to talk about designing a wardrobe for the female president on screen [Robin Wright’s character, Claire Underwood] and her thoughts on the future of power dressing.
It’s all about confidence
“I actually want to use a new term for ‘power dressing.’ Over the years I’ve been interviewed and asked about all the female leaders of the world and the Hillary’s [Clinton] of the world. And ‘what do I think about her wardrobe?’ And no-one’s ever said, “what do you think about Trump’s wardrobe or any other male world leader. It’s a double standard that we dissect female politicians background and what she’s wearing, but you don’t ever do that with the guy. It’s a double standard. When it comes to power dressing it’s the same thing. Does it mean that you feel strong enough to stand in the room with the boys, is that what we’re saying? At the end of the day it’s really about finding confidence in what you really feel your best in and ready to face the world in.”
Dress for the job you want
“Maybe that’s more what power dressing is. To be ready for the job that you really want. You never see Claire in sweatpants and flip flops. She’s always prepared. Her outer image is so controlled and no-one sees her but a potential future president. They look at her and say, ‘yes, you could be a world leader.’”
Pick a poster girl from different eras
“My inspirations change from each season. The one thing that never changes is Claire’s overall aesthetic, very tailored, very refined and she does use her wardrobe as part of her overall brand [and] image. I think she uses her wardrobe to disarm and manipulate in the sense that you can see the female form but you never see too much skin [or] cleavage. There’s an energy that comes from her.
For season one and two she was working for a non-profit so she’s mostly wearing white button-down shirts and pencil skirts. When I joined we really amped up the fashion, play with the colour a little bit. The mood board in season three was more glamorous, looking to 1940s Hollywood starlets like Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn and then in season four it’s very emotional for her. She reconnects with her mother whose dying, she spends a lot of time at the family ranch so there was a lot of Ralph Lauren riding boots and tweed, the palette was more neutral. Season five, she’s getting a taste of presidency and I started to bring in some militaristic, gold-button detail on some custom-pieces that I made. Which takes us to season six, where she is the President – [the fashion is] quite utilitarian. I kept looking at women who were in the Navy in World War || – the uniforms were really crisp, everything wad belted with a brass buckle. The hair was very controlled.”
Don’t be a slave to trends, find a look that works for you
“Nothing on the runway was speaking to me and since. I was just like, ‘that’s not going to work.’ I custom-make 80% of the wardrobe because we just weren’t finding those details. The other thing is the colour-palette, a lot of Presidential blues and some military greens and black. There’s a great pin-stripe as well.”
Re-think your “power palette”
“If you look at women during the suffragette movement they wore white. You don’t usually think walking into a boardroom meeting wearing white is necessarily a ‘power’ colour but it’s definitely noticeable, it catches your eye. It all really depends on your intention and setting.”
A tailor-made suit never goes amiss
“For women, finding your perfect suit is about the fit in the arms and across the chest. It’s very hard to buy clothes off the rack. Men have it right when they go to get their custom suits made, it’s going to be your best investment. It’s going to be be your best investment [and] fit you in all the right places. Finding your local tailor who can help you – in New York there seems to be a dry cleaners on every corner with an amazing tailor at the back who works magic at a low price. Even if you’re buying a suit from Banana Republic you can have it tailored to you and you’ll feel like a million dollars.”
House of Cards season 6 launches on Netflix 2nd November
8 November 2018