The “power suit” is a term that’s often used, little understood, and arguably dated when it comes to suit styles. Often associated with Wall Street bankers, shrewd lawyers or brash businessmen, it’s a catch-all often employed when suggesting a confident look.
Sometimes it refers to a particular style that commands respect and other times it may not be so flattering. In this guide, you will learn about the power suit, what it means, and how to wear one:
- What Is A Power Suit?
- When Should I Wear A Power Suit?
- How Power Suits Are Tailored
- How To Wear A Power Suit
- Where To Buy A Power Suit
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
Suit Style Guides
What Is A Power Suit?
Speaking metaphorically, a power suit is one that lives at the intersection of conservatism and boldness. The point is to exude confidence and, well, power. The term “power suit” is a holdover from the 1980s. When we hear that phrase, we think of the film Wall Street and Gordon Gekko’s clothes.
It conjures up images of wide, built-up shoulder pads and boxy looks.
Nowadays, a power suit is any expertly tailored conservative suit worn with bold colors that tell your audience that you’re competent and confident.
Practically speaking, this means bold blocks of conservative colors. “Conservative” in this sense is being used sartorially and is very similar to what we suggest for a job interview suit:
- Dark blue or charcoal suits with no pattern, perhaps minimal texture for visual interest
- Solid or subtly striped shirt with a standard spread collar
- Solid, repp stripe, or dotted ties in bold shades of primary colors, particularly red
- Impeccably -but not overly- tailored
When Should I Wear A Power Suit?
The point of a power suit is to make a positive, lasting, bold impression on your audience. They are therefore useful tools for:
- Job Interviews
- Sales & Business Development Meetings
We do not advise that you wear a power suit to a funeral. While it’s important to look your best at a funeral, you want to look subdued as well. Out of respect for the deceased and his/her family, wearing a power suit would be too bold a move.
It may also be a bit much to wear such a suit on a date, as the look is more imposing than it is sexy or romantic.
Power Suits & Suit Cuts: British, Italian, Or American?
If you haven’t done so yet, we invite you to take a look at our guides to British, American, and Italian (also known as Continental) suits. These pages will give you in-depth information as to the nuances of each suit “nationality.”
It’s worth discussing which suit cut might be best for a power suit. Our take is that British or new American is the way to go, while Italian and “old” American (that is, sack suits) are not. Why?
British and new American suits share many similarities, one of which is a muscular, almost militaristic regality. For the purposes of a power suit, this is perfect because that’s precisely the image you’re looking to project.
Sack suits, by virtue of their shapelessness, give off a sense of anonymity as opposed to power. Traditional Italian suits, with their slimmer fits, give off too sexy a vibe to function well as a power suit. They can turn the wearer into, as Alan Flusser puts it, “…a walking phallic symbol.”
How To Wear a Power Suit
When donning a power suit, the trick is to focus on subtle elegance with understated yet deliberate details. Rather than overdoing it with brash colours and bold accessories, you opt instead for barely noticeable features.
For instance, the suit itself may consist of a pattern weave, which works best with dark and muted colours. A great example would be herringbone, which remains conservative while blending in with colours like charcoal or navy without losing visual interest.
As hinted above, the fit should be modern and flattering without being overly tight. The overall objective should be towards confidence rather than sex appeal.
Similarly, aim for classic and conservative details such as notched lapels, straight flap pockets, and side vents. Ticket pockets and contrast stitching are indeed possible but won’t be quite as effective.
Furthermore, consider a plain white cotton pocket square in a classic TV fold. This choice of pocket square would be an excellent detail whereas other folds and styles may risk being too flamboyant. Similarly, luxury cufflinks that use simple metallic colours are particularly effective.
Finally, the tie should offer a balanced level of contrast without overpowering the entire outfit. For instance, note the burgundy dotted tie in this guide’s accompanying images.
Where To Buy A Power Suit
Although power suits are rarely marketed under this term, there are a number of suit manufacturers and retailers that produce suits that easily fit the description.
Therefore, we suggest that you check out the following top 5 best brands to buy a power suit:
- Indochino: Made-to-measure suit brand with both online platforms and physical stores.
- Black Lapel: More premium made-to-measure suit manufacturer with precision fitting and craftsmanship.
- Hawes & Curtis: Traditionally British Jermyn Street shirtmaker with an extensive collection of suits.
- Brooks Brothers: Classic American brand with a solid selection of power suits.
- Charles Tyrwhitt: Another Jermyn Street brand with conservative yet tailored suits.
You may have noticed that our two preferred brands both specialise in made-to-measure suits. Indeed, we believe that a made-to-measure suit is your best option if you want a power suit. Not only will you be able to have a tailormade cut but you will also be able to select the fabric, pattern, and details yourself.
Although “made-to-measure” sounds pricey, both Indochino and Black Lapel offer excellent value for money. Indochino offers fully made-to-measure suits for as little as $299 and sometimes less during sales.
Furthermore, you can enjoy 10% off with our code “BESPOKEUNIT” when you spend more than $399 both in-store and online!
Meanwhile, Black Lapel is a little more expensive with prices starting at $499. However, the fabrics are of higher quality and the cut is more precise. Similarly, the suits are half-canvassed as standard. You can also benefit from a $25 discount with the code “FTOBESPOKEUNIT“.
The power suit today is not what it used to be during the Reagan administration. We’ve moved away from boxy fits and (American) football player-like shoulder pads to modern, trimmer cuts, but the aim of the power suit is the same: project confidence, competence, and strength to the world around you.
For more information on suit styles, we invite you to check out our style guide home page. Alternatively, check out some of the related resources:
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