Today, fashion has turned its stiletto heels against the power strut for a nonchalant hunch and swagger.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Today, fashion has turned its stiletto heels against the power strut for a nonchalant hunch and swagger. 
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When I tried on one of the boxy jackets from Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2017 collection during a re-see appointment last October, something happened. Perhaps it was an unintended effect, but having to adjust my posture— shoulders slightly hunched, neck extended so that the jacket hung nicely on my frame—changed how I looked and felt in a split second. Yes, I looked great in the jacket. But I also became more aware of the way I moved and how I was projecting myself to the people around me. As clichéd as this might sound, those ’80s power shoulders are back, but this time it’s not for the boardroom; it’s ready for the streets. 

The jacket is part of a sophomore collection by Demna Gvasalia—most notable for his exaggerated silhouettes and the liberal use of neon-coloured spandex on ’80s draped blouses and tights that segue into boots. Gvasalia, fashion’s current l’enfant terrible, blazed a trail through the fashion scene the past two seasons, first with his work at Vetements, then with his current stint as Balenciaga’s Creative Director. 

His reboot of the brand is entrenched in the logic of  “couture attitudes”: Gvasalia’s debut witnessed a selection of austere skirt-suits tailored to mould the body into a gentle S-curve reminiscent of the “couture slouch” during Cristóbal Balenciaga’s reign. This slight bend of the body, once synonymous with the bourgeois during the ’50s, has since evolved for the street, taking shape as a statement of cool. Maybe the way my body language changed when I slipped on the jacket (and correspondingly, my attitude and bearing) was testament to Gvasalia’s smarts all the while. 

Shakespeare wrote that clothes maketh the man. As the world heads into a digital era where the power of individualism is widely celebrated, this saying has never rang truer. “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick,” Miuccia Prada once mused. “Fashion is instant language.” 

The words with which we express our state of mind through our wardrobe choices have always fascinated academics, turning up in one such study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. The result of the findings? Self- perception and ability can be shaped by what we choose to wear. Another group of researchers who published The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing discovered that formal attires brought out “abstract cognitive processing,” which means reporting to work in your finest helps when you need to think big. 

So yes, include power suits and stilettos as part of your game plan when you need to make a point inside the boardroom. Bette Midler put it best: “I firmly believe that with the right footwear, one can rule the world.” 

However, that old-school power uniform now speaks of millenial cool. It’s a seismic shift from the ability to intimidate to an au courant show of solidarity and rebellion with the “other.” It’s less about boardroom power politics and more about belonging to a fashion cult. The cyclical nature of fashion fads brings with it different modes of expression. Some tried and tested trends still hold water: Colour, for example, never fails to lift spirits. The jolts of sunny hues witnessed on spring runways from Céline to Rochas mean that you don’t have to wait for thunderstorms to clear before you see the rainbow. If you only wear black, then find Zen with any shade of night. 

But as we have seen with Gvasalia’s take at Balenciaga, attitudes towards fashion have also changed. Connotations of dress and attitude are less rigid today. Calvin Klein’s banded underwear once spoke of sexual awakening. Today, the spring/summer 2017 bralettes from Prada, Bottega Veneta and Dior, bring glamour and prestige to intimates. Nothing is what it seems: The best part is you can wear what you want, slouch around and drag your feet. Someone, somewhere will think you are the epitome of cool.