A power suit is a conservative tailored suit worn by men or women to project a sense of self-confidence and authority. The phrase came about in the 1980s, when a big-shouldered, dark-colored suit was the norm for anyone who wanted to be taken seriously in the business world. Books like John Molloy's Dress for Success introduced the business world to the concept of power dressing, and in the 1988 movie Working Girl, women got to see a secretary turn herself into a business executive after she cut off her "big hair" and donned a power suit.
The epitome of the 1980s power suit for men was a designer suit in a dark color such as navy blue, black, or charcoal gray. The suit was usually solid, or had a very subtle pattern such as a narrow pinstripe. Women's suits usually had a straight skirt that got shorter as the decade progressed. The suit was often worn with a blouse that had an exaggeratedly feminine design to soften the lines of the suit; blouses in soft fabrics with accents such as bows or ruffles at the collar were popular. For both genders, shoes, belts, and accessories were color-coordinated.
The power suit lost its appeal in most fields during the 1990s. In creative professions such as advertising and graphic design, these suits disappeared almost entirely, to be replaced by more casual looks for both men and women. In some business environments, the power suit never really went away; lawyers, for example, have nearly always been expected to wear traditional businesswear in most places.
Today's power suit for both genders is not as formal as its 1980s predecessor. Navy and charcoal remain standard colors for these suits, and dark brown is usually as acceptable as black. Jacket shoulders are not nearly as large and square as they were in the 1980s. In most fields, pantsuits are perfectly acceptable for women, although skirts might still be preferred in some regions. Women's power suits are sometimes in bolder colors than in the past.
For men, a modern power suit typically calls for a white shirt, a silk tie, and black leather shoes. The jacket should have either two or three buttons and a single or double vent in the back. Women's blouses are simpler than in the past; shoes and accessories are also typically simple and classic.