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2. Curves in the Office, Professional Women’s Styling and the Influence of Roland Mouret:

 As a stylist who has been lucky enough to help to dress a great number of highly intelligent professional women it is remarkable how many will take on an added aura of purpose and confidence when they put on a well-tailored pencil skirt or hourglass dress and a pair of high heels.  In 2012 the woman sashaying like Joan through the corporate lobby in a Roland Mouret inspired day-dress says ‘notice me I am working it’. She is prepared to embrace being the marked image and not the neutral masculine one that everyone used to take for granted in the work place.  This tacitly assumes that the woman is not (and never was) competing on a level playing field.  But the difference is that now she actually doesn’t want or need to – she is in fact more powerful because she is all woman - more different –not less. The contemporary professional woman says ‘I can perform this version of woman if I choose, but that does not necessarily make me sexually available. I therefore have power because I am not merely performing in order to be looked at:  I am doing my job . . .  I am effective . . . I am lucrative’.

It wasn’t so long ago that a pair of dark tailored trousers and cotton shirt was very much the professional uniform of choice for women. Many of us adopted it for the sake of gender invisibility, in silent request that we be noticed for the work we do and not for the bodies we occupy.  In practice this was a hard task given the fact that masculine sharp-angled tailoring actually fits very badly on the average woman’s frame. On this physiognomic level as well as the symbolic one –the tailored trouser suit is one form of drag that never really worked very comfortably as a style strategy for the majority of women. And more and more it is actually starting to look like a form of drag in the generally ‘curvaceous’ zeitgeist and next to the many contemporary manifestations of the hourglass silhouette in offices around the western world.

A particular kind of sexiness has become a highly effective power tool that post-feminist women have given themselves permission to exploit. This is particularly the case when the woman in question is older and beyond her supposed biologically determined ‘need’ to reproduce  and therefore attract a mate (and it necessarily follows an application for maternity leave – scourge of corporate order!). After all when a woman is pregnant her body shape is the complete antithesis of the waisted shape that is being so foregrounded in contemporary visual culture:  In terms of fashion the polarities of the Old Molly/Antique Batik hippie smock and (post- partem) Boden versus the Galaxy dress and the syling of Karen Millen, for example, might be presented as the polar extremes of contemporary female identity – their varied styles often become signs for a thoroughly value laden waxing and waning of a woman's midriff. As a stylist I think about this a lot because many of the women I work with have already had their children and sometimes (but not always) returned to work or have chosen not to have children in order to concentrate on their careers.

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