The New Power Suit

Modern-day skirt sets mean business (if you want them to).

In the 1980s, women's participation in the labor force steadily increased. Uncoincidentally, the popularity of the skirt suit also exploded, marketed as a sure-fire way to get a leg up as a woman in the corporate workplace. 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, fashion historian and author of Skirts Fashioning Modern Femininity in the 20th Century, explains the '80s skirt set, coined a “power suit,” was intentionally machismo and overtly eye-catching with oversized shoulder pads and neon color combos. "Just the idea of having a uniform is a compelling and influential concept in itself," she says, "and the skirt set became a symbol of power in the workplace at a pivotal time when women challenged men for equality."

Meghan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Carey Mulligan, and Zoe Kazan

(Image credit: Lauren Dukoff)

While the power suit is synonymous with the decade that also brought us Reaganomics and scrunchies, skirt suits were not just an '80s phenomenon. As far back as the 17th century, women began wearing the first version of a skirt suit during male-dominated leisure activities like horseback riding and hunting—both for comfort and as a tactic to command authority. In the 18th century, Marie Antoinette and the ladies of the French aristocracy wore men’s coats paired alongside skirted bottoms to ride side-saddle and eventually during travel.

In the 20th century, French designer Christian Dior put the modern idea of a skirt suit on the sartorial map. His New Look collection featured a novel pairing of a bar jacket with rounded shoulders and a pinched waist, matched with a skirt both voluminous and appropriate for everyday wear. In the early '60s, Coco Chanel debuted her interpretation of the duo, taking it from a historically structured ensemble to a loose-fitting but well-constructed set that was smart, comfortable, and versatile.

"The fact of the matter is the convenience of a skirt will never waver," Chrisman-Campbell explains. Fashion leaders agree. After several seasons of workleisure and all day loungewear, a new guard of skirted suits re-emerged on the fall 2022 runways—but this time, without a narrow borrowed-from-the-boys approach. The latest iterations are strong but feminine in bold colors and eye-catching silhouettes that you can mix and match or wear as one-and-done sets.

While you no longer have to wear a skirt suit to command authority or snag the corner office, "there's a reason that we keep coming back to them," says Chrisman-Campbell. They’re an insurance policy for looking and feeling great. Still, one thing's for sure: Women never needed the power suit to smash the glass ceiling. We did that on our own.

The New Power Suit

Gucci blazer, skirt, shoes, bag; Rosetta Getty earrings

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Chanel jacket, bralette, skirt, earrings, shoes, bag

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Tory Burch jacket, top, skirt, shoes, bag; Rosetta Getty earrings

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

CELINE coat, top, skirt, sunglasses, necklace, bag

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Thom Browne jackets, top, tie, skirt, socks, shoes

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Erdem jacket, skirt; Calzedonia tights; Tory Burch shoes, Polo Ralph Lauren bag

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Erdem jacket, skirt; Calzedonia tights; Tory Burch shoes, Polo Ralph Lauren bag

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Dior jacket, top, skirt, earrings, shoes

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Rosetta Getty jacket, skirt, earrings; Lanvin shoes, Tod's bag

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

The New Power Suit

Sacai jacket, skirt; Rosetta Getty earrings; Dior shoes

(Image credit: Allie Holloway)

This story appears in Marie Claire's 2022 Power Issue, on newsstands November 22.

Photographer: Allie Holloway | Stylist: Sara Holzman |Model: Essence at Q | Hair and Makeup: Magdalena Major at See | Photo Assistant:  Emma Devereaux

Sara Holzman
Style Director

Sara Holzman is the Style Director at Marie Claire, covering runway trends and tracking down the latest finds to buy and wear. When she’s not writing about fashion, she pens about the best places to jet-off to.