The Power Is On

Times are tough: you need every tool available to you.

Collage by Minna

A lot has been said about the power of clothes, especially by young starlets with fledgling fashion lines who always give the requisite “I just love how clothes can transform you!” kind of speech in interviews, which is so cliché, but also true (I guess all clichés start out as truths?). It’s easy to dismiss fashion as frivolous and blah blah, especially if you’re only thinking about it in terms of “Models! Designers! Vogue!” But there’s so much more to it than that. In a world where–for better and worse–we are instantly judged by our appearance, clothes can be an armor or maybe even a traffic light, letting other people know whether they can approach you, or if they should proceed with caution or just stay the hell away.

This is especially true when life gets hard. Not necessarily bad hard, just difficult—like looking for a new job or giving a presentation at school or going to a party where you know your ex AND their new significant other will be present. We all have our tricks for dealing with this stuff—meditation, exercise, junk food and reruns of Parks and Rec all work, sure, but when we have to leave our solitary fortresses and deal with other human people there is one last line of defense, the clothes we put on.

And this is where POWER DRESSING comes in. For some of you, “power dressing” might conjure images of businesswomen in the 1980s wearing their gray skirt suits with football-player-size shoulder pads, nude stockings, and white sneakers (because they change into their POWER PUMPS at the office), but that’s only because we’ve been reading too many fashion magazines and watching too many ’80s girl-power movies (not that this is a bad thing). POWER dressing is really just the way we seek/express confidence, protection, or whatever through the things we choose to wear. Sort of in the same way that you’ll listen to Fiona Apple if you’re bummed on life and listen to Beyoncé when you’re getting ready to go out with your friends; they’re all extensions of the self you are creating right at that moment.

Think of whatever your favorite garment or accessory is. Why is it your favorite? Whether it’s because it’s a hand-me-down from your grandmother or because something awesome happened one time while you were wearing it, you are deriving a certain kind of energy from it and therefore it gives you power. The first time I saw Interpol live, I went with this boy that I really liked, and I was really excited ’cause I thought maybe the date meant that he liked me too. It snowed the whole day, and when we were walking to the venue we were basically falling every three steps because it was so slippery, and then we were laughing so hard, which wasn’t helping with the falling. The show was totally magic, and at the end of the night the boy drove me home and said something off-hand about how he had told his aunt he was “seeing someone” (this would be me). We went back to my house and just fell asleep on the couch watching Iron Chef reruns, and I was the happiest I had ever been. I bought a shirt at that show, a red muscle tee that said INTERPOL in big block letters. I wore the shirt every day for like a week with black skinny jeans and my Converse because I wanted to hold on to the magic of that night—but also because something about that T-shirt symbolized this new powerful person that I had always wanted to be and that I was slowly becoming. OK, and also I was basically dressing like a member of the Strokes. I loved the Strokes.

Different situations call for different solutions, and some of them require more drastic solutions than others. The gathering of energy starts with your very first layer, aka underwear. I have a red lace bra that I bought mostly because Deb wears one in Empire Records, and she is super badass. So now any time I need a little extra sass, the red bra goes on. I mean if Deb just shaved her head at work like it was no big deal, then what wonders will it do for me?

My queen.

Your actual clothes are the second layer. There are basic-level “foolproof” pieces for different occasions: e.g., the super-fitted blazer I wear to job interviews, the platform oxfords I wear when I’m channeling Robyn to tell the world “Don’t fucking tell me what to do,” and the long dresses I wear when I play with my band because for some reason I feel safe in them. These are my safety nets, though they might not seem like “safe choices” to everyone else. That’s another way I used clothes to give me that last li’l bit of a power push—I feel stronger when I know that I’m wearing exactly what I want without giving in to the whole “but what would people say?” voice that clouds so much of our decision making (in clothes, yes, but also life). Although so often “omg I could NEVER wear what you wear” is undermine-y and totally gross, there is a certain satisfaction to be derived from knowing that you are 100% confident and comfortable in yourself and your tastes.

Me onstage with my band, Screentests. Note the combination of the long dress AND the red bra.

The outermost layer is a two-parter, comprising accessories and makeup. Accessories usually have the most sentimental value attached to them, and their protection comes from whomever or whatever they represent. I wear two necklaces every day: a gold key that my mom gave me on my 25th birthday, and a turquoise spider that used to belong to my grandmother. They are my magic amulets that secretly help me deal with my everyday life when I’m far away from my family. Then there are extra items when I need extra help. My #1 secret weapon is these leather harnesses that my friend Zana makes and that I can throw on over anything—T-shirt, dress, ball gown, whatever. When I slip one on and buckle the leather at my chest, I automatically feel invincible. I wear them when I hate everything and can’t believe I have to go out and face the world, and also when I love life and want everyone to notice me everywhere I go.

Me in a harness that Zana made for me. Photo by Zana Bayne, courtesy of her blog, Garbage Dress.

The last weapon in your power-dressing arsenal is makeup. I don’t really wear much of it these days, but a couple of winters ago, when I needed some extra confidence, I became obsessed with a dark-purple-bordering-on-black lipstick. I wore it every day; in my head it made me a little scary and unapproachable.

Dark lipstick says STAY AWAY, but so does a studded collar.

Times are tough maybe, but staying in control and keeping the POWER running through your life shouldn’t be. Use the tools you have at hand to help you get to where you need to go, whether this place is real or imagined. You are probably already doing this in your life without noticing it, like how your school might require you to wear a uniform and there are very strict restrictions on how short your skirt can be. My high school had this, and so my friends and I decided to wear our skirts as long as possible (one of my friends got in trouble because her skirt was too long!). It was our own little power move to assert our individuality in a sea of sameness, and it also let us poke a little bit of fun at authority, which made us feel like we were free to be whatever we wanted. ♦


  • Moxx May 29th, 2012 11:11 PM


    Yes! Clothes you like can make you feel amazing, just like clothes you don’t like and don’t feel good in can actually make you feel sad or your day feel worse sometimes

    Also, harnesses are just pure badassery.


  • Bug May 29th, 2012 11:11 PM

    ~Dress like everyday is Rex Manning day~

  • Vesperstar233 May 29th, 2012 11:43 PM

    You’re never going to make EVERYONE happy with your clothing, but you can at least make yourself happy with it.
    Wear whatever you want.
    Not what others want, expect, or wish you to wear.

  • Marie May 29th, 2012 11:48 PM

    You rock my world, baby gurl.

  • missblack May 29th, 2012 11:57 PM

    I love this. It’s one of the best ‘fashion’ articles I’ve ever read and it totally encapsulates everything I think about clothes. (And it reminded me that when I saw Empire Records for the first time, I immediately wanted to buy a red bra, too!! haha. Must do that immediately.)


  • Steph May 29th, 2012 11:58 PM

    Thank you for pretty much summing up what I can never seem to say when people ask me “so like, why do you dress that way?”

  • willow May 30th, 2012 12:10 AM

    love-a love-a love this post! My clothes and makeup and accessories are definitely my tools to express my personality and ~life aesthetic~ as well as self-preservation

  • Mags May 30th, 2012 12:11 AM

    I practice power dressing on a daily basis. It makes me feel so much more confident and in control than when I just get lazy and wear sweats. Although I do love me some sweats.

  • Catelyn B. May 30th, 2012 12:28 AM

    I get power from my steel toe Doc Martens. :)

  • Dane May 30th, 2012 1:59 AM

    For this reason, I have mohawk.

  • SweetThangVintage May 30th, 2012 2:37 AM

    That’s so great about the long skirts!

    And so true about what you wear underneath. For sure!

  • Sugar May 30th, 2012 3:30 AM

    Give me your star sweater. Now. Do it now.

  • ali May 30th, 2012 3:41 AM

    also, in that sea of sameness, look for loopholes. my uniform policy is written down, and usually they have something in there about ‘girls having to wear navy blue stockings’, but for some reason, that got left out when our student diaries were printed this year, and thus my large collection of colourful stockings comes out to play. and technically, I can’t be punished or told off or anything. My principal, vice principal and uniform lady have all tried this and I told them to look over the uniform policy and tell me why I can’t. This is probably my life motto. Oh dear, gross french boy, why can’t I wear aqua stockings? would you like to try to stop me? I will break your nose… again.

    and the underthings <3 french people might not like bright outer clothing, but they have the best underwear in the world, and are so proud of it and encouraging about healthy sexuality… not like australians, who enjoy sports bras and cotton underwear.

  • lylsoy May 30th, 2012 3:45 AM

    these harnesses are awesome! and I’m wearing a long black dress whenever I don’t know what to wear, too! :)
    Great article, as always <3

  • Caden May 30th, 2012 3:46 AM

    I have a veryyyy important job interview tomorrow. Luckily I decided to read Rookie before picking my outfit!

    Caden x

  • Eliza May 30th, 2012 7:28 AM

    This is really inspiring and POWERFUL! Love ya rookies! <3

  • darksideoftherainbow May 30th, 2012 9:21 AM

    i really enjoyed reading this. i’ve been thinking a lot lately about what i wear. i’ve been going through a rough time with depression and haven’t been able to change my clothes. i have to wear slacks for work and i keep wearing the same ones even though they have holes in them now (from wearing them too much). outside of work i wear my sweatpants. even though i can’t dress exactly how i’d like, i do enjoy wearing my sweatpants. i appreciate the silhouette and they make me feel more confident than usually would because they’re baggy. i’m hoping they don’t get too worn out from wearing them everyday, especially since i’ve been changing into them after work. it’s not exactly what i want right now, but it’s helps me feel okay.

  • suzicle May 30th, 2012 9:59 AM


  • Dagmara May 30th, 2012 12:37 PM

    So true! Whenever I feel like I need to boost my confidence, my wardrobe definitely changes from like flannels to a bunch of dresses and pretty make-up.

  • Aria May 30th, 2012 12:55 PM

    My school gives away (at the end of the year) all of the old stuff students have left behind, so as I approached the huge pile of junk, I saw a piece of flowery fabric sticking out. I pulled it, and it turns out that it was a super-awesome 70′s tunic!!!!! I took it… and wore it for like a week! For some some strange reason, it made me feel POWERFUL! It had this force that made me think that I could do absolutely ANYTHING in the world!!! That same week, I wore it to a concert. Next to me, there was an old man dancing with his wife (he was absolutely rockin’ the floor). He suddenly approached me, and asked me to dance (I’m really a terrible dancer..). I usually would have said no, but I thought “what the heck…I’m wearing my tunic!” and agreed.

    It was awesome!

    • mwong1025 May 30th, 2012 6:09 PM

      That’s absolutely amazing! I can’t believe your school gave away old stuff. That’s like Goodwill, except it’s free, which makes it even better. Can I go to your school?

  • Kaetlebugg May 30th, 2012 2:57 PM

    Great post! I have to ask: where is that wonderful dress from, the one you are wearing with the Zana Bayne harness with the book print on it? I love it!

    • Laia May 30th, 2012 3:23 PM

      it’s zero maria cornejo from last fall. it is one of my all time favorites .

  • reckless-serenade May 30th, 2012 3:03 PM

    this article is seriously awesome thank you
    but also ZE STROKEEEES!

  • May 30th, 2012 4:38 PM

    I get my power from my silver sparkly docs :)

  • caro nation May 30th, 2012 6:25 PM

    The Go! Team.

  • Frannie Lou May 30th, 2012 10:12 PM

    I love this article! It’s so true. Yesterday I was getting tired of routine and I was mildly pissed at everything and I was so ready for a change that I just dyed my entire head this deep beet red. It makes me feel ten times cooler. My Docs are also my most beloved power shoes. :)
    Also, I absolutely LOVE your collar. It’s wonderful! Did you buy it somewhere or stud it yourself? <3

    • Laia May 30th, 2012 11:11 PM

      it was already studded and it’s from eleven objects!

  • Haka May 31st, 2012 2:01 AM

    Nearly every single day people tell me, “Oh, I just love your clothing but I could NEVER pull any of it off.” So I can totally relate to this article. Well said my friend! I don’t think I could’ve said it better myself


  • Delio May 31st, 2012 12:39 PM

    I used to buss at a shady indian restaurant, and I had to wear black shoes as a part of my uniform. I used to wear low key dress shoes, but switched to my old black combat boots. Made dealing with my confusing managers a bit easier.

  • Shay May 31st, 2012 7:59 PM

    This article makes me so happy I’m just sitting here clutching my chest and sighing dreamily. Love the leather harness.

  • eliselbv June 2nd, 2012 8:41 AM

    This year I decided it was time for me to be me and not who the others wanted me to be. It started by wearing what I wanted and not what was in the magazines and I soon realized this gave me way much more self-esteem.
    Clothes are indeed a real source of power!

  • sweeteelou June 4th, 2012 10:56 AM

    I loved this article! My “lace red bra” is a trippy patterned dress with polka dot tights and a ton of eyeliner. It makes me feel on top of the world!


  • katiebell929929 June 8th, 2012 3:40 PM

    I totally relate to the purple lipstick! I wear my Bordeaux red lipstick pretty much everyday, and I’ve never felt more like myself that anything. I feel powerful and, to be truthful, totally badass. Thank you Rookie for another amazing article. I am forever in your debt for all the advice and inspiration you’ve given me!

  • SFclaire June 21st, 2012 7:49 PM

    I totally get what you mean by getting power from clothing. I suffer from depression and my new way of dealing with it (instead of unhealthy coping mechanisms) is to go thrifting. I usually bring about $20 with me and I totally zone out and try to find the awesomest, lowest priced stuff. I draw power from picking out a rad item from a $1 bin. So in a way, shopping can be powerful too. Thanks so much for this article!