How Women Can Dress Dominant in All-Male Office

We all like to think that appearances don’t matter. In reality, it’s more like appearances shouldn’t matter—but they do. Powerful women, who can take charge and be taken seriously, stand out at first glance.

Updated on October 06, 2017 8:10 am

Cromly Editor

How Women Can Dress Dominant in All-Male Office

Here’s how to get that sangfroid:

1. High heels kill, but we sadly haven’t gone beyond height.

You’d think in this day and age, people would have gotten over the obsession with height. But the fact is, taller people tend to be associated with success. It’s not a coincidence either—studies show that women who are 172.2 cm or above are twice as likely to earn over S$53,500 per year.

So it’s not your imagination that lady bosses tend to, well, tower over their shorter peers. If you’re vertically challenged, heels can make a difference. Height is also accompanied by a slight shift in body language: taller people often have their eyes looking down on subordinates, which suggests authority on a primal level.

2. There’s no getting away from a good suit.

Putting on a suit doesn’t just make you look powerful to others. Research shows that your own mind responds to it—when you wear a suit, it feels more natural to assert yourself, and most people report feeling more confident in serious business attire.

But what sort of suit works best? Learn from the best: The quintessential "Iron Woman", the late Margaret Thatcher, dominated a male-centric government for most of her reign; and she’s still an icon of fashion for powerful women. Thatcher was known to favour dark blues (unlike the black suits you see everywhere these days), and her choice of brand was Aquascutum. The key is to look conservative (even if you’re not), but soften the look with a single, characteristically feminine item—think earrings or watches for ladies.

3. If you’re in the C-suite or truly high-up, you can brave the normcore trend.

Normcore just means using street clothes in the office. Think Fruit of the Loom, Zara, and Topshop. Normcore comes from Silicon Valley tech moguls, who are notorious for rejecting office wear—when you’re a billionaire CEO, you can wear a tracksuit to the office and get away with it.

Normcore has a dual effect. The first is that it makes you relatable, softening your image so you won’t create the "corporate witch" impression. The second is that it can actually enhance your air of authority; the simple fact that you can get away with it demonstrates who’s in charge. Picture a roomful of men in suits and ties, listening to the one lady at the head of the table in her jeans and sweater. You get the picture. A warning though: don’t try it unless you’re some kind of irreplaceable talent, or high up the corporate ladder.

4. Makeup is important, but not as important as "minimal" makeup.

Use makeup, but not to the same extent that you would for, say, clubbing. Things to leave out are:

  • Heavy eyeshadow
  • Loads of mascara
  • Go very light on the foundation, to avoid "cake face".
  • Glitter or gloss, especially for your lipstick
  • Nail art. Almost any kind will make you look too bubbly, especially in an all-male environment.

An old rule of thumb says that you shouldn’t use red lipstick, although many image consultants will tell you that rule’s passé. The only common guideline here is, again, to avoid high gloss. Just remember that no makeup (which suggests you’re sloppy) and too much makeup (which suggests you’re trying to use sex appeal) are equally bad.

5. Squarish shoulders, yes. Power pads, no.

It’s true that squarish shoulders, such as on a blazer, radiates authority. That’s definitely one tool for a lady boss (if it ends up feeling too severe, you can take off the blazer after you’ve made your entrance). But avoid ‘80s style "power pads", that practically turn your shoulders into armoured spikes. Those look ridiculous in any era when Bon Jovi isn’t on the Top 40.

6. Well-maintained, closed shoes

Avoid footwear that exposes your toes, no matter how great a pedicure you have. Whatever shoes you wear, always make sure they’re immaculately maintained. Men like to claim they don’t look at shoes all the time like women do; but trust us, they’ll notice that superglued strap or missing clasp as quickly as you would. (As an aside, when people are in the elevator, they often look down. Think about that before wearing worn out shoes to the office).

7. Strictly no "dangly" jewellery

If it makes more noise than the speaker during a Power Point presentation, leave it at home. Big, dangling earrings that resemble wind chimes may be fun for a Saturday night; but the men in your office are liable to think they’re ridiculous. The same goes for gigantic bangles, or anything with too many chains and charms hanging down (as much as we love Pandora, maybe leave it for the weekends). To a roomful of men, a bunch of dangling silver bananas on your bracelet suggests girlishness; there’s something altogether giggly about it. Older men, in particular, might have a hard time taking you seriously when you wave it in their faces.

Remember, in an office setting, it’s a work tool; it’s not you

It’s important to convey who you are, in the way you dress. We get it. But that’s in your personal life. In the office, get into a business mindset—your clothes are a tool to help with your job. You can get back to a style that expresses the "inner you" later, once it’s time to knock off. Visit for online business solutions.

Article originally published in and Edited and reposted with permission

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