It was senior year of high school—SAT season, to be precise. After months and months of studying my heart out, the big day finally came. But there was still one thing left in my control that would skyrocket my SAT score to its highest potential: Wearing a “power outfit” the day of the 3-hour exam.
For this occasion, I translated “power outfit” to prep school chic à la Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl. So while everyone else showed up to the test center early Saturday morning wearing a cozy hoodie and a comfortable pair of sweatpants, I took the SATs looking like a preppy overachiever/part-time socialite who attended an elite east coast private school. Placebo effect or not, it worked! I received a score I was proud of. Of course, I had studied obsessively for the SATs, but I’d like to believe that using Blair Waldorf’s school uniform as style inspiration also had something to do with the intellectual high I experienced while taking the SATs.
Since then, I’ve been a big believer in dressing for success by putting together power outfits inspired by the people of fiction and reality that I admire, not just for their clothes, but for their persona and their success. Clothes truly have a superpower. The ones you put on in the morning dictate how you feel and how you perform throughout the day. Sometimes all it takes to turn an ordinary day into a fabulous one is as simple as putting on a pair of pink pumps, Elle Woods style.
Here are a few tips to make the most out of dressing for success:
Ask yourself one simple question.
When you open your closet in the morning, or when you go on a shopping trip, think about someone you’re motivated by, and ask yourself what they would wear for the occasion you’re dressing for.
If you want to feel elegant and classy, you can ask yourself, “What would Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, pick out if she had to shop at H&M?”
If you're in the mood to activate your inner badass for a girls’ night out, you can ask yourself, “What boots would Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine wear?”
If you're conducting a big presentation to a room full of intimidating peers, you can ask yourself “What lipstick would Alexandria Ocasio Cortez put on today?”
It works for any type of occasion, with any person you see as a style icon, just fill in the blank to fit what you need. Whether you could use an extra boost of confidence, strength, or patience, ask yourself, “What would ___ wear?” Some days, you’ll even be your own style icon.
Just one question is all it takes, and you'll be on your way to power outfit perfection.
Don't forget that the goal isn't just to look fashionable.
It’s not just about how the clothes, makeup, or shoes look on you, it’s also about how they make you feel. For instance, if you decide to wear Stila's Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Beso (aka Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's go-to lipstick), obviously you'll look picture perfect, but the main idea is that it's empowering to wear the exact same lipstick shade as a congresswoman. Not only can you steal her iconic red lip, you can also channel her iconic leadership qualities, the ones you strive to emanate.
By picking different style icons like AOC, you give yourself the opportunity to establish a sense of ambition. In the process of dressing for success, you develop your own hybrid style—of not only how you dress, but also of how you approach your day-to-day life.
Use a power outfit whenever you need it, for any occasion, big or small.
I once memorably put the practice of dressing for success into action on the first day of my internship at a huge magazine publisher in Milan. Being a fresh-faced American girl in a different country, immersed in a different language and different work environment, I needed more than just a cup of cappuccino to untie the knots in my stomach. So I channeled Andrea "Andy" Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada. If fresh-out-of-journalism-school Andy, a stranger to the fashion industry, could take on “the job a million girls would kill for” assisting the Editor in Chief of Runway Magazine, then I could definitely kill it at the first day of my internship in Milan. And I did. The outfit I wore had made all the difference in my attitude, confidence, and the first impression I made.
If you feel like you're wearing a costume, you're doing it wrong.
When I dressed like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada, I wasn't pretending to be her, I was still me, but with a splash of Andy's confidence. Taking style inspiration from others isn’t about dressing up as someone you’re not, it’s about cultivating the best version of yourself and expressing different sides of your personality. Even though Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine wears black leather jackets and carries around a secret axe, she’s also the same person whose heart turned to mush over a puppy named Arlo and who used to be a ballerina. You don’t have to adopt the persona of a Forever 21 mannequin, you can channel someone like Rosa Diaz, or your favorite book character, or a real life role model, and it’s such a game changer.
But if you feel like you're wearing a costume, you've got the wrong idea, because it doesn't matter if someone recognizes that you're trying to be like Rosa from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or like Elle from Legally Blonde. Dressing for success is as much an inward experience as it is an outward one.
No matter what you’re tackling every day, the clothes you put on can help you do it. If you’re spending your Saturday night babysitting your neighbor’s kids, and you feel like you need to put your hair up in an Ariana Grande ponytail to boost your enthusiasm, then do it! Dressing well and, above all, dressing for yourself is a form of self-care. When you look good, you feel good, and ultimately, that’s the most important thing.