The 1988 film Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith, is a true pop culture relic of the ’80s that was dated even as it reached its initial popularity. Though the movie has almost been lost with the passing of time, it remains an important depiction of women entering—for the first time, really—high powered positions in the capitalist hierarchy. The resulting stereotype of powerful working women is even more significant, however, in its falsified exaggeration.
For years, fashion and style have slowly made their way into executive offices on Wall Street, but 2009 has been a watershed year for the fashionable businesswoman. The changing infrastructure of capitalism has allowed it to happen: we’ve been let down by the men in pinstripes with slicked back hair, and by their female counterparts in pencil skirts and blazers. With companies all over the world changing their game to make up for past losses, the look of business has changed as well. Enter the power professionista, a new kind of businesswoman woman whose standout professional savvy is reflected in her equally style-savvy wardrobe.
“I have loved fashion since I was a little girl,” says Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder and chief merchandising officer of the Gilt Groupe. Wilson’s company is an elite, invitation only, online store that sells luxury brands for up to 75% off via 36 hour sales. The idea itself is original, but not so much as its glamorous founders and CEO: Wilson, Alexis Maybank and Susan Lyne—all of whom have Harvard MBA’s and unrivaled style. “I love to travel and to observe trends, and have been doing this all my life,” Wilson adds.
In 2009, such words are delightfully unsurprising, but just five years ago, it wouldn’t have been the case. And yet, this rise in chic businesswomen is not just in the fashion industry that this is happening. With her cropped haircut, slender figure and seemingly endless array of sleek cocktail dresses, President Obama’s Social Secretary Desirée Rogers would look at home in the front row of any runway show on Earth. But this fellow Harvard MBA’s stylish second nature goes hand in hand with her transformation of a position that was previously seen as a glorified flower arranger. “We have the best brand on Earth,” Rogers told the Wall Street Journal Magazine in April: “The Obama brand.”
This new wave of Chanel-wearing Harvard business grads goes much deeper than the Oprah effect of the ’80s—of which Griffiths’ opportunist snatching character was a part. No, this new wave of stylish MBAs is using their power to change the game, and looking as if they’re all straight from a Vogue fashion shoot while doing it. Rogers approaches her job as a business, making the White House into the “people’s house,” as it was during bygone administrations. Gilt Groupe, meanwhile, gives highly educated, successful business women—”Women who do not have much disposable time but, even during these challenging times, have significant disposable income,” explains Wilson—a convenient way to shop for merchandise that tops any luxury department store’s.
Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience, Marissa Mayer, has also changed the way we approach the internet. The New York Times even profiled her in an article debunking the geeky Silicon Valley stereotype. The blonde beauty’s consistent poise and simple chic have shown that the computer world is not just a boy’s club. As with her comrades in style, Mayer doesn’t adhere to the traditional look or configuration of capitalist commerce.
For the first time in business, we’re seeing real changes—in its structure, yes, but also to its look. Times are still hard, of course, but dressing for success—and the sake of pure style—is as good a starting place for improvement as any.