Who invented the power suit?

Cristen Conger

sewyerown/Flickr Creative Commons

A post-lunch procrastinating link hop led me to an unlikely location: Savile Row. It all started with a slide show of women's power suits over at The Grindstone, which led me to wonder where on earth these office uniforms came from.

Answer: Beau Brummell, the original dandy.

Nearly three centuries before 1980s working women began sporting their shoulder pads to the workplace, Beau Brummell invented the suit. Quoth the Sunday Times, "He bequeathed us, in effect, the suit, the collar and tie and modern trousers and gave us the sombre palette of colours used in city attire to this day. "

Thanks to Brummell's fastidious fashion, the measuring tape came into use in order to standardize sizing. He's largely credited with the rise of Savile Row in the early 1800s, iconic for the hand tailored -- or bespoked -- suit, complete with hand-cut patterning, cutting and sewing.

*Note: This post was written while listening to "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" by The Kinks. Feel free to sing along.*


Fast forward to the 1980s, and Giorgio Armani tailors the Reagan era 'power suit'. The sartorial symbol of wealth, an Armani suit consisted of the following (via Fashion Encyclopedia): "a fully-lined, three-button blazer with padded shoulders; a matching vest; and single-pleated trousers that were lined only in front, down to the knees. The suit was black, charcoal gray, or navy blue; it was soft or textured; and it was made of the highest quality wool, cotton, cashmere, silk, or linen."

It wasn't Armani that handed the power suit over to the women's wardrobe, however. Yves Saint Laurant is credited with the invention of the women's power suit, which became de rigeur while men started sporting the "Miami Vice"-esque "new male" look (FIT).

But really, most might agree that the person who solidified the power suit into American fashion history was Melanie Griffith, aka Tess McGill in "Working Girl".