What makes a power outfit?

Let's break down the components of the power outfit.

The power outfit is one of my favorite looks because it makes me feel powerful and also elegant and feminine. But how does that work? And how can we recreate these qualities elsewhere? What are the parts?


A black turtleneck. This is the fitted turtleneck from Kotn


Black silk wide-leg pants. These are the Elizabeth Suzann florence pants.


Nude block heels. These are the Everlane day heels in rose tan.

elizabeth suzann florence pants

That's it! Monochrome top and bottom + nude feet. Or is there more to it?

The elements I think are most important are the long sleeve turtleneck maximizing the black on top, but also being fitted so you can still see your shape. It's like wearing clothes without wearing clothes, it's so basic. The pants then stand out because of how flowy they are in comparison to the top, especially starting at the high waist. And with the all-black scheme, we are able to pay more attention to those silhouette qualities as opposed to, say, color or pattern (since there's none). To me this look says power but also elegance.

Kotn turtleneck + Elizabeth Suzann florence pants + Veronique Branquinho boots

Kotn turtleneck + Elizabeth Suzann florence pants + Veronique Branquinho boots

Wanting to channel those qualities on my first day back to work earlier this month, I recreated this outfit but also layered a cropped cardigan over it for warmth since our office is an ice chest. The crop on the sweater kept the high waist on the pants visible, but you lose a little of the fitted turtleneck.

I wore boots instead of the heels for more practicality since I walk to the train on my commute. They are camel colored — still in the neutral family — and function similarly to he heels, but lack the femininity that the heels offer. So points taken off there.

Overall I think it's still a successful look, but not quite as effortless as the original. The added element of the cardigan, while practical, takes away the streamlined look that I liked from before.

For comparison's sake, I want to take a look at what happens when you swap out the flowy pants for a skinny pant. Can it still be a power outfit? Keeping the monochrome constant, here's the same turtleneck but paired with the Elizabeth Suzann cecilia pants I wore yesterday, which are quite fitted, although still a high rise.

Kotn turtleneck + Elizabeth Suzann cecilia pants + socks

Kotn turtleneck + Elizabeth Suzann cecilia pants + socks

Granted, I'm not wearing the nude heels, so that's another variable. I'm not wearing any shoes here, so the pants are blending into the black socks. But I think the skinnier bottom changes the look anyway. While it's still elegant, I wouldn't call this a power outfit anymore. I think a lot of the power comes from the flowy pant taking up more visual space than a skinny pant. 

There's a bit of a beat poet vibe going on, which to me reads less feminine, more serious. Maybe the heels would keep it feminine? The minimal bottom takes away the floaty quality and replaces it with practicality and function. I think those things can be powerful in their own right but also are less likely to command attention. More of a low-key, pulling-the-strings behind-the-scenes power as opposed to look-at-me power.

To take this wardrobe experiment one step further, let's look at what this same turtleneck does when paired with a wide-leg but decidely not flowy pant. In this case, the Caron Callahan stewart jeans.

Kotn turtleneck + Caron Callahan stewart jeans + Ecco sneakers

Kotn turtleneck + Caron Callahan stewart jeans + Ecco sneakers

Kind of powerful, right? But not necessarily elegant. Ahh, so maybe that's the key — wide for power, but flowy for elegance.

You can also see here how black + denim loses the intrigue of the monochrome look. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want to go for something striking, I think monochrome is counter-intuitively the way to go. You might think having all one color would be boring, but I really feel like it allows the other qualities of the garments to shine in ways they don't normally.

I do however enjoy the casual spin the power outfit takes on with these jeans. Keeping it cool and practical with sneakers, but again they are a neutral shoe that lets the rest of the outfit do the speaking. Side note, this is why I love neutral shoes. They do everything and ask for nothing.

What have we learned from all this? Well, a black turtleneck is indispensable, number one. Maybe this post was secretly about this turtleneck the whole time? For real though, it's such a good staple and pairs with literally everything.

But number two, the bottom you pair the turtleneck with can change a look dramatically. I used to be all about tops, I thought they were way more interesting, but honestly in the past year I've really fallen in love with pants and all the different silhouettes they come in. In many cases pants (or skirts) make the look.

And number three, neutral shoe neutral shoe neutral shoe!

I love parsing out what makes an outfit a good outfit! While simply appreciating your wardrobe for what it is is important, it's imperative to learn why different garments work together and also how. In this way you can maximize the combos and looks from what is on hand.

Do you have any go-to looks for when you want to project certain qualities?