It takes half an hour every morning for Devita Saraf to get dressed. That does not seem like much, until you find out what exactly she gets done in those 30 minutes. It includes her shower, pairing a jacket with a shirt and knee-length skirt from the work section of her wardrobe, coordinating jewellery, putting on full make-up and asking her mother if the scarf she is wearing matches her strawberry Guy Laroche suit.

Added Appeal: Shroff slips on a string of pearls when she has to attend a meeting

Saraf, 25, chief executive officer of Vu Technologies, is part of a small, but slowly increasing, number of women who can’t get to work unless their work personality is in place. Saraf says she feels her own personality change when she’s in those clothes. But it is also about other people’s perception. “People see you as their daughter, not as someone who’s in charge, if you’re wearing a salwar kameez," Saraf feels. So, her work wardrobe is filled with jackets, pencil skirts, formal shirts and a few shirt dresses. Saraf says she makes sure she accessorizes every outfit differently, and ensures that her jackets cinch at the waist so they don’t look masculine.

“The work environment is no longer slouchy. You can deliver more if you’re smartly turned out," says designer Narendra Kumar. But, both Kumar and designer Ravi Bajaj are reluctant to use the phrase “power dressing". Kumar prefers to term it “confidence clothing", while Bajaj thinks it is “the power of dressing". “I’m a firm believer in the concept," says Bajaj. “It does matter, and impacts how you deal with people and the way they deal with you."

Power dressing is a term reminiscent of the 1980s when shoulders were padded, jackets were boxy, and women were trying to look like men. “Today, masculinity is out of power dressing, even for men," says Bajaj. Women are dressing feminine in the office in softly structured suits, skirts or trousers and shirts. Saraf says her latest buys are quite feminine—shirt dresses, layered necklaces and short peasant jackets.

Kumar says people have come to expect more of women in the workspace, and it holds true for their attire as well. Parmeet Arora, a relationship partner at Yes Bank, says that on the rare day she goes to work without her make-up on, she is asked if she’s unwell, or if she woke up late. Arora dresses in trousers, tailored shirts and knits. She says she has seen colleagues’ wardrobes drastically change over the past couple of years. Trousers and shirts are popular; while salwar kameezes are still worn often, she says the salwar is being replaced by well-fitting churidars, which are more formal.

“Young people are discovering that they like formal wear, and are wearing it a little more freely; it’s no longer boring, but a return to elegance," says Renato Grande, Arrow clothing line’s Italian designer. He says the definition of dressing up has evolved from being structured to an easy sophistication.

Shonali Shroff, head of corporate communications at Shringar Cinemas Ltd, thinks a person’s clothes should convey that they take themselves seriously. Her work look is a pin-striped shirt, formal trousers and jackets. “When you’re at work in cargoes and a tee, you look too relaxed."

That’s exactly what 29-year-old Roopa Purushothaman, head of future capital research at Future Group, wishes wouldn’t happen. “Your work should not be judged by what you wear, but that’s unfortunately not always the case," she says. She has reached a compromise with her wardrobe. Purushothaman’s put her dark trouser/skirt and jacket sets away, and has opted for A-line or straight dresses in dark, sober colours, or trousers with buttoned-down shirts or tunics.

While manly jackets were essential to the old definition of power dressing, the updated version allows you to drop these for a tailored blouse or shirt that has been tucked into trousers or, preferably, a skirt. “I wish more women would wear skirts to the office," says Bajaj. “They’re formal, feminine, practical in the warm weather and look great with a jacket." Wide, chunky belts have also slimmed down; Kumar says belts should be no wider than two inches. “The power of dressing today lies in the quality of your clothes and accessories. Let it be simple, but it should be well made and finished," Kumar says.

High street fashion labels have figured out that while trends such as leggings and smocks may be popular for a season or two, there is always a market for formal wear. At Mango, the increasing demand for executive clothing has resulted in a 15-20% increase in their range of trousers, jackets and cardigans this season. A few seasons ago, working women would make sure to visit the Spanish label’s stores on the day the new collection arrived, so the small selection of jackets wouldn’t be sold out when they visited over the weekend. Now you can’t look through the racks without discovering pieces that are well-suited for business meetings. The label stocks about four styles of jackets—three-button jackets in black and chocolate, grey tweed jackets pulled in at the waist and buff pieces buttoned to the collar. There are also striped cuffed shirts, buttoned-down, puffed-sleeved silk shirts, knee-length skirts in suiting fabrics, and a large collection of knits and trousers.

At United Colors of Benetton, the first consignment of the Fall/Winter collection already has steel grey jackets, pin-striped shirts and slim trousers. So, button up.


Designer Ravi Bajaj loads up your work closet

u A straight, knee-length skirt which falls straight from the hips—either a pencil or A shape—in heavyweight cotton or linen.

u A well-fitting jacket that’s about 18-20" in length. The bottom of the jacket should fall between your belt and mid-hip. Any longer than that will look boxy, masculine and dowdy.

u A tucked-in tailored silk blouse, which has a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves.

u A classic collared shirt with cuffs.

u A pair of pumps or closed-toed shoes such as mules, which look closed from the front. Sandals are not formal enough.

u If you’re wearing a skirt, put on a pair of stockings to finish the look. They’re very useful if your legs are slightly ungroomed or have scars you want to hide. If your skirt is a mid to light tone, wear a pair of skin-coloured ones. Black stockings go well with a black or navy skirt.