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Dressing down is the new power dressing: how to master ‘deviation chic’

Forget Givenchy It sweatshirts and stealth-wealth Céline totes, it seems that Lycra running pants are actually the newest form of status dressing. According to a group of US professors, deliberately flouting dress codes – such as keeping your running kit on in the office – is in fact the new power dressing. Who knew that the bods at Harvard Business School had a deeper handle on sartorial semantics than Anna Wintour? Because personally, I think this study completely nails it.

In the office I’m sitting in right now it’s fairly easy to cast my eye around for examples. The guy in the mantights and the sweat patch chairing the meeting in the glass box? Well, he can do that because what he is saying is so much more important than how he’s dressed. He’s got utter confidence in his seniority and experience, plus he’s quite alpha – you know he’s training for the marathon, right? That’s at least what he’s hoping to convey with the adoption of what I’m calling “deviation chic”.

It’s a wardrobe move that has its roots in Silicon Valley. All those dudes in the mom jeans and hoodies telling us what the tech future holds – from Mark Zuckerberg ahead of the normcore curve to Bebo founder Michael Birch with his Kevin Shields hair and paisley shirt. These guys have been flouting the boardroom style rules for years.

Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton SS14
Marc Jacobs dresses down on the frow at Louis Vuitton SS14 Photograph: Petroff/Dufour/Getty Images

It’s a trend that has permeated the world of fashion too. Low-key trainers have replaced power heels as the average frow look. The more status you have the more unfashion the trainers can get. Given that running has for some time been the sport that fashion editors like to claim as theirs (even model Natalia Vodianova famously likes to do the Paris half marathon a couple of hours before appearing on the catwalk) I think it’s only a matter of time before an important editor sits front row in actual running Lycra and Flyknits. It’s a big-scale wardrobe flout and it would take a bigtime editor to pull it off, but it may well happen.

The study also found that the “flouting it” look has traction in shops too. Retailers think that if someone is dressed in sweatpants it signifies that they are comfortable in a luxury store and so are likely to spend a lot. Unlike someone who is dressed up to shop and thus appears a little less familiar with high-end shopping. Anyone who has seen papped pics of a celebrity wearing a tracksuit, leaving a Bond street store with stiff paper bags, can confirm that this is FACT.

But don’t get sloppy. Deviation chic is not about opening the floodgates to fashion mistakes. The key is that the flouting has to be deliberate. If it’s an accidental misreading of dress codes – then it doesn’t count. That’s just getting it wrong, and that’s not power-dressing at all.

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