Behind every addictive TV show is a strong, inspirational female character. She's a leader, makes tough decisions and holds the secret to power dressing. And no, that's not code for a staid pantsuit.
"As much as gender roles are fluctuating in the nation's workforce (especially since women began outnumbering men for the first time five years ago), so too are the old rules about dressing for success," InStyle Fashion News Director Eric Wilson writes in his Look Smart column "Pantsuits Won't Play Here" (page 165) in the October issue. "It may sound trite, but on television, as in real life, appearances do matter...if there's a universal message to be found here, it's this: Leave the pinstripes, gray flannel, and shoulder pads to the boys."
With the return of fall TV shows comes the anticipation of what our favorite female power players will wear on the small screen, from Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) in polished columns of color on The Good Wife (Sundays 9/8c on CBS) to Carrie Mathison's (played by Claire Danes) no-nonsense separates on Homeland (the season 4 two hour-long premiere is set for this Sunday at 9 ET on Showtime) to Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington)'s pale elegant pieces on Scandal ( Thursdays 9/8c on ABC).
All of this is our (and Hollywood's) way of saying: A pantsuit isn't the only sartorial option anymore for ambitious, driven women, on and off screen (though it might still be a preferred uniform for certain CIA officers—ahem, Carrie).
From professional political fixers to tough criminal law professors, female characters are breaking all the traditional fashion boundaries in the workplace and teaching us that there is a way to be taken seriously without having to compromise style. They may be fictional on screen, but their fashion lessons are 100 percent real. Click through to snag their style!
1. Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife
As Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) advances in her career, from politician's wife to a junior litigator, so does her style. 'What is wrong with being feminine and strong?" says The Good Wife costume designer Daniel Lawson. "My feeling is that power dressing is not about the clothes looking powerful as much as it is bout the clothing making the wearer feel powerful." To do that, Florrick is often seen clad in no-fuss silhouettes and monochromatic looks.
2. Olivia Pope, Scandal
Professional fixer aside, Pope (played by Kerry Washington) is better known for being a white knight (she's often outfitted in pale shades), or a "gladiator in a suit." She commands an incredible authoritative presence, a degree of which is in large part due to her style. "There is strength in femininity," says Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo. "Wearing white in a roomful of dark suits looks very powerful. That's where everyone's will go. You are not breaking the rules, but you are striding ahead of everyone else. You are the center of attention."
3. Carrie Mathison, Homeland
Even though fashion may not be on the forefront of Mathison's mind, the CIA officer (played by Claire Danes), nevertheless, knows what she likes-no-nonsense tailored pantsuits and blouses that exude confidence and professionalism.
4. Selina Meyer, Veep
Vice president Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is second in command, and she doesn't need a standard-issued pantsuit to be taken seriously. "Meyer strikes that balance between what's glamorous and what's appropriate for a vice president," says Veep costume designer Ernesto Martinez for the first two season, citing Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Condoleeza Rice as inspirations. Even though Meyer's colorful blouses and curve-hugging shifts don't translate to real-life politics, Martinez says the news rules for power dressing won't apply just to TV: "We will see a woman in the White House as president; that's why the world is going to be a better place. Because of women."
5. Claire Underwood, House of Cards
Played by Robin Wright, Underwood is an ambitious career gal and politician's wife who treats her little black dresses like her suit of armor. "She goes to battle every day," says House of Cards costume designer Johanna Argan. "Her clothes are her protection. Claire's clothes are her armor, so they're very structured, very well tailored. We choose very specific silhouettes that highlight her shape to show her strength, but don't lose her femininity."
6. Sloan Sabbith, The Newsroom
As the senior financial report for News Night, Sabbith (played by Olivia Munn) is all business-an aesthetic that's communicated through her on-air wardrobe. But make no mistake, that doesn't mean hiding your figure or your femininity. "I wanted a black suit that's fitted and conservative," Munn says of working with the show's costume designer Hope Hanafin on Sabbith's look. "I don't want to flaunt her sexuality, but I don't want her to apologize for it either."
7. Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project
Dr. Lahiri (played by Mindy Kaling) may not be your average power player, but in her position as a partner of Shulman's Women's Health Associates, she eschews basic suits in favor for structured, tailored pieces splashed with playful prints and loud colors. "By taking a basic silhouette and mixing it up with a printed shirt and some bold color," says the show's costume designer Salvador Perez, "the look goes from being ordinary to extraordinary."
8. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
From deputy director to city councilor, Knope's (played by Amy Poehler) career has evolved over the span of five seasons. While she remains partial to her politically correct pantsuits, she does inject feminine flair and personality with fun prints and bold colors.
9. MacKenzie McHale, The Newsroom
Mac (played by Emily Mortimer) may hold a position of power as the executive producer of News Night, but her go-to look doesn't include suit separates. She's often clad in a pretty blouse tucked into a skin-skimming pencil skirt.
10. Annalise Keating, How to Get Away With Murder
Played by Viola Davis, Keating is a tough criminal law professor, who deals with-and wins-sordid cases. Oh, and much to her law students's dismay, she has zero tolerance for bs. Even though she's tough, she doesn't sacrifice style or her femininity, gravitating toward cool leather peplum jackets and sculpted figure-flattering dresses.