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The Power Suit Makes the Woman

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The Power Suit Makes the Woman

Business

The Power Suit Makes the Woman

The Power Suit Makes the Woman

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/87937922/87937869" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Clara Lee Arnold, Oxford, Miss. From 'Trappings,' courtesy of Two Girls Working hide caption

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From 'Trappings,' courtesy of Two Girls Working

What was going through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's mind the morning in 2005 she decided to wear tall stiletto boots and a military-style tunic to meetings with officials in Germany? Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki bring us closer to the answer. Their new book, Trappings: Stories of Women, Power and Clothing is a study of women and their clothing choices. It's the result of asking nearly 600 women in 15 states one simple question: "What do you wear that makes you feel powerful?"

The pair started working on the project in 2001, when they decided to take a serious look at the state of feminism. But how to talk about a "hot-button topic" like feminism, Ludwig says, without devolving into black and white generalities? "Clothing," she says, "is an entry into a power-charged conversation." After all, everyone has to get dressed in the morning, Ludwig says. For the book, interview sessions were modeled after classic Tupperware parties. "It's not a secret confession," Tiffany says.

Ludwig and Piechocki say that a surprising number of women were immediately revealing, even though in 90 percent of the interview sessions, they were talking to people they'd never met. One memorable response was a "yes dress," a slinky number that got a businesswoman the answers she wanted. But Ludwig and Piechocki also heard from women that their power item was a lab coat, a head wrap or a tattoo.

What about the questioners? "We politely declined to answer," Piechocki says. If we did, she says, our response would cloud the question. "Our role is as a connector and platform provider," she says. "It's not about us."

Watch an audio slideshow, with images from the new book, on the BPP blog.