How People With Money and Power Dress Differently

The National Archives Building
The National Archives Building

The National Archives Building

“When you step off the plane, you can smell the power.”

That’s how a woman I once worked with in Texas described the climate in Washington, DC. She’d just returned from a conference there, and was ready to go back for more.

“It’s exciting. Vibrant. Powerful,” she said. “I’d move there in a heartbeat.”

That conversation came back to me last week as I was strolling around D.C. with my son and his 7th Grade class, who were there for a field trip. We started the day at Arlington National Cemetery, then headed to the Mall for the afternoon before finishing up at Union Station.

So where did the money and power come in?


The major architectural style along the Mall and the surrounding government buildings is neo-classic. Neo meaning “new” and classic meaning “in the classic style” of Ancient Greece and Rome. The pillars, statues, and symmetry are formal and commanding, as are the manicured lawns and gardens.

It’s particularly beautiful in the spring, when all the trees and flowers are in bloom. But what always strikes me most is the scale – how large everything is. Four hundred thousand people buried in Arlington. Block upon block of spectacular neo-classic buildings. Miles of grass and trees and flowers right in the middle of the city.

The National Mall

The National Mall

There were lots of people in schleppy clothes both at the cemetery and along the Mall near the Smithsonian. Sloppy is pretty much standard among tourists.

But as we strolled beside the Reflecting Pool on our way to the Lincoln Memorial, I started seeing something that immediately caught my eye: joggers. Young, clean cut, and physically fit. Joggers here in Delaware tend to be either college students wearing crazy colors or middle age men in sloppy t-shirts and shorts. But the guys on the Mall wore proper workout gear, and most had excellent posture. My guess is military or Secret Service. They commanded attention just by how they moved. It was a different breed of athlete.

After a walk back to the other part of the Mall and a tour through the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, it was time to get back on the bus and head to Union Station for dinner.

Union Station Mall

Union Station Mall

Union Station is, not surprisingly, the main metro/train hub in the city. You can use it to get around town or to embark on a train trip across country. What makes it different from most metro/train stations is that it also has a shopping mall. You can shop, eat, or buy groceries before you take your commuter train home.

We hit there right around 5 o’clock, as most people were headed home from work. But there were also a lot of people traveling out of town. The ticketing floor reminded me a lot of an airport, both in how it was set up and by the number of people carrying suitcases.

But there was a HUGE difference in how these train travelers were dressed compared to travelers at most airports: almost everyone wore business attire.

Expensive. Tailored. Fitted.

You can smell the power.

That’s when that long-ago conversation popped back into my head.

People with money and power tend to dress and act differently than those without. Not all of them, mind you, there are plenty of laid back millionaires – but those in the active pursuit of power have a way about them that most other people don’t.

Better posture. Better wardrobes. More confidence.

You don’t see them tentatively standing around, wondering what to do. They just do it. They have a plan. A schedule to follow.

If you’re around it all the time, you don’t notice it. But when you’re not, it’s blatantly obvious.

I saw it in Washington. I’ve seen it in New York, Houston, and San Francisco. I even noticed it among the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania recently when I stopped for lunch and was surrounded by executives in beautiful suits.

Powerful people dress in powerful clothes.

It’s been that way for centuries.

So what constitutes “powerful clothing?”

  • Dark or neutral colors
  • Straight lines
  • Firm fabrics
  • Proper fit

But what makes powerful people different from the “Average Joe” is in how they put those four elements together. While the average person may follow the instructions to the letter, powerful people put their own twist on it. Elegant fabrics. Custom fit. Beautiful accessories.


Average crowd

Average crowd

See the difference?

Powerful people don’t just wear their industry uniform, they wear it better than those around them.

Power players also tend to be physically fit with good posture and a commanding presence. That’s because people who are going places tend to exude power and confidence.

People who are worn down or defeated tend to slump and shuffle. They dress sloppily. They’re not into details. Like most of the tourists I saw that day.

So what can you do to get on the confidence track?

Start by observing.

Look around the next time you’re in a crowd, particularly during the work week. Look at how the power players dress. Note their clothing and fabrics. Look at their accessories. Their grooming.

Then, start incorporating some of those elements into your own attire and watch what happens. Chances are, people will start deferring to you more.

What’s the end result?

More impact.

Better options.

Easier path.

Try it yourself and see!

Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Create Your Ideal Image.  Ready to create a look that turns heads and takes you places?  Create Your Ideal Image can help.


  • Julia

    Reply Reply April 26, 2016

    I love that picture of the powerful people in Boston. You have an article entitled ‘If in doubt wear red’. As your article also says, perhaps not 100% Red, but, on the basis of that picture, I think I am going to dig out a red scarf to go with my dark suit for my meeting on Friday!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 26, 2016

      Hi Julia – I love that picture from Boston, too, because you know the magazine told the power players to wear black with a dash of red, and they all did it in their own way. A red scarf is a perfect way to add a dash of excitement to your ensemble. You might also try red lipstick and fingernail polish. Good luck at your meeting!

  • Janet

    Reply Reply June 5, 2016

    I enjoy watching tennis. At all the Grand Slam events – the French Open, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon—notice the spectators seated in the first dozen rows or so. Even at an outdoor sporting event, the men in the expensive seats are wearing suits and ties in dark colors such as navy or black with crisp white shirts. The women are also wearing jackets or dresses in similar colors. Then compare to the people sitting in the cheap seats. There you see everything but classic style.

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