Power Trip

A Brief History of the Power Suit

From the French court to JFK to Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho’

cintra wilson
Published in
11 min readOct 11, 2018
Illustration: Noah MacMillan

Thus fashion on one hand signifies union with those in the same class, the uniformity characterized by it, and, uno actu, the exclusion of all other groups.

—Georg Simmel, 1904

Accreted power tramples over the will of the individual — because that is what power does.

— The Economist, September 8, 2018

A cornered animal bristles its fur to appear larger.

To dress for power is to extend the body, like the retractable claws of a predator; to convince by size, silhouette, and animus that you possess the authority either to reward those who please you or cause swift and immediate pain to those who offend.

Until the French Revolution in 1789, the French court dictated men’s fashions. Puffy sleeves, enormous wigs, high-heeled booties, all to give an impression of largeness and virility. The idea that the higher the appearance of a person’s head, “the closer (they are) to God” has perennially applied both to pope hats and Dolly Parton wigs.

Elevator heels, holstered weapons, and aggressive back-combing notwithstanding, the suit, since the beginning of the 20th century, has been the primary psychological exoskeleton by which the professional man — that evolved landshark in three-season, worsted super 150s — may protect his image, declare his status, and potentially intimidate those in his purview into obedience and submission.

It is impossible to describe the evolution of the modern suit without invoking the innovations of Beau Brummell, who redefined the look of the Regency age.

Late 1700s or early 1800s engraving showing Beau Brummell dressed in a fur-trimmed cloak, spats, and a top hat. Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images

To Brummell’s jaundiced eye, the conventional costume of his day was unforgivably tainted by such court holdovers as overly tight breeches, ruffly lace sleeves, long bejeweled cutaway coats, garish waistcoats, or accessorizing with too many chains, braids, and buckles.



cintra wilson
Writer for

Cultural X-ray. Bat-shark. Lame-retardant. Your ad here, $1M.