There's been no shortage of strong female characters to hit our TV screens in recent years and a killer wardrobe is their secret weapon. These women aren't defined by their clothes - rather their chosen style is an emblem; the badge of honour that speaks of their grit, determination and power.
Claire Underwood's cold, calculating gaze in House of Cards gets that bit chillier thanks to her cut-to-perfection "Claire hair" and string of classically tailored shift dresses. And Alicia Florrick's colour-block jackets are the finishing flourish to a class act in The Good Wife. Even grubby old sweaters get their moment thanks to the relentless drive of Sarah Lund in The Killing.
So if you're wondering how to kill that tricky board meeting next week, why not grab a little inspiration from our fleet of legendary power dressers. Don that silk peach blouse and bouclé and work it like never before...
Claire Underwood - House of Cards
Played by Robin Wright
You may not agree with Claire Underwood's manipulative, bloody-minded tactics in House of Cards, but there's no denying this lady's got style. A power player through and through, Claire was born ready and we'd be amazed if we ever saw a strand of her textured, boyish crop out of place. Her stone-cold demeanor is perfectly complemented by a string of crisply pressed blouses, suede heels and form-fitting sheath dresses. If fashion were armoury, this stuff would be storming the battle field.
"With her character we really wanted to have this armored, tailored, tight, nothing out of place feel," said House of Cards costume designer Tom Broecker. "It was more about which designers really reinforced her silhouette and which designers we could tailor to have that precision and that armoured feel."
- Think designer (or designer knockoffs). Claire's go-to favourites include skirts from Prada or L’Wren Scott, man-tailored Theory shirts and dresses Gucci, Armani, Ralph Lauren, and Narciso Rodriguez.
- A classic trench is a must! Claire's come from Burberry (naturally).
- Invest in a practical yet beautiful tote, like Claire's statement YSL Muse bag.
- Fit is all. Don't even think about stepping about in a worn top or too-tight skirt; Claire's clothes are a well-oiled machine of perfection. And don't be afraid to throw in a little hint of sex appeal around the edges.
Shop the look:
- Navy lightweight sheath dress, £85, Banana Republic
- Petite collar Bameli shirt, £128, Theory
- Too Hot To Handle tote bag, £470, Marc by Marc Jacobs at Liberty
Olivia Pope - Scandal
Played by Kerry Washington
As the queen of ‘the gladiators’, Olivia Pope’s job is just as likely to see her cleaning up a murder scene as holding a press conference at the White House. Quite the challenge to dress for, or so you’d think. Not so for the effortlessly elegant, and ever unflappable, Olivia Pope who has power dressing down to a tee. Or - as she would say - "fabulous work wear? It’s handled".
Stylist Lyn Paolo told Buzzfeed, "I love the idea of having Olivia, this beautiful woman, in a room full of men in dark suits, and she’s in that white suit. She just epitomizes strong femininity. I wanted her to just sort of glow, and ultimately look so feminine, and very Jackie O. She’s Kate Hepburn, basically."
- Embrace white, grey, pale pink and cream (you might want to keep one of these handy). Olivia plays on her femininity by dressing in loose, elegant pastels which make her strength and steel all the more impressive when they come out.
- Find your perfect trouser fit – and stock up on them. Stylist Paolo said that the only time she and Washington have disagreed on wardrobe was during the pilot, when Paolo thought Pope should be in skirts, and Washington firmly pushed for pants: "In the end, she was right".
- Play with textures, Olivia frequently layers silk over wool to bring a quirky dynamic to her look.
- Invest in great lounge wear. Any time strapped woman worth her salt knows downtime is essential. Olivia Pope’s gorgeous silk pyjama sets and elegant cashmere cardigans take her lounge time up a notch. Throw in some homemade popcorn and a glass of expensive red and voilà.
Savvy, astute and with nerves of steel, Alicia Florrick is a lawyer who knows how to work it - and her wardrobe backs her up every step of the way. Her clothes are as reliable as the lady they cover and no matter what cry to justice Alicia finds herself entangled in, her look is unflappably chic, elegant and defined.
The Good Wife's costume designer Daniel Lawson crafted Alicia's fashion to become progressively more bold with each season, to mirror how her character becomes more and more sure of herself.
"As we got to the second and third seasons, we saw a sense of confidence start to bloom," he said. "She had this slight ‘40s silhouette to her look. I was like 'Oh my gosh, she’s Rosie the Riveter!' She is totally confident with her work, her affair with her boss and sexual life. She had gotten a promotion and was making money. She was able to buy new clothes and put together more full head-to-toe outfits, including wearing more jewellery."
- Go for bold colours. Alicia favours royal red and dark purple pieces. But as Lawson says, don't be afraid to throw in black now and again - "much as I try not to use black, sometimes it’s just a great colour to put in there. It’s definitely one of the major tools in my box of tools for helping to tell the story and help create the palette."
- Embrace your femininity. Alicia is unashamedly feminine and refuses to bow to the dour dress code of the legal world. You want that flamboyant flared jacket or pair of five-inch heels? Go for it.
- Bring wardrobe staples to life by pairing them with new, unexpected splashes of personality. For example, pair a black pencil skirt with a flared waist blazer or finish off a tailored grey jacket with a statement dash of bling e.g. a gold wrist watch.
- Go fitted rather than free-flowing. Alicia's wardrobe is all about accentuating her figure without overdoing it. Sure, there's a little creative flair here and there but it's always contained within the specific cut and colour of the piece. Baggy or freestyle is out.
Nessa Stein is one of the most formidable characters on TV; brave, impassioned, complicated and conflicted, she is devoted to breaking down barriers in the Middle East. A respected Anglo-Israeli businesswoman, her outfits resonate gravitas and authority but they are also creative enough to hold the eye.
"Because the character of Nessa is so complicated and multi layered, we looked at all sorts of different people as reference," Edward K Gibbon, costume designer for the series, told The Independent. "I suppose we started off by looking at other powerful and stylish women through history, Jackie Kennedy, Eva Peron, Margaret Thatcher, Cleopatra.
"And then we kind of threw all the reference away and started afresh. The way Maggie looked as Nessa was constantly evolving throughout the six month shoot."
- Let loose: Nessa's sartorial influences cover everything from silk blouses to designer suits, bold print dresses, vintage coats and charity shop finds. From high-end to high street, the world is your oyster.
- Opt for young, hip, edgy labels rather than more established brands. Nessa draws from the likes of Pringle, Acne and Stella McCartney.
- A silk blouse is always a good thing, be it blush peach or midnight blue.
- Keep it simple. One bold statement per outfit will do the trick, whether it's a power dress, cinched wide-legged trousers or sublime silk slip lingerie.
Shop the look:
- Rosa Ditsy Floral Print shirt, £165, LK Bennett
- French Connection crazy creation print dress, £47.50, Atterley Road
- Mohair suit jacket in blue, £490, Acne Studios
Mindy Lahiri - The Mindy Project
Played by Mindy Kaling
Bright, loud, witty and daring; Doctor Mindy Lahiri’s outfits are the embodiment of her character (AKA the woman the entire Stylist.co.uk team are in love with). It’s tricky to come up with an all-encompassing word to describe the unlucky in love doctor’s personal style, but her colourful get-ups are one of the most appealing visual elements of The Mindy Project (AKA the show the entire stylist.co.uk team are addicted to).
Costume designer Salvador Perez, Jr. is the man who style the inimitable Mindy, and he told the Huffington Post, "It's really about silhouettes and styles. It's really about finding the right piece that goes with an outfit. But part of the fun thing about how I dress Mindy is, I don't put her in a Kate Spade sweater with a Kate Spade dress and a Kate Spade belt. I like to mix it up so the look is very unique to her."
- Don’t be afraid to clash; Mindy’s won’t stick to dull fashion rules and loves to mix colours, shapes and style to create her unique look
- Fall in love with colour. The brighter, and bolder, the better.
- Go wild for prints. Love them, cherish them and don’t be afraid to mix them.
- Mix it up; Mindy embraces a range of styles, from clashing prints to a simple power suit. She always adds her personal sprinkle of Mindy-ness to every look, with flamboyant accessories or a new beauty or hair look.
Shop The Look:
- Flared, short-sleeve dress in fuchsia pink, £59.99, Zara
- Fruit woven trousers by Jaded London, £45, Topshop
- Bodhi earrings, £35, Finchittida Finch
DSI Stella Gibson - The Fall
Played by Gillian Anderson
The enigmatic and cool DSI Stella Gibson is a walking, talking testimony to the power of a silk shirt. In fact, the detective's varying shades of cream blouses (top buttons undone for gentle hint of cleavage) play a starring role in the gritty Belfast crime drama and appear time and again in Gibson's crusade to track down one of the most good-looking serial killers known to man. Retailers even reported a spike in sales for silk shirts when the series aired. Stella rounds off the look with a classic pencil skirt or a well-cut suit, carefully coiffured hair and stilettos.
"She's definitely my most sexually confident role," Gillian Anderson said of her detective alter-ego. "I've played a lot of tightly wound, dark, miserable, confused, suicidal women."
- The silk shirt act is all in the wearing of it. Choose the softest silk in a close-cut fit with the top few buttons undone and pair it with jeans for a low-key look or statement jewellery for office wear.
- Blow-dry hair is key. If you can't be bothered to tease it into shape every morning, at least invest in a quick-fix hair mask and serum to keep your barnet looking healthy and full of life throughout the day.
- Low-key is best. Stella goes for neutral, creamy shades paired with well-tailored black classic suits.
- If you're going to make a habit of silk shirts, it's best to get to grips with how to remove sweat stains (a problem that strangely, DSI Stella never seemed to have). Use water and vinegar as in this online tutorial.
Shop the look:
- Ivory silk blouse, £120, Jaeger
- Black stripe pencil skirt, £95, French Connection
- Classic suit jacket, £54.95, Karen Millen
Sarah Lund - The Killing
Played by Sofie Gråbøl
Sarah Lund's thick patterned sweaters have taken on a cult status in The Killing, as much a part of the detective's persona as her ruthless, driven and single-minded streak. As actress Sofie Gråbøl explains, "The reason it's so perfect is because it tells so many stories. It tells of a person who doesn't use her sexuality – that's a big point. Lund's so sure of herself she doesn't have to wear a suit. She's at peace with herself."
We have to agree there's something weirdly appealing about Lund's unaffected blend of not-quite-brushed hair, jeans and thick Danish jumpers in varying shades of blue, cream and pond weed green. Especially the way their cosy familiarity clashes so beautifully with her tough, closed-off character.
- Go for thick wool on the material front for your sweater of choice. Cashmere just won't cut it and is entirely against the point of the exercise.
- Don't be tempted to groom yourself too much. Lund's appeal lies in the slightly unkempt territory.
- There's no such thing as office wear. It's jeans and jumpers all the way.
- Oversized is best. Lund doesn't go in for this figure-hugging business.
Shop the look: