Women’s suits, ‘pantsuits’ in particular, have become a norm in our culture and society, imbedding themselves into fashion everywhere you look. It’s strange to think how much a woman wearing a trouser suit actually says in terms of history, style and feminism.
I went to a London College of Fashion Archives talk earlier this week with guest speaker Sali Hughes, author and journalist. The conversation was fascinating, discussing the life of an award-winning columnist generally would be, but she also went into depth over how she found significance in ‘things’, inanimate objects, and particularly beauty products. She turned this significance into a book ‘Pretty Iconic’.
It wasn’t really until that moment that I realised I have the same feeling towards clothes. I’ve always questioned where my clothes have come from, and make up for that matter. I’m consistently aware that I should likely be more stringent when it comes to the sourcing of fabrics and the ins and outs of ethical manufacturing before purchasing things, although I do have a genuine interest and care about it. But something I find so important is the history of what we wear.
Many people view fashion as vanity, superfluous and self-absorbent. I think it’s the exact opposite.
Clothes are a constant in our lives (most of the time) and they say so much in terms of individualism and autonomy, but also reflect huge periods of life changing history: women battling for their rights, for equality and for change. As trivial as it may seem, this is all entirely prevalent in a trouser suit.
Fashion In Politics
Looking at it from a purely political viewpoint, women over the years have stated their importance and abilities by wearing pantsuits, showing their opposition, and often even their own party, that they are equal and that they are powerful. Hillary Clinton has become synonymous for trouser-suit and it’s no coincidence she’s the first woman to ever run for president.
Of course, Clinton hasn’t achieved what she has solely through her outfits (although how incred would that be?) but showing herself as an equal force to be reckoned with has seen her navigate career paths that very few women have been able to.
Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822-1911) was a philanthropist and feminist social reformer, supporting the women’s rights movement both financially and actively throughout her life. She was thought to be the first woman to wear ‘pants’ as an act of dress code reform, but still for decades after her death women would be berated and reprimanded for wearing trousers, something we take so much for granted now.
Equality Suits Me
I love what a trouser suit stands for. I think there is so much power in an outfit. I like that it states ‘we are EQUAL’ not ‘we are better’ or ‘you are worse’. It creates authority for women and puts us all on the same playing field. Of course there are still criticisms and crosswords over women in suits, with ridiculous people making ridiculous comments over ‘gender-confusion’, which is obviously just ridiculous. Although with the ever-evolving integration of trouser suits into fashion outside of the workplace, these opinions are being laughed out the door.
It’s so easy to overlook something like a trouser suit because it sounds petty, but this isn’t even a hundredth of all that has gone into their making and their making of a stronger female collective.
Sali Hughes said what we were all thinking at the London College of Fashion talk.
Sali Hughes spoke about the significance of red lipstick, the story of its past, its consequences and the bravery taken to change all of that. Women wearing red lipstick is another way of them saying ‘I’m confident, capable and I do what I want. So fuck you’. Which, frankly, I’d say is necessary. To me, the same can be said for a trouser suit. It looks people right in the eye and holds no pretense over its authority and clout.
I’d never say a woman ‘should’ wear a trouser suit, because the only thing a woman ‘should’ do is what they want. Although, for me personally, with the knowledge of it’s past and the strength behind women that have pushed us this far, it’s safe to say I’m a big fan of the old jacket ‘n troos.
Here are some of my favourite moments / campaigns actively questioning the power behind a trouser suit:
Julia Roberts wore a men’s Armani suit when accepting her Golden Globe award for Best Actress in 1990, her way of telling girls and women internationally that they have choices and they can succeed.
SUISTUDIO launched a campaign in 2017 that caused a huge amount of controversy showcasing women in suits and naked men next to them. With many people arguing a ‘double-standard’ and saying ‘if that was the other way round women would lose their shit’, I think it’s safe to say a fair few missed the point of the campaign. That was the idea.
Brigitte Bardot helped to shape a new face of fashion throughout the 1960’s. She didn’t just look crackin’, she made trouser suits valuable and desirable.
Janelle Monáe is famous for her traditionally black and white wardrobe made up of ties, loafers and, of course, suits. She says ‘I think it’s important that I set an example for other women to just be in control of your body’. Preach ma hun.