Luxury

Return Of The Pantsuit: Reclaiming Fashion’s Most Divisive Staple

The post-#MeToo response to the corporate staple is given a feminine, powerful reimagining.

By Divya Bala

Luxury

The post-#MeToo response to the corporate staple is given a feminine, powerful reimagining.

By Divya Bala

“Ever since I was a little girl, my fairytale involved a pantsuit, not a wedding dress,” said bestselling novelist Jessica Knoll in her provocative piece for The New York Times, “I want to be rich and I’m not sorry.” Her ambition for workplace success manifested itself in a sort of sartorial armour and in our brave, new, post-#MeToo world, designers are placing more weight than ever on pantsuits, as a symbol of unequivocal power and support for women – at least where their wardrobe is concerned.

The pantsuit has long been in the fashion lexicon – in the early 1900s many US states made it illegal for women to wear trousers. Fashion mirrors social change and the move away from skirts took hold with the first wave of feminism. In the wake of World War I, when all able-bodied men were called to service, women entered the workforce in droves. This same era saw women’s suffrage take hold around the world, and these collective moments of revolutionary social change entered the runway.

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Through the following decades, it has indeed been fearless women who championed the pantsuit. German-born actress Marlene Dietrich, who rose to international success in the early ’30s, wore a tuxedo in her Oscar-winning role in Morocco. Some years later, American actress Katharine Hepburn eschewed the sequin-and-feather-fuelled glamour of her time for wide-lapel blazers and roomy trousers in her 1942 film Woman of the Year.

In the ’60s, alongside revolutionary milestones for equality and civil rights, French designer Yves Saint Laurent debuted his iconic Le Smoking tuxedo in 1966, redefining sexy and feminine dressing. An early adopter, New York socialite Nan Kempner was famously turned away from Manhattan’s Le Cote Basque restaurant for wearing one. Yet it didn’t harm sales. Between 1980 to 1987, the annual sale of women’s suits increased by US$600 million as the rate of female managers rose from 20 per cent to 36 per cent.

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