When you think of an exquisitely tailored pantsuit you probably visualize any number of 007’s drinking martinis. However, if secret agents aren’t your type perhaps the quintessential crackerjack defense attorney ready to do word battle in court is the image that comes to mind. Every image is one who embodies a broad shoulder, nipped in waist and tailored pants with just the right amount of inseam. Who we don’t think about when we think of a well-tailored pantsuit is a woman—for good reason too. The pantsuit has been the territory of men for centuries.
The elaborate royal coat dress of the 17th century was certainly more flamboyant than the suits of today. Nevertheless men have relied on the well-tailored suit to exude a sense of power and even prestige. In the 19th century the British dandy Beau Brummell is credited for giving men’s suits the modern touch we still see today. His take on pantsuits took away the garish accents of the earlier royal courts. He offered a new vision for men’s styling using fabrics with softer neutral tones and adding a knotted ties.
Even with the relaxed trends of fashion today a well-tailored pantsuit is still a staple for men wanting to be taken seriously. The formula is easy—tailored pants, matching jacket, button-down shirt, and loafers or oxfords. The tie is optional. A well-tailored suit effectively has given men entree into an exclusive world which commands attention, opens doors to well-connected relationships, and sometimes it even gets them an upgrade while flying. Wearing a baseball cap, teeshirt, and shorts will never yield the same results.
The pantsuit for women first became prominent in 1966 when Yves St. Laurent designed the Le Smoking Tuxedo. It first debuted to mostly negative reviews. But after the old guards of fashion stopped clutching their pearls Yves pantsuit was seen as a modern approach to women’s fashion. Unfortunately, the world was not quite ready for the masculinization of women.
In 1968 socialite and couture collector Nan Kemper was unceremoniously thrown out of Le Côte Basque in New York for wearing one. But true to Nan’s style she removed the trousers and was left with only the jacket which she passed off as a tight-fitting mini dress. In her mini dress she was allowed back in.
As unenlightened and crazy as it seems pants were forbidden for women to wear on the Senate floor as early as 1993 (let that sink in for a minute). The pantsuit for women is significant not only because it challenges gender norms but because it speaks to the problem of inequality in terms of social and economic issues.
Pantsuits have come and gone out of fashion for quite some time but their popularity has been significant since 2016. Organizations like Pantsuit Nation have taken the image of leaders of communities wearing pantsuits to signify women’s desire for a more equal society and designers are listening.
Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Bottega Veneta and others have been embracing a more masculine vibe for their collections. By no means are these designers undermining femininity. Instead what they are doing is offering us clothing so that we can move in the world as prominently as men.
The broad shoulder, nipped in waist, tailored pants with just the right amount of inseam are now aspirational markers for everyone.
Eat well, laugh a lot, and be chic!