Power Up: Getting Suited and Booted for Fashion Week

By Caroline L Hamar, Contributor

The power suit has become one of the most iconic looks for the ‘modern woman’, it’s considered sophisticated and elegant yet bold or edgy. Either way, it’s a style that always has something to say! Looking at the transformation of this garment we can see the transformation of women over the last century - the two have an intimate relationship. 

From Coco Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani, we’re going to be pin pointing three power suits that modernised women’s image in society.

The first designer to specifically create suits for women was Coco Chanel - of course, it feels like nearly everything in fashion was created by Chanel; from the little back dress to the business suit, Chanel was there to accentuate every part of who women were. Their 1920s wool suit was a turning point for women, it was about taking the male suit and giving it a female twist with a skirt, fitted sleeves metallic buttons and no collar, worn by the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Princess Diana, Brigitte Bardot, and Barbara Walters. It was a symbol of liberation for women, to be able to look sophisticated but move freely, a break away from the Belle Époch silhouette. Women’s clothing had always been made to accommodate their activities, when creating a suit for women it was stating that their activities would now require a garment such as a suit - women wanted a bigger role in society.

In 1966 Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent burst onto the scene - the first tuxedo for women with a satin side stripe and worn with a white ruffled shirt. Pierre Bergé commented that with this tuxedo, “Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom… Yves Saint Laurent gave them power.” This transformed the women’s suit, Le Smoking wasn’t for the office but for evening wear, this suit asked the question who is this ‘modern woman’ when she is not in the office but at bars, restaurants and parties? Well, when they can get into the restaurants that is… Nan Kempner was turned away from the restaurant Le Côte Basque in New York for wearing the Le Smoking. The trousers were deemed inappropriate for a woman so, she removed her trousers and wore the blazer as a mini dress! The modern woman is not lacking in sass nor confidence.

This suit even managed to change one of the most traditional female images - the wedding dress. In 1971, Bianca Jagger wore a white Le Smoking jacket on her wedding day, making it her signature style and, even now, a much aspired wedding look, from Amal Clooney in a white suit at the palazzo Ca’ Farsetti to Solange Knowles in a white jumpsuit. As Saint Laurent famously claimed, “for a woman, Le Smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”

Shot by fashion photographer Helmut Newton down a cobble street in Paris on a model with slicked back hair, bold make up and cigarette in hand, Le Smoking defined the new women in Vogue.

So, let’s take a moment to examine the ‘suit’ as a masculine symbol. The suit was only meant for a man and it symbolised, business, money, politics, opinions, power and respect. But, by wearing a suit women were visually indicating that they too have all of these traits. They were taking something that ‘belonged’ to a man and making it their own, slowly society didn’t attribute these traits to a man, they attributed them to anyone wearing that professional attire - woman or man.

In 1975, Giorgio Armani became well established for revolutionising men’s tailoring with the unlined, unconstructed jacket, it was inevitable that Armani would be the one to bring out all the possibilities of a tailored suit. He created the definite ‘power suit’ with padded shoulders, wide lapels and cut from refined menswear material. Women were stepping into the role that was considered ‘male’ and Armani wanted them to be taken seriously, he removed any sexual or feminine edge which previous suits had played to.”

Vice critiqued that “these big shouldered jackets and pants disguised a woman's figure and took the focus off her gender, creating a feeling of authority as the traditional sex roles continued to blur.”

Marc Jacobs described to the LA Times what this was like, “the '80s was… huge shoulders, nasty little suits, dress for success, hard-edge, hard-core, mean, aggressive clothes.” Rightly so, we say. This acceleration in fashion needed to happen to keep up with how women felt; it was time they had a seat at the table.

The power suit helped to introduce the world to the modern woman, it helped her carve out a space for herself in a society run by men, and then it helped her run that society herself. The power suit is a great example of how fashion propels our social and political feelings - you should know by now, fashion is never just about fashion!

Have we inspired you? Discover our collection of power suits with brands such as, AGGI, designed by Agata Halewska. Each one of her creations has an electric soul, her blazer jackets with high rise shoulders and belted waist gives an 80s throwback whilst accentuating a sleek silhouette, as do the matching high waisted flared trousers. 

From slouchy pants with pleated yoke to Bermuda shorts this brand is excellent tailoring with an experimental twist. In a punch of vibrant blue, lilac or orange they understand the daring energy of the women who rock the power suit. 

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