Cue Beyonce’s “Run the World”. It’s time to make way for powerful women and their powerful pantsuits. Sierra Elizabeth, attorney-at-law, settles multi-million dollar cases at the prestigious firm Kirkland and Ellis, wearing a custom made pantsuit from her own business. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez interrogates politicians in committee hearings, sporting a bright magenta pantsuit and a signature red lip. Hillary Clinton, an essential icon of formal wear/former First Lady/Secretary of State/ presidential candidate, now delivers speeches across the nation, always in a matching blazer and slacks. Behind every powerful woman is a powerful suit that does more than just make a fashion statement. Forget the princess gown and the tight spandex, women of the 21st century wear pantsuits as they challenge gender norms and redefine power as feminine.
The pantsuit was never intended for women. Heck, women were never expected to work in a man’s position at all. The suits belonged to the big boys on Wall Street while their wives stayed at home to care for the children. If we were to turn back the clock to 90 years ago, women barely had fundamental rights such as voting or owning property under their own name. Women were treated as an accessory to their husbands, pretty to look at and handled with care. It is evident then that being a woman was a job that came with a uniform of obedience to her family. Anything more or less than what society expected was simply an offense to the rules of dress code.
Even as more women joined the workforce, the suit was meant to blend her into a man’s world. After all, the men were there first, so suits for women were just an off-brand version of menswear. The game was changed in 1923 when Coco Chanel presented the world with her “signature suit” for women. She was the first to create a suit that flattered feminine silhouettes, thus sparking a fashion revolution. Following Chanel, designer Marcel Rochas redefined the suit by adding pants and designer Marlene Dietrich reinvented the suit to function as streetwear. The idea was that the evolution of the pantsuit reflected the evolution of a woman’s role in society. Simply said by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Only the most unconventional designer would offer a straightforward pantsuit, and only a fearless woman would wear it” (Euse). Just as form follows function, a woman’s suit evolves to reflect the push against the boundaries set upon her. As she ranked the top of her male class, earned the job promotion over her male colleagues, and sat at the corporate table with her male partners, the woman broke one glass ceiling after another, and it only made sense that she wore a suit that did just the same.
Today, the pantsuit is more than just a symbol of female defiance. It is essential to the identity of female power, representing unity and boldness of one in a community of many. This past year, the new female class of congress wore coordinating white suits to President Trump’s State of the Union address. These women used this moment to stand in solidarity with victims of the #MeToo movement and to celebrate female suffrage. Here, the power of the pantsuit lies within its ability to make a statement of togetherness and remembrance. Within my own wardrobe, I have incorporated blazers into my everyday outfits, knowing that I feel like a boss when I look the part. For me, the power of the pantsuit inspires me to work towards my goal of law school with class and confidence.
Even though gender equality has come a long way, discrimination is far from extinction. Issues such as unequal pay and harassment still require a resolution. As women stride towards equality, we persist onward with pride, holding closely the struggles of women past. Power comes in a pantsuit, not just from men, but women too. Women aren’t just there to make a fashion statement, they mean business. After all, who runs the world? Girls.
|This post was written by Christine Nguyen. She is a Freshman, pre-law student at the University of Southern California. After seeing Sierra Elizabeth speak during the Life with a J.D. panel put on by the university's pre-law program she was inspired to write this piece.|