The power suit

Dress like man, take a stand, and be liberated. When women started wearing the man’s suit, it was as a suit of armour. This is a brief history lesson on the iconic item.

Through history, no garment has been as gender defying for women to wear as the suit. It’s a symbol of masculinity and an item that acts – and has acted for centuries – as formal, business and casual wear for men around the world. When women began demanding access to the same rights and freedoms as those of their brothers, fashion was one of the tools to achieve their goals. In the 20th century, corsets were out and replaced with blouses, skirts and eventually even trousers and suits.

It was design revolutionary Coco Chanel who freed women from the fashion items that restricted and restrained them, and created the first samples of what would evolve into a suit of armour for women entering the workplace. Hollywood icon Marlene Dietrich was one of the figureheads for Chanel’s new look, followed by Katharine Hepburn – often credited as one of the first female adopters of trousers – who opened doors for more female suit bearers, although the perception of women in trousers would continue to be considered inappropriate for decades to come.

It wasn’t until 1966, when Yves Saint Laurent introduced Le Smoking as a party outfit similar to the little black dress that it became widely accepted for women to wear suits. Le Smoking was elegant and an instant must-have for women with money, style and the urge to make statements. The Saint Laurent suit was popular and controversial. One of the house’s most faithful admirers, New York socialite Nan Kempner, was denied entrance to a 1960s hotspot simply because she was wearing trousers. Like any person suffering from fomo (fear of missing out – in case you’re not down with the kids), she dropped the trousers and walked in with the suit jacket alone, now in the form of a mini dress. 

Shortly after Saint Laurent, Nan Kempner and Le Smoking, the suit became a natural part of the female wardrobe, and in the 80s and 90s – with its shoulder pads and high waists – it was the rule rather than the exception for working women to wear one to the office. In 2016, the concept of power dressing – and wearing a suit to prove competence and belonging in the workplace – are to some extent (and in some parts of the world) behind us. Instead of being a symbol for equality, it’s a fashion statement.

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The suit is from H&M Studio A/W 16 and is modelled by Danish beauty Camilla Christensen (Le Management). Lok Lau (CLM) did her hair, and Nina Belkhir (Mikas Looks) worked her makeup magic.

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