Return of the Trouser Suit

By Olivia Preston

Classic? Sophisticated? Transformative? What is it to you? How do you feel in yours?

It’s amazing to think that trouser suit, this item seen in many women’s wardrobes, was instrumental in changing the status of women in the workplace. In this male dominated arena, this clothing transformed their bodies like never before, giving them, for example, physically strong shoulders (think of shoulder pads) which could have aided their confidence.

During 1920s and in WWII, when women wore trousers while at work – army uniforms and boiler suits for traditional men’s work, the social inclusion of suits into their wardrobes began to start. Wearing such clothing may have been in fashion earlier or adopted by the youth, but was not really seen as socially acceptable, as we know, until Yves Saint Laurent released his Le Smoking collection in 1966. 

Power dressing was born in the latter half of 1970s and developed in the next decade. This style helped women to establish authority in the workplace through the incorporation of masculine elements, like utilising mens fabrics in women’s cuts with pinstripe suiting, for example.

In 2020, power dressing remains to be a big trend, despite it being decades after its creation. Old traditions are taking a new direction with trouser suits making a comeback for a variety of reasons. Suits can now have draped or wrap-around jackets, culottes or palazzo trousers and can be made from denim, leather or any material desired.

Suits have been worn differently this season, with shirts being stripped away, leaving behind suit jackets and bottoms. Naomi Campbell closed the YSL SS20 show by strutting down the runway in a sequinned two-piece suit with a pair of strappy stilettos. Without the presence of a shirt, her plunging neckline blurred the lines between femininity and masculinity, radiating power throughout.

Givenchy’s SS20 collection showcased in Paris in September 2019 and it unsurprisingly included some revisions to the traditional trouser suit. Again, omitting the shirt was a must on this catwalk, but as another change, the trousers were cropped just below the knee. The suits were casual in colours of navy and grey check, with large pocket details and paired with chunky slides and a large clutch bag.

Dior subverted the conventional notions of plain trouser suits with an embroidered two-piece shown at their SS20 Women’s runway.  The canvas and black suit was given a pop of colour with a primary blue collared shirt underneath – sticking to the traditional trouser-suit-shirt combination.

Chloé claimed the new revised version of the trouser suit as their own this season with three looks from their SS20 Paris runway that incorporated that idea. Stripes were the vision that played out on the catwalk, each of the suits differing in tailoring and styling, showcasing the diversity of tailored suiting. The brown suit was paired with a pastel pink ribboned blouse in a way that kept the concept of the suit unchanged. The other looks saw a short suit combination, revealing leg all the way up to the mid-thigh and a knee-length jacket over black trousers.

In the Chanel style, woven was the textile technique of choice. The silhouette wasn’t overly feminine, but the ruffled collar and puffy pockets added some soft details to the structured suit. The off-centred opening jacket and cropped legged trousers were paired with a micro-bag and black-toed pumps to give the classic look a fresh new twist.

With the boundaries between men’s and women’s fashion becoming more and more blurred, the intermeshing of suits, skirts and gender binaries are ever-present on the runway.