JONES Magazine Stylist Tanya Levak on how to wear new suiting for the season ahead.
For women, the suit has long been a symbol of power, freedom and rebellion. As far back as the 1870s, when French actress Sarah Bernhardt scandalously began wearing “boy’s clothes”, women have used the suit to assert their self-confidence and independence.
In 1910, the American Ladies’ Tailors’ Association created the “Suffragette Suit”, a blouse and jacket worn with an ankle-length divided skirt (similar to culottes) that empowered the wearer to take longer strides. By the 1940s, Coco Chanel was designing suits for a generation of screen sirens – Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn all suited up for films and events. In the 1940s, it was the female gang members of La Pachucas, clad in zoot suits and a slick of dark lipstick, who were challenging social conventions and gender role expectations.
It wasn’t until 1966, however, that the female suit went mainstream. At a time when notable restaurants and hotels would not allow female guests to wear trousers, French designer Yves Saint Laurent introduced Le Smoking, a classic dinner jacket in black grain de poudre wool, trousers with a satin side-stripe, a ruffled white shirt, black bow tie and a wide cummerbund of satin. Soon, a selection of the chicest and boldest women of the time, from Catherine Deneuve to Liza Minnelli, Lauren Bacall to Bianca Jagger, quickly adopted the liberating yet innately controversial new style. Le Smoking became a sort of shorthand for defiance and irreverence.
Fast forward to ’80s power shoulders, Hedi Slimane’s pencil-thin interpretations for Dior in the noughties through to Phoebe Philo’s gargantuan proportions for Céline in recent times and the transformative, chameleon-like quality of the suit has helped it to firmly establish its place in women’s daily wardrobes.
At this season’s shows, designers kicked the cool factor up a notch with a renewed sense of rebellion: the boxy cuts at Céline and Balenciaga were like something from a cult ’80s high school movie, with designers across all four fashion capitals experimenting with punk rock influences – vintage tees, pops of hypercolour fur and white ankle boots. The spring/summer 2017 runways offered something for everyone: for the bold, there were cropped trousers and sculptural jackets at Alexander McQueen and Bally (the latter in a retro candy pink). For the fashion forward, there were the oversized, mannish tailoring at Céline, Giorgio Armani’s constellation of paillettes, the decoratively ruffled sleeves and eyelet-laced trousers at Ellery or the Aladdin Sane-inspired, glam rock pairings at Gucci. And, for the more classically-inclined, Saint Laurent and Versace’s sleek suiting, with cigarette-cut trousers, both flatter and update.
Not sure how to wear the suit? For a conservative look, opt for cropped trousers, a pussy-bow silk blouse and a slightly looser-cut jacket. Off-duty, pair a slouchy grey wool suit with a fine, basic tee and fresh white sneakers. And for cocktail hour, button up your blazer, add stilettos and a single statement earring and go sans blouse if you’re feeling brave! Remember − bold women popularised the suit, so don yours with confidence and follow in their footsteps.
Words by Divya Bala
Photography by Jo Duck
Styling by Tanya Levak
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