SUIT YOUR­SELF

Next year you will be wear­ing the pants. Well, that’s what de­sign­ers are hop­ing. But is it any­thing new, and does it make a use­ful state­ment? By Ali­son Ve­ness. Il­lus­tra­tion by Amelie He­gardt.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Next year you will be wear­ing the pants. Well, that’s what de­sign­ers are hop­ing. But is it any­thing new, and does it make a use­ful state­ment?

So the style propo­si­tion is noth­ing new, but it has his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. Women wear­ing mas­cu­line suits has at times in­ferred: “We are on the march, so men and boys, you betta watch out, we’re marchin’.” Yeah, that feels good. The tai­lored trouser­suit, in­spired by hun­dreds of years of civil­i­sa­tion and some Sav­ile Row good­ness, is back with a vengeance for spring/sum­mer ‘19. Vengeance is pun­ish­ment in­flicted in re­tal­i­a­tion for an in­jury or of­fense – ret­ri­bu­tion. With a vengeance. Yep, be­cause we are mad, as in mad, an­gry, feisty. Cul­tur­ally, there is only so much in­equal­ity, dou­ble stan­dards, lies and bad be­hav­iour a woman can stom­ach. Chris­tine Blasey Ford, we saluted you for tak­ing the stand and telling the truth. And to all the women who stand up and say some­thing that no-one wants to hear or be­lieve, we say thank you. Now we need to keep smash­ing it out of the park.

De­sign­ers are do­ing their bit. Yes, we will take the slo­gan T-shirt from two sea­sons ago and now we will add a mas­cu­line suit, be­cause we can. Sheep in wolves’ cloth­ing? No, just wolves. Out for blood. Al­ways. Mwha­ha­haha. Be­cause quite frankly we are sick of mis­con­duct to­wards women. And we like a strong suit. What trumps the suit? A woman in it. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton was the first First Lady to be painted wear­ing a black pants-suit, by Sim­mie Knox (an­other first – the first African-Amer­i­can artist to re­ceive a pres­i­den­tial por­trait com­mis­sion) for her of­fi­cial White House por­trait, un­veiled in 2004. The de­signer of which is un­known. That was only 14 years ago. Crazy. Re­bel­lious. At the time she said: “It is a some­what daunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to have your por­trait hung in the White House. It is some­thing that re­ally does, more than any other act … puts your place in his­tory in this build­ing for all the ages and all the peo­ple who come through here to see and re­flect upon.” Her out­fit says con­fi­dent, chic, sleek and pol­ished. No non­sense, no frills. Get the job done com­pas­sion­ately. It was gutsy.

Theresa May, for all the com­par­isons with the last fe­male UK Prime Min­is­ter, does wear trousers. But her style has been softer, un­til she rocked out to ABBA in what was pos­si­bly a Daniel Blake-tai­lored pants-suit.

We have been work­ing away at the boys’ club for a long time, since way back in the 1800s, when El­iz­a­beth Smith Miller be­came one of the first suf­fragettes fight­ing for women to win the right to vote in Amer­ica. Then there were the ac­tivists pre-World War I; then came the movies and the pi­o­neer­ing an­drog­y­nous stars such as Katharine Hep­burn, who looked ter­rific in a pair of pants and a sim­ple shirt. Those suits. Hep­burn stood out from sta­tus quo, which at the time was all bias-cut dresses, furs and strands of pearls. Mar­lene Di­et­rich cham­pi­oned change and the per­cep­tion of what was ex­pected of a fe­male movie star in Hol­ly­wood. Dar­ing. It was anti-es­tab­lish­ment, of course, for any ac­tress to walk into a stu­dio meet­ing wear­ing pants circa 1932, or jeans. De­mar­ca­tion, brother.

There is a strong in­tel­lec­tual, artis­tic pedi­gree of women – philoso­phers, writ­ers, and artists – who have dared to blur the gen­der lines. Coco Chanel gave us the first fab­u­lous/prac­ti­cal le­git sports­wear: she in turn had bor­rowed from her boyfriend Boy Capel’s wardrobe – there is a pho­to­graph, circa 1913, of Chanel out­side her Deauville bou­tique, wear­ing a belted jacket and wide pants. She has been cred­ited for in­tro­duc­ing a boy­ish sim­plic­ity into French fash­ion. An avant-garde whis­per of com­ing free­dom.

Co­lette, the writer of such ex­tra­or­di­nary nov­els as La Vagabonde (1910), which at its heart is about women in a male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety, wore men’s suits, sub­ver­sively chal­leng­ing the pre­or­dained rules of fe­male self-ex­pres­sion. The fa­mous sepia pho­to­graph of Co­lette sit­ting on a sim­ple wooden chair, her leg crossed on her knee, rak­ishly smok­ing a cig­a­rette, is epochal. A post­card of this im­age has been on my desk since I first dis­cov­ered it in my teens. It was Ge­orge Sand who in­spired Co­lette. Sub­ver­sive. In­tel­li­gent. She took a mas­cu­line nom de plume and wore men’s clothes to gain ac­cess to men-only sit­u­a­tions in Paris. (I loved wear­ing my dad’s clothes. They were just great, es­pe­cially his cream linen suit that was worn for cricket matches, and ties too.)

There is a long list of women who have es­poused change and chal­lenged fash­ion and fem­i­nin­ity, in ran­dom or­der a few who stand out in­clude: Vir­ginia Woolf; KD Lang; Tilda Swin­ton – she did play Orlando; the Gains­bourgs, any of that fam­ily; Bianca Jag­ger; Joni Mitchell; Cather­ine Deneuve; Carolyn Bes­sette-Kennedy; Tash Sul­tana; Court­ney Bar­nett. Tom­boys. Boss ladies. “Cos I slay all day.” Thank you, Bey­oncé.

So we are go­ing to be blokes, the Thin White Duke, re­ally – would he have called it that now? As it’s all about the su­per-skinny tai­lored Ce­line spring/sum­mer ’19, Hedi Sli­mane’s Ce­line, once you get past the schlock-hor­ror of where he has moved the Philophile Cé­line dial. Put men in men’s clothes and say they are uni­sex, put women in mi­cro-

short dresses along­side these but don’t la­bel them as uni­sex. In­ter­est­ing. Any­way, we think Mr Bowie would have liked it; he did like to keep peo­ple on their gen­der met­tle. So the new Ce­line is like a Saint Lau­rent re­run with a hefty side of Dior Homme, but we did love Sli­mane’s Dior Homme and, boy, did women and men love those suits.

It’s all not all about nar­row. Spring/sum­mer ’19 suit­ing also has the swag­ger and shade of the 1980s, those Amer­i­can-foot­ball wide shoul­ders, the ex­ag­ger­ated X shape, for 2018 X-fac­tor women. The 1980s was that last style decade when women re­ally mo­tored into the work­place in more of a mas­cu­line uni­form en masse and talked ca­reers, chal­lenged men for po­si­tions of power and said a baby would have to wait. Not any more: now we just do both if su­per­hu­manly pos­si­ble.

In all her ca­reer, 65 years as monarch, Queen El­iz­a­beth has been spot­ted wear­ing trousers only a hand­ful of times, in­clud­ing in New Zealand in the 1970s; leav­ing hos­pi­tal in 2003; and on hol­i­day in Scot­land to cel­e­brate her 80th birth­day in 2006.

And so, girls will be boys, be­cause at times it’s all about fool­ing misog­y­nists. Make them a lit­tle bit un­easy. Play them at their own game. The gen­der pay gap is start­ing to crack and crum­ble. Pay is trans­par­ent now at the BBC in the UK and will be soon here at the ABC.

Why should we be any dif­fer­ent? We too are ti­tans and cap­tains. Clever smart, pants or dress. So dear­est de­sign­ers, we will wear your spring/sum­mer ’19 suits rooted in male mythol­ogy, that are no longer shock­ing for any of us, but are just cool, ice-cool, par­ity cool? A fem­i­nist state­ment? Maybe not so much any­more, maybe a gen­der-fluid em­pow­er­ing state­ment for a young gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who re­ally don’t like to la­bel ei­ther way, or even at all. And so for the com­ing sea­son Martin Margiela, Louis Vuit­ton, Alexan­der McQueen, Givenchy, Stella McCart­ney, Valentino, Ba­len­ci­aga, Haider Ack­er­mann and Gucci all of­fered great suits for a woman or man, many had both gen­ders on the run­way that were not in­stantly dis­tin­guish­able by dress code, gen­der pri­vate. ’Tis the way for­ward.

In the 1947 book On Hu­man Fin­ery, Quentin Bell, the nephew of Vir­ginia Woolf, wrote: “Fash­ion­able ex­po­sure be­gins by shock­ing the vul­gar, but it ends by es­tab­lish­ing it­self as a cus­tom and thus ceas­ing to shock; its fail­ure is im­plicit in its suc­cess. But so long as there is a de­vel­op­ment of the mode the qual­ity of out­rage is main­tained.”

In 2018, af­ter many decades of out­rages, changes are still hap­pen­ing, women and men can dress equally. Ac­cep­tance. Di­ver­sity. Peace.

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