Belfast Telegraph

Suits you: How women have made tailoring their own

Tailored suits were once the preserve of men, but styles through the decades have shown how women have made them their own, writes Prudence Wade

Star attraction: Meghan Markle in a suit
Star attraction: Meghan Markle in a suit
New trend: models in 1967
Funky look: Raquel Welch in 1970
Glam vibe: a model wears a tweed suit in 1982
Sex appeal: on the catwalk in 1998
Full excess: Stella McCartney wears a suit in 2003
Angelina Jolie

Fashion can be a hugely political force, and few things are as charged with meaning as a suit. Traditionally, a two-piece matching trouser and blazer was the remit of men - it was their uniform and a symbol of dominance over skirted and pocket-less women.

However, over the decades, there's been something of a reclamation, as women have increasingly started making suits their own. Initially, it was a huge statement to shun dresses and the trappings of femininity, but today it's more of an area for fashion experimentation.

Now, the suit is much more of a common sight on the red carpet and indeed as wedding guest attire. But how did we get here? Women have been making suits their own in different ways for decades, and here's how.

1960s: Suits enter the mainstream

New trend: models in 1967

It was in the 1960s that Yves Saint Laurent introduced Le Smoking - a black tuxedo suit specifically designed for women. This started a huge trend, with various other designers realising there was (gasp) actually a market for women's suits. The result was a huge uptick in production.

Styles tended to be plain - like Le Smoking - or featuring graphic prints, like checks or stripes. Sure, the latter type looked a little bit like pyjamas, but at least it was becoming more acceptable for women to actually wear trousers for all manner of occasions.

1970s: More experimentation

Funky look: Raquel Welch in 1970

By the Seventies, suits weren't quite the novelty they used to be for women. This gave rise to a whole lot more experimentation in patterns and materials - we're talking full leather, or funky patterns with an excessive amount of jewellery.

Bianca and Mick Jagger were married between 1971 and 1978, and as a high-profile relationship it was closely followed by the paparazzi.

This is arguably when suits were really catapulted into the limelight, as Bianca was partial to a well-tailored white two-piece, and was regularly photographed in one.

1980s: Power dressing

Glam vibe: a model wears a tweed suit in 1982

The 1980s was the era of power dressing, and what could exude more dominance than a woman wearing a suit? This was a time where women were increasingly wanting to make their voices heard, particularly in the office. They were a visual cue that the female wearer wasn't actually that different to men in the room, and should be treated similarly.

This was still the Eighties, so the styles matched that - we're talking big shoulders, wide legs, and an overall glam rock vibe.

Power dressing is a technique that is still very much in use today. Just take Hillary Clinton, who has become well-known for her penchant for pantsuits. In her recent autobiography, What Happened, she describes how they helped her fit in with male politicians, explaining: "They make me feel professional and ready to go."

1990s: Sexy minimalism

Sex appeal: on the catwalk in 1998

After the aesthetic overload of the Eighties, the Nineties came as something of a palate cleanser. Shoulders were toned down, patterns were kept to a minimum and there was less of a focus on power dressing for the office.

As with much of Nineties dressing, the general vibe was minimalist, with a healthy does of sex appeal, as increasingly suits were worn with nothing underneath.

However, this isn't to say there wasn't room for any experimentation at all. Perhaps the most famous suit of the decade came courtesy of singer Celine Dion, who wore a John Galliano backwards white tuxedo to the 1999 Oscars.

2000s: Three-piece ensembles

Full excess: Stella McCartney wears a suit in 2003

Look away now, lest your eyes are afflicted by some Noughties fashion disasters. Considering it's the decade of skirts over jeans, scarf belts and Von Dutch trucker hats, we can't really expect female suiting to have come out any better.

Our main beef with suits in the Noughties were how they were styled. Instead of keeping things crisp and tailored, everything was completely overdone with mini waistcoats and unnecessary hats to complete the look. It really went by the ethos of 'more is more', and everything was accessorised to within an inch of its life.

2010s: From the red carpet to the street

Angelina Jolie

The 2010s brought with them the realisation that suits don't have to be overstyled - they are powerful enough on their own.

On the red carpet, female tailoring has proved it's more than just a trend and is here to stay. The fashion for the moment tends to revolve around sleek and well-fitting two-pieces - at premieres they are more often than not worn with just a bra underneath for extra sex appeal.

Luckily, nowadays women don't feel quite so compelled to wear carbon copies of male suits to assert their dominance in the workplace. It's become more of a place of experimentation, and women have started playing around with patterns and colours.

Suits have become so prevalent that they're no longer reserved for the red carpet or the boardroom, but work just as well with a pair of trainers or comfortable boots out on the street.

Actress and model Cara Delevingne at Princess Eugenie's wedding

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