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Women in suits: Why power dressing is still a vital conversation in 2018

The silhouette of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo is one of the most iconic in the history of fashion. But women have been wearing suits for almost a century before that pioneering creation. Sarah Bernhardt infamously scandalised Parisian society in the late 1880s for wearing “boys clothes” during her performances, deemed then as a transgression of female dress codes. Coco Chanel combined masculinity and femininity in her signature suit that’s still worn today.

It was a slightly different modus operandi back then, as women wearing suits were doing so to subvert gender norms. In today’s increasingly divisive conversation about women and their societal roles, the impact of the suit has taken on a more nuanced significance. Now, it is all about power.

“In this suit, I felt the truth of who I am well up in my gut. I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today I wear the pants.”
Lady Gaga

Not that it was never a statement, as power dressing was very much a thing in the heyday of Jackie Kennedy and Bianca Jagger. But when the president of one of the world’s most powerful nations can publicly mock women who are victims of sexual assault, it creates a shift in the power dynamic of both genders. The rippling effect that affects other victims of sexual assault is further piled on by the discrediting that is made upon these women.

To recapture that confidence, women in privileged positions are taking a stand and making public appearances in suits. It’s not just chic suits that accentuate their figure. They are pieces of armour that are made impenetrable by the resilience, courage, and strength that these women have demonstrated both in the public domain and privately. Today, we look at four women who have used their suits as a style statement to drive the conversation on female equality.

(Featured and Hero photo: SUISTUDIO)

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga in Marc Jacobs SS19. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

As the songstress/actress/philanthropist stepped up to the stage at Elle’s Women in Hollywood recognition event, she shared how despite trying on dresses from Dior and Calvin Klein, she still couldn’t find the right outfit for that evening. But it was a rumpled, oversized Marc Jacobs suit from his SS19 collection that stole her heart. Not because it was in a cool metallic grey or the plunging neckline of the suit. It was simply that it resonated with her.

“In this suit, I felt the truth of who I am well up in my gut. I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today I wear the pants,” said Gaga in her emotional and riveting speech. She also rallied for the equality of men, women, and people of other sexual identities, acknowledging that as a woman in Hollywood, she is privileged to have a platform that allows her to incite change.

(Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Blake Lively

Blake Lively in Brunello Cucinelli.

Many would remember her as the blonde bombshell from the hit drama Gossip Girl, but Blake Lively is not just a has-been actress. She has proven time and time again that she’s a style maven, whether it’s dressing for the Met Gala or just a simple errand run. To promote her latest film, A Simple Favor, Lively has been sporting suit after suit.

Whether it’s a fancy Ralph Lauren waistcoat or a blue velvet Brunello Cucinelli suit with another red velvet suit jacket layered on top, Lively is showing us how power dressing is supposed to be done. But when critics tried to come for her supposedly over-the-top dressing with suits, she wasn’t having it. Lively called out the double standards with a simple response on Instagram: “Would you note a man wearing lots of suits during a promo tour?” Now that’s a clapback for the ages.

(Photo: Backgrid)

Vanessa Hudgens

Vanessa Hudgens in Suistudio. (Photo: Suistudio)

When you think of Coachella, chances are a picture of Vanessa Hudgens will appear in your head. But the reigning queen of all-things-bohemian doesn’t just limit herself to the carnival-chic aesthetic. She recently partnered with SUISTUDIO (sister brand of SUITSUPPLY) on a capsule collection of five suits that can also be bought as separates.

The pieces from the collection were inspired by David Bowie and Bianca Jagger, both of whom personified style in the 70s and 80s. For someone who picked up her first suit only a year ago, Hudgens is embracing the trend wholeheartedly. “I remember wearing it on my birthday and feeling like I was stepping into my higher self’s shoes, in a sense—I just felt more powerful and strong, feminine and sexy,” she told Glamour ahead of the launch of the collaboration.


Tracee Ellis Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross in Pyer Moss. (Photo:

For the second year running, Tracee Ellis Ross is the host of the American Music Awards. Last year, she had a staggering 11 outfit changes from vintage Halston to a Christian Siriano suit. This time around, the Golden Globe-winning actress dialled it back to just 10 looks, but each was from a different black designer.

The one she wore to the red carpet was a pink double-breasted suit from Pyer Moss that appeared on the NYFW SS19 runway a few weeks prior. It was originally modelled on a male during its debut, proving just how gender-bending suits can be (when tailored properly, of course).

(Photo: Getty Images)

Josiah Neo
Josiah Neo is a tech writer who contributes occasionally to the fashion, travel, and culture beats. When he’s not busy keeping up with the keynotes, he’s probably stuffing his face with the best Melbournian donuts (at Shortstop, BTW) or watching his favourite esports team, the Los Angeles Valiant, pummel their opponents into oblivion.