Women’s history is the history of all mankind, serving as a reflection of the present day. Though women across the world have been breaking glass ceilings for centuries, why was the idea of a woman in a suit once deemed socially unacceptable?
The first sight of pants as an addition to the female wardrobe were bloomers worn by Amelia Bloomer in 1851, but they were only to be worn underneath a dress or skirt garment. In the 1870s, a French actress by the name of Sarah Bernhardt daringly broke French law and wore trousers in public. She was a pioneer for blurring the gender lines by taking a step outside of female fashion boundaries. Although she received public backlash, many other women and notable designers were influenced by her unconventional fashion statement.
By the 1900s, it became common for women to wear what was known as costumes which incorporated the look of tailored suit jackets for upper-class activities like archery or horseback riding. As suit-wearing became a trend amongst women in Europe, famous designer Coco Chanel changed the direction of high fashion with the creation of her iconic Chanel suit. The two-piece jacket and skirt became a widely known feminist symbol. Global fashion figures such as Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana also sported the trend decades later, inspiring thousands to explore fashion regardless of social gender norms.
In a more recent era of fashion trends, suits have evolved tremendously with designs inspired by that of the male counterpart. Anyone can be found wearing suits in the office, to dinner, or just to feel powerful. What once was a symbol for “manliness” is now a fashion trend that all can enjoy.
Women in suits have not only changed the direction of fashion but history itself. Suits were the way that feminists displayed their beliefs as their attire was usually given more attention than their voices. The history of suits did not begin with women, but their inclusion has been accepted now more than ever. Suits and tuxedos worn by women have made their way on the runway, red carpet, and television due to its current trendiness and 2021 fashion trend predictions show the continuation of blurry gender lines and androgynous pieces.
The purpose of Bernhardt’s brave act was to show that being a woman is not defined by the clothes they are wearing, but rather through their own sense of femininity.
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