Evolution of Ladies Suit

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Counterpart of the men’s suit, it’s also called lady’s suit. Predecessors. The so-called hongreline, created in Germany, became famous in France during the kingdom of Louis XIII: a belted jacket pinned to the front and matching skirt. In the late years of the kingdom, in the 17th century, it was used by the army, too. In the 18th century, the jacket was replaced by a casaquin or a caraco.

The first suit was made in 1885 by the British tailor John Redfern: the purchaser was the Princess of Wales. Daywear garment without frills, completed by masculine accessories (from the vest to the tie): it’s the first fashion step on the road of female emancipation. Back then it wasn’t a comfortable piece of clothing: it was made of heavy fabrics, with a horsehair frame and masculine padded shoulders. Only during World War I the skirt became shorter, below the knee: it was worn with high boots.

The revolutionary Mademoiselle Chanel broke the rules and created clothes for a new woman. In war times she could use jersey only. Coco made the famous loose suit, characterized by absolutely feminineand fluid lines, using this knitted fabric; it was later turned into the trademark tweed suit – trimmed jacket and gold buttons. In the late Twenties, a child-like style was trendy – below-the-knee skirts, mary-janes and cloche hats.

Many movie stars used the suit as a provocative costume. Marlene Dietrich loved wearing jacket and pants in public, thus anticipating the timeless pantsuit. Joan Crawford mainly wore skirts and focused on a peculiar type of jacket, created by the Hollywood costume designer Adrian: wide shoulders, padded so as to make hips look slimmer. This model has been copied an infinite number of times, especially in the Eighties. Crawford wore a severe version of it, in dark colors, embellished by trimmings.

The suit has endless variations: jacket and skirt are the abscissa and the ordinate of a multi-sided outfit. On the big screen it has been worn by femme fatales – Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, Scarlett Johansson in the noir Black Dahlia and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction – or by career women – Susan Sarandon as a lawyer in The Client, Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl. And, again, it was worn by Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and by two Misses who are part of the collective imagination: Miss Bonnie Parker, the protagonist ofGangster Story (a criminal who actually existed), and Miss Moneypenny, the loyal secretary of James Bond, the secret agent with a license to kill. Last but not least, Sarah Jessica Parker wore a white vintage suit in the movie Sex and the City.

In real life, the suits worn by Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy stole the show. The former chose a pale pink lace suit Jacqueline Kennedy in 1956, when she got married to Rainier of Monaco in a civil ceremony and became a princess. The latter wore a pale pink wool suit and matching pillbox hat on November 22nd, 1963, when she arrived in Dallas with her husband: that was their last appearance together.

In the meantime, tailors and ready-to-wear designers started to change the suit. In the Forties the skirt was below the knee: Balmain daring hats, embellished with feathers and veils, softened masculine fabrics and severe shapes. Later, it became more and more form-fitting, with the jacket reminiscent of a cardigan; brightened up by pastel colors and crystals, it could be sexy or severe. Sometimes designers have looked back and paid homage to the silhouettes of the Thirties and Forties, giving a contemporary interpretation of the creations by Patou, Schiaparelli, Chanel…

Severe, mysterious and sexy, with a slim jacket and a longer skirt. Androgynous and demure. It can be intriguing, too, when the skirt becomes micro and the jacket gives a glimpse of bare skin. Rules are broken: a nod to the bolero jacket, pants with a vaguely ski mood, a practical drawstring at the waist-line, slim pants with cuffs and tailcoat jacket. Nothing underneath: worn on bare skin.

Some important moments

In 1954 Coco Chanel, who hated Dior and his dresses (she thought they were stiff, difficult to wear and to store in the closet), opened her maison again and presented the collarless suit with simple and straight skirt, an outfit which became incredibly famous thanks to its unique style. When the measurements for the tweed jacket were taken, the clients had to cross their arms at the shoulders; the same jacket perfectly hung thanks to a metal chain sewn in the lining, while a braid embellished hemlines and pockets. Jewel buttons were decorated by a lion head (Leo was Coco’s sign), a camellia or the double C (since 1959). Her passion for Scottish tweed came from the Twenties, when she started to see the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, known as Bendor. Karl Lagerfeld has been presenting variations of the classic suit in his collections.

1966. Yves Saint Laurent gave his version of the pantsuit, creating the first female tuxedo.

Seventies. In those years, still influenced by the feminist movement, Giorgio Armani had a revolutionary intuition: the suit he designed featured a destructured jacket, light fabrics, no frames.

1975. A picture by Helmut Newton, where a sexy and androgynous model smokes, while standing alone in an alley: she is wearing an iconic gray pinstriped pantsuit by Yves Saint Laurent.

Eighties. American Gigolo and Wall Street. A hedonist and high-flying decade, ruled by the suit. Following a go-getting attitude, the suit became very trendy: among the creations of Italian designers: the Armani suit, the magnificent shoulders by Valentino, the sharp lines of Mila Schön, the grace of Krizia, the boldness of Versace, the tailored sensuality of Dolce & Gabbana and the geometries by Ferré. In Europe there were the allure of Yves Saint Laurent (just think of the sunflower jacket inspired to Van Gogh and embellished with Lesage embroideries), the last creations of Lagerfeld for Chloé (short skirt and mantle, 1981), the wrap-over skirt with side closure by Sonia Rykiel, the Prince-of-Wales and the feathered pockets (1986) by Marc Bohan for Dior. And the exaggerated curves of Thierry Mugler, who emphasized the structure of shoulders-waist-line-hips; the model in leather with zips by Azzedine Alaïa and the excesses of Claude Montana, portrayed with an over-the-top attitude by Helmut Newton. It all happened in that decade.

Nineties. Isabella Rossellini wearing a pinstriped men’s suit by Dolce & Gabbana – buttoned jacket, white shirt and tie. Armani presented a pantsuit worn on bare skin, 1993.

Galliano’s hazard in the fall-winter 1997-1998 collection: he revisited the classic suit, with gray pleated skirt and jacket with intricate pleats and gathers. In 1998 the pantsuit by Givenchy, made of sparkling plum taffeta; Hermès presented a black suit with loose jacket and pants, worn by a fiery-faced Stella Tennant on the catwalk.

Noughties, 2009: Prada presented a tailor suit in red, vaguely reminiscent of the Forties – wide neckline, belted waist and sexy fishing maxi boots.

Summer 2011. A belt on the suit by Fendi; a vest worn on bare skin, under a milky white suit by Ferré; a suit with shorts in shiny orange at Hermès; skinny pants at Max Mara. Black suit for the Moschino cowgirl; an androgynous iron-gray suit at DSquared2; gold hemlines at Chanel; cuts and asymmetries at Byblos.

Source: http://www.vogue.it  Edtiors blog 


  1. The hongreline was a mid-thigh-length surtout or overcoat of the frock style, usually trimmed and/or lined with fur developed and popularized during the mid-17th Century.

    The term female emancipation i guess is used to the late Elizabeth to late Victorian eras wherein the dresses (in particular the farthingale style) had been made so petite and being petite was such a rage that women of ripe blossom (aged 15-16 back in those days unlike the 20s today) would even go to the extent of getting 1-2 pairs of ribs removed surgically so as to maintain a waist of around 18 inches; was a rage thus i presume the usage of this word by the author??? and also the frame (horsehair frame) referred is to the frame of the farthingale???

    Cloche hats were the ones that were worn easy all the way frm the Gibson Girl look in the Edwardian romantic period to almost the 50s and 60s…. did come back in trend in the early millennium and will come back again as a classic thnx to its easy wearability and casualness… and yet so beautifully feminine…. and in my perception, the suits worn by Jacqueline Kennedy is more of a jacket than a suit…. or lets just say a semi casual suit in todays terms and have always loved the hourglass suit of the times of yore…. big manly shoulder pads with a thin petite waistline… made of wool and tweed…. i guess CC started that trend…. jus love it!!!

    Overall i must say, very informative article…. and the language is beautiful except for the above terms should have been made more clear to throw better light to a layman reading this article…..

    over all i would still grade this article a 8.5/10….. if the above terms would have been made more clear and the language more simple…. i wud grade it an easy 9.5/10…… still wonderful and very informative article

    Thank you 🙂

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