32 In Style

My relationship with the Trouser Suit… It’s Complicated

trouser suit top

So.  Trouser suits.  You’ll know from reading this blog that I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to fashion.  I never thought I’d wear pink.  I never thought I’d wear florals.  I never thought I’d wear lace.  And yet, I’ve loved wearing all of those in the past year.  But trouser suits? I spent so many years being stressed out in one!  I’ve had a love hate relationship with them for a long time.

I can remember when I first fell for the trouser suit.  Madonna was on MTV, slinking around in one by Jean Paul Gaultier in her Vogue and Express Yourself videos, looking equal parts tough and sexy.  Like Lauren Bacall before her, she’d taken menswear and turned it on its head, making it feminine and powerful in the process. I was straight out of university and had started working on Wall Street.  In fashion and in my job, wearing the trousers, literally and figuratively, was the way forward.  To really push it, I wanted a ladylike version of a men’s three piece suit (as in trousers, blazer, and a waistcoat) and I found a black one with fine white pinstripes.  It was so perfect I wish I still had it!  I remember it was cut so that I could wear it without a shirt underneath; I  couldn’t take my jacket off in a work situation, but that was a small price to pay for that kind of swagger.  I had a single-breasted red wool trouser suit with matte flat gold buttons, which was magnificently traffic-stopping.  I also remember a very elegant navy crepe wool trouser suit I wore, which had  an attached belt that tied in a loose bow at the front.  It was beautiful, but gave off more of a lady-who-lunches vibe than the I’m-here-to-kick-ass-and-take-names that I was after, so it only got worn to dinner.  I tended to play down anything overly ‘pretty’, and still do.  The trouser suits I wore as a young woman just out of school and working in New York made me feel like I could do anything.

So far, so empowering.  Then a funny (actually, not funny at all) thing happened.  I took a job working for someone who, to this day, remains the nastiest person I’ve ever met.  I still see him on CNN occasionally when I least expect it (the last time I was running through an airport), and my blood runs cold.  My ass-kicking trouser suits took an unexpected turn.  Instead of feeling strong and empowered in them, I felt glad for the cover that they provided so my creepy boss wouldn’t comment on my legs, like he did if I wore a dress.  Instead of dressing like a Madonna video, I started to feel like I was dressing like Lilith Sternin on Cheers.  They were the same trouser suits, just worn with a very different attitude and purpose.  They became my business security blanket… almost a shield.  I was always by myself in the office, trading in the wee hours of the morning, so I slept on the trading floor… literally, on the floor of our office under a ping pong table, so a trouser suit became a sort of ‘business pyjama’ for me as well, as nuts as that sounds (more on my coming of age experiences in New York here, if you’re interested).

After I quit this job, I left the US and then ended up working as the only woman trader on the floor of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in South Africa.  My trouser suits came in handy there too; I was taken more seriously in them than I would have been in a dress or a skirt suit.  Let me tell you what it was like to be on a trading floor as a woman (any trading floor, not just the one in Johannesburg).  Just getting to your desk was an ordeal.  If a woman, ANY woman, walked on to the floor for any reason, even just to deliver an envelope, the men would suddenly erupt in loud yelling and whistling.  They enjoyed seeing the woman startled and unnerved from the noise.  Of course, if you didn’t flinch or react, they’d feel a bit silly and pointless, so they’d stop.  It was all mostly good-natured, but it still made me glad to be wearing trousers, because trousers mean less attention.  They became a way to hide and conceal and disappear, which is NOT what style is about.  I vowed not to feel like that in clothes again.  I got rid of my trouser suits, embraced dresses and skirts, moved to Europe, and got out of trading and into investment banking where the men are generally better behaved.

Fast forward to what I call the Carrie Bradshaw-ification and the Michelle Obama-fication of workwear.  Sartorially, trouser suits died.  Overtly corporate looking suits died.  Status statement shoes (like Carrie’s Manolos) became office-acceptable if not entirely office-appropriate.  In New York, this meant you’d go to meetings with women wearing a black dress that said business with funky shoes that said girls’ night out.  Dresses, ‘soft suiting’, knitwear, and bright cheerful cardigans worn over a sheath dress with a belt popped on top (a la Michelle Obama) became relaxed office wear for lots of people.  The ultra casual office attire of internet giants like Google and Facebook wiped out the navy uniform of IBM.   Suddenly, the trouser suit looks fresh and current and unusual by contrast.

Sequinist Winser London Trouser Suit

Almost in spite of myself, I tried this pearl coloured one on from Winser London at their Stoke Park event, and just like that, I fell back in love with the quiet easy power of the trouser suit.  I was allowed to choose any outfit to take home, and this is what I wanted.  It is satin-backed crepe, so it slides right over you and hangs beautifully.  The super wide legs are a refreshing change from skinny everything for the past decade, and they move beautifully as you walk.  This Autumn, Winser London will be doing this in red, black, pearl, or navy with a satin tuxedo stripe down the side (and also with a single breasted blazer).  I saw the red one at the press day, and I’m pretty sure it belongs in my closet alongside this pearl one.  It will remind me of that red trouser suit I wore so frequently that it was almost my trademark 20 years ago.

So, that is a VERY long-winded and personal way of saying, “Here is my new trouser suit!” 🙂  I can’t believe I have one again.

Trouser Suit Winser London Sequinist

With Michelle from RetroChicMama and Victoria from Winser London

Details

Winser London trouser suit in Pearl: tailored jacketwide leg trousers
earrings: Dolce &  Gabbana (previous season)
wrist corsage (because why not?!): Lily’s Flowers
Heeled sandals: ASOS

 

Thank you to Winser London for reuniting me with my old flame, The Trouser Suit and for the gorgeous day at Stoke Park.   Also, since many of you have commented or emailed about my makeup in this post and in the last one, it is from British makeup brand Delilah Cosmetics.  Their fabulous makeup artist Linda Brown did the magic.  I liked the foundation, concealer, and blush so well I ordered them all online; I’ll do a review soon.  Like any makeup brand or skincare brand I review, they do NO animal testing.

Linking up to: style nudge, notdressedaslamb, honest mum, fashionshouldbefun,

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Maggie Z
    June 18, 2017 at 11:46 AM

    This was an excellent breakdown of how workwear has changed in 20 years and I think you are spot-on citing the whimsicality of Sex in the City and the stylish comfort of Michelle Obama’s looks as catalysts. That had never occurred to me. Also:
    1. There is NOTHING like this color on a blonde–you look gorgeous!
    and
    2. Please let me know the name of your evil former boss so I can hate him on TV for you.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 18, 2017 at 3:43 PM

      Thanks so much, Maggie. I’m so pleased you liked it! I’ve messaged you the name of the awful one. xx

  • Reply
    Ann Catherine
    June 18, 2017 at 1:43 PM

    I don’t think there’s something to hate with that trouser, cuz honestly speaking? It’s so pretty. I love how your styled it with Cool colors and white monochrome. I totally love it. You also look amazing with it ^^

    http://itsbeyondimaginations.blogspot.com/

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 18, 2017 at 3:43 PM

      Thank you, Ann Catherine! xx

  • Reply
    Jan Sugar
    June 18, 2017 at 3:03 PM

    Gorgeous Lisa, as always, made even more so to me as colors I can’t wear — creamy ivory and pale blue. I continue to love the other stories you tell along with the fashion — historical, political. feministic (which may be a new word) — that expand what you’re doing here. I’m with Maggie, do tell us the name of the evil one. Number six in Anne Lamott’s TED Talk called 12 Truths I Learned From Writing and From Life, is about writing. In it she said, “…remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” Go for it. Anne said so.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 18, 2017 at 3:49 PM

      Thank you, Jan. I love that you appreciate the side stories along with the fashion… clothes are a little dull with no backstory whatsoever, I think. I’ve messaged you the name of Evil Ex-Boss. Happy googling; I prefer to keep him firmly in the past! xx

    • Reply
      Mithra Ballesteros
      June 19, 2017 at 2:12 PM

      Jan, you’re spot on. Lisa’s appeal is the way she creates a written backdrop to her beautiful images. A riveting and irresistible combination. And as for the slimy bloke who gives Lisa the cold sweats, maybe a screenplay is in order.

      • Reply
        Lisa
        June 19, 2017 at 8:43 PM

        Thank you so much, Mithra. I am so grateful to be complimented by someone who writes as brilliantly as you do; your Friday post literally makes my day! xx

  • Reply
    Gary Ballesteros
    June 18, 2017 at 3:52 PM

    Thank you for sharing this story Lisa. As a man in the workplace it’s important to be reminded of the distance we still need to go to achieve equality. And the pictures were fabulous. Kudos to you.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 18, 2017 at 5:59 PM

      I’m so pleased you enjoyed it Gary. I think trading floors are probably the WORST places to be in terms of equality, but quite honestly, that’s part of what I enjoyed about it. Nothing beats being underestimated and then winning. Thank you 🙂 xx

  • Reply
    Sheela Goh
    June 18, 2017 at 5:13 PM

    I read with equal parts admiration (for you) and abhorrence (for the men), Lisa. It was not dissimilar when I worked at Ernst & Young in Kuching 20 years ago. Power suits were the only way to garner some measure of courtesy and respect, and even then, the looks and sidelong glances never completely stopped. I loved how you wove your tale. I can imagine inhaling that beautiful, indescribable scent of a fresh, new suit. Touching it, savouring the way it caresses you right back. It’s also true that Carrie and Mrs Obama have firmly relaxed the rules and paved the way for artistic interpretation of the work dresscode, and for the better, I say. If only to make us re-appreciate the classic splendour of a well-cut, well-fitting trouser suit. I fancy the red one will be quite divine xo

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 18, 2017 at 6:08 PM

      Thank you Sheelah; you must know almost exactly the sort of workplace experience I had. I’m not sure why finance seems to breed a certain culture of chauvinism, but it certainly does. I think it offers huge advantages if you know how to play it right– women build better relationships with clients (fact) and they’re much more novel and memorable in such a male-dominated industry.

      I still can’t believe I have a trouser suit hanging in my closet again, but I imagine there will be more as a rebellion against the overly relaxed dress codes! xx

    • Reply
      Jan Sugar
      June 18, 2017 at 9:06 PM

      Sheela…a friend of mine said that Michelle brought arms back into style. It was a mixed bag for her, she said, with her aging arms.

  • Reply
    RetroChicMama
    June 18, 2017 at 7:55 PM

    Blimey such an incredible journey you & your trouser suit have made! I can completely relate to the first paragraph. I had a black crepe 3 piece trouser suit made when I couldn’t find one off the peg, back in….well let’s just say I was younger. Loved that suit & I had pixie short hair so it was a proper androgynous look although I wore a smokey eye then. I first wore the suit as Best Man for my (male) friends wedding. Rather controversial at the time to say the least 😉
    Your story really shows just how important our clothes are to our frame of mind & how we deal with certain situations. Lisa I can’t tell you how much this post has given me pause for thought. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane, both yours & mine.
    Thank you xxx

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 18, 2017 at 9:39 PM

      Your suit sounds fab, Michelle! I’d love to see a photo of you as Best Man in it! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, my friend. Yes, clothes may be silly, but they’re also terribly important!!! xx

  • Reply
    Emma Peach
    June 18, 2017 at 11:16 PM

    You look stunning in the trouser suit Lisa! I love the wide legs and soft colour. The red version sounds right up my street. I really enjoyed reading about your career – I wonder if any of those male colleagues would have been happy for their wives/sisters/daughters to be treated like that. In my experience shitty ex-bosses usually get their comeuppance 😉

    Emma xxx
    http://www.style-splash.com

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 19, 2017 at 10:27 AM

      Thank you so much, Emma! I adore the shape of the trousers too. I kind of want it in every colour, especially with the new satin stripes down the leg 🙂

      I always wondered the same thing about male colleagues. One of them would not “allow” his wife to work on trading floor after they got married (eye roll). I’d love for the ex boss to get his comeuppance… A wise soul once told me not to base my happiness on his downfall, and I’ve followed that instruction carefully! I ignore him completely. xx

  • Reply
    josep-maria
    June 19, 2017 at 10:19 AM

    I love this look! You look so elegant, and lovely! Wonderful suite.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 19, 2017 at 10:23 AM

      Thank you so much, Josep-Maria! xx

  • Reply
    Abby@Midlifecrisisnut
    June 19, 2017 at 10:51 PM

    I really enjoyed learning about your exciting past! That sounds so tough. And again, the most beautiful pictures from the Stoke event. Absolutely stunning! xx Abby

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 20, 2017 at 9:33 AM

      Thank you, beautiful. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! The pictures are lovely, if I do say so myself… the benefit of a professional hair and makeup up artist and a photographer! xx

  • Reply
    Little Red
    June 20, 2017 at 2:23 AM

    You carry it off beautifully in those colors. And the red one in the fall, especially if it’s in Hollywood Red, will be right up my alley. I don’t know that I have the height to carry off wide-leg trousers but the jacket will most likely coming home.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 20, 2017 at 9:31 AM

      Thank you so much, Shalini! The red one coming out in the Autumn isn’t Hollywood Red, it is slightly warmer, but not quite brick red. I’d love it in Hollywood Red too! The single breasted jacket is so gorgeous… it feels a little more formal than this double breasted one, somehow. The trousers could probably work on you if you do a good wedge platform heel; that is my cheat with trousers if I ever need it. xx

  • Reply
    Michelle - The Barefaced Chic
    June 20, 2017 at 9:12 AM

    Wow Lisa, what a journey you’ve had! I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this post. It’s always such a treat to have a peek into the corporate life from the eyes of someone who’s ‘been there and done that’. Thank you for sharing xx
    BTW – you are rocking that trouser suit woman!

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 20, 2017 at 9:27 AM

      Well, it has definitely been a journey! I’m so pleased you enjoyed this, Michelle. And thank you, I sort of ADORE the trouser suit too. I’ve worn it a lot out to dinners lately! xx

  • Reply
    LA CONTESSA
    June 20, 2017 at 3:23 PM

    OMG, YOU have stories to share!SLeeping in your pantsuit and having CAT CALLS Bellowed at YA!Never mind that NASTY MAN from CNN…………………who is it!!!!!!
    YOU made it. You landed your Prince Charming……….and are out of the RAT RACE NOW.
    Your choice of attire is LOVELY………my guess is you will get lots of compliments from THAT TWO piece suit!
    XX

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 20, 2017 at 9:31 PM

      I do have some crazy stories… I’d do almost all of it again! I’ll email you the CNN man’s name. Thank you, lovely Elizabeth. xx

  • Reply
    No Fear of Fashion
    June 20, 2017 at 8:10 PM

    As so often I enjoyed your post thoroughly. You write so well. I went back to your New York post again. I knew I had read it, but did it again. Gosh the things you do when you are young. Although I would have been too lazy/not ambitious enough, neither at that age, to work so many hours. I have always guarded my private time. I wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place haha (if I had qualified of course).
    Now over to the trouser suit. Perfect. And I am going to wrestle you for the red autumn suit. (Damn, you have better connections.)
    Greetje

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 20, 2017 at 9:38 PM

      I’m so pleased you liked the post, Greetje. Thank you so much. I did do some crazy things when I was young; I think I was made of 99.9% ambition at that point in my life! I can’t wait to see what you think of the red suit; you wear red so beautifully! xx

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Yeowart
    June 21, 2017 at 4:58 PM

    My goodness Lisa, not only are you one sexy, gorgoeus woman, but your writing is incredible- such a beautifully insightful piece. It is always, ALWAYS a treat to see and read your posts. You look beautiful in this. Serene, elegant and in control. Stunning my friend xxxxx

  • Reply
    Ann
    June 23, 2017 at 11:12 PM

    Lisa, gorgeous suit and worn with such confidence and comfort by you. I love that color. The fabric and drape are wonderful, too.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      June 24, 2017 at 7:47 PM

      Thank you so much, Ann. I absolutely adore the suit. It is nice to wear one by choice instead of it being compulsory work attire now! xx

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