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.
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.
With Michelle from RetroChicMama and Victoria from Winser London
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.
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