The women’s pantsuit has endured a turbulent history. Throughout the decades it’s had to wrestle, hustle and squeeze its way into the realm of acceptable women’s attire, driving against a tide of fierce opposition. But in many ways, the progress of pants has loosely mirrored the progress of women in general: as women gained a role in the workforce and the right to vote, their clothing choices eventually broadened. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that, in places like America, wearing trousers could have ever put a woman at risk of arrest.
And yet, even today, the pantsuit in some subtle way embodies women’s collective ambition to be considered as equal. So whether meant as a conscious act or not, it makes sense that it would grace on the runways at a time when women’s issues have been dominating the public conversation. In the wake of a new wave of female empowerment, taking tailored styles back to the street as well as the boardroom is a timely reminder that fashion is something we’ve fought for, and something that can free us.
The women’s suit for summer
This summer, the women’s suit is once again defiantly breaking out of corporate bounds. Lightweight fabrics like cotton and linen make it appropriate not only for the higher temperatures, but also for occasions like weekend brunches and resort getaways. Some designers, like Tibi, even created full pantsuits in dark denim, merging smart and casual into one versatile investment.
Colour-wise, classic black is never a bad idea, while neutrals, stripes, and heritage checks have also seen a revival this year. That said, if you really want to plant your pantsuit firmly in 2018, go for one of summer’s trending pastel tones like sorbet lemon or eggshell blue. Or, adventure into the purple end of the colour spectrum with pastel lilacs and lavenders – beyond a doubt the biggest colour trend of the season.
On the runways, Victoria Beckham led the pastel charge with a full lilac suit accompanied by minty suede pumps. Beckham’s silhouette was fresh and relaxed, with an oversized blazer balancing tapered, slim-cut pants. But pastels also breathe new life into formal styles, like the mannish yet sensual tuxedo-inspired looks at Ermanno Scervino.
Details also count when it comes to making your suited look stand out this summer. Scervino added rows of buttons down the sides of jackets and along the outer hem of trousers. Jason Wu went for pant-leg buttons as well, with ruching on jacket sleeves that gave a smart midnight suit a soft and feminine touch. Although these details aren’t mandatory, they do take it up a notch and abolish the need for accessorising. Suits like these simply speak for themselves.
Of course, the mood of any suit also comes down to how you style it. High-heeled pumps might be a workplace go-to, but they’re certainly not the only option. A pair of flat summer sandals instantly puts even the most disciplined tailoring at ease. For a laid-back yet sharp look, try classic leather Oxfords beneath a bare ankle – especially with a relaxed trouser cut. If you happen to nail a Katherine Hepburn vibe, all the better.
As for what to wear underneath your suit jacket, summer temperatures mean there’s no need to stick to button-up shirts (unless you want to). A perfectly cut pantsuit with a casual t-shirt makes for a cool twist. And for balmy evenings out, you can’t go past a sensual bare neckline (or at least the illusion of one, crafted with the wizardry of a scoop-necked camisole or bustier).
Day or night, a suited look is best accompanied by a clutch, or failing that, a small cross-body bag. The magic of tailoring is how it sits on the body, and heavy straps on shoulders are like mischievous imps, constantly tugging and twisting everything out of place. Everything else – from jewellery to belts to wide-brimmed straw summer hats – comes down to your personal taste. After all, the power of the suit is in the freedom to choose if, when, and how you wear it.
Summer tailoring for men
The pantsuit for women may be historically rooted in a kind of defiance, but that’s no reason to overlook its continued importance to men’s fashion. A well-cut suit for men is never out of style: what changes are the silhouettes, the details and the conditions within which it is worn. This summer, men’s suits span the spectrum, from timeless and traditional Italian tailoring to relaxed modern updates. This fact itself offers a kind of liberty for men, as it affords them more room for self-expression — even when dressing for work or an evening affair.
So how to give your suit a modern work-over this summer? According to the runways, blurring the lines between formal and casual is one way to go. Case in point: suits at Zegna paired with tennis shoes, or at Haider Ackermann worn with rolled-up sleeves and flip-flops.
Another playful runway trend to take inspiration from is prints. Hawaiian shirts are a particular favourite this summer, and can be worn under a tailored jacket as a guaranteed way to liven up a look. If surfer prints are too out-there, try florals or abstract prints in lightweight fabrics.
Finally, don’t be fooled into thinking that delicate pastel hues are just for the ladies: some of summer’s most striking men’s suits also defy established gender rules by embracing baby pinks and lavenders. And, in a world where equality counts, that’s a defiance worth celebrating.