The baffling thing about the fashion industry’s current obsession with plundering the dressing-up boxes of decades gone by is that most of the items being resuscitated are things we were secretly glad to get rid of first time around – bone-crushing hipster pants, itchy angora jumpers and unflattering A-line skirts, to name just a few.
So it is cause for celebration when designers embrace a look that is retro in the sense that it is something we all know and love, but has been sufficiently updated for us to feel that we’re getting a new look. This is what has happened to the humble trouser suit, for decades an understated and overlooked wardrobe staple, which has suddenly come into its own. At the forefront of the new wave of suits are Paul Smith, who now applies his genie-like tailoring talents to women’s suits as well as men’s; French designer Agnes b, who has built her core business around impeccably-fitted women’s suits in lightweight wool with trouser shapes ranging from drainpipe to flares; and Calvin Klein, who has been lured away momentarily from all things casual to embrace formal tailoring.
The suit has come a long way since Coco was first photographed lounging around in a man’s tweed ensemble, way back in 1929. In fact, she caused something of a storm. Although the silent movie era had featured starlets swathed in silky pyjama suits, the sight of a woman wearing a sharply tailored jacket and trousers, with the attendant undertones of androgyny and male power, was not only new but decidedly shocking.
It wasn’t until the second world war, with the sudden influx of women into traditionally male jobs, that women’s trouser suits really came into their own. Women started wearing them to work and after the war, when designers developed their first ready-to-wear collections, trouser suits gradually became an alternative to the formal skirt suits introduced by Dior with his New Look.
The reasons for the suit revival are simple: suits are comfortable, smart, glamorous and, most importantly, hide a multitude of sins. Can’t be bothered to iron your shirt? Easy, just press the front and stick a jacket over it (remembering not to take it off, of course). So you over-indulged on the designer beer? No problem, a long jacket hides the fact that your trousers don’t fasten at the waist any more. Thankfully, suit trousers are usually cut roomy enough to allow for easy readjustments of the waistband.