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The Importance of Fashion: Women, Fashion, & Society

 

As we look back through the ages and capture key eras in our evolutionary timeline, the presence of fashion remains persistent. From 180,000 years ago when the first people in Africa began to wear clothes to present day it.

It became an imperative part of history when temperatures cooled due to the ice age. People had to add layers to a usual naked body. Today we still see this as the colder months in the year are where the fashion industry makes their biggest profits.

It is a form of protection from the elements and as we have evolved, this fundamental truth remains.We have also come to recognize our individuality within the collective through fashion where it has become a way to express ourselves. Born from a need that transformed into a medium for art.

A way to not just connect through its shared importance, but also subtly show the world who we are, what we feel, and who we want to be. A reflection of the times, the story we convey of the world around and within us. Fashion speaks to the social contexts of the time, it plays an important role in the progression of society.

 

 

Rudi Gernreich’s 1970 caftan

Early 1800’s: Suits for Recreation

 

The first ever suit for women was used for recreational riding in the 1800’s. This suit was called a riding habit which featured a jacket for the top and was complemented by a long skirt that allowed more movement and comfort than their everyday wear.

As outdoor recreation festivities began to emerge as a daily activity, clothing for the varying types of activities were created. Soon after the riding suit, was the birth of the bathing suit. 

 

1800's riding habit for women the first suits worn by women

 

The main purpose of the first bathing suit designs were to restrict women and keep them modest; a reflection of the social and cultural states. Bathing suits were full dresses with stockings and underwear, commonly made from wool.

Although women were still heavily restricted, this was a notable moment in the evolution of women in society. Taking a step forward from wearing full length Victorian era dresses to a much lighter dress. 

Bathing suit evolution for women 1800's - 1900's

Late 1800’s: The Suit as A Revolutionary Act

 

In 1870 actress Sarah Bernhardt was the first woman to courageously don a suit in public. She defied all social norms and started a fashion revolution.

In a time where women wore restrictive clothing, Bernhardt decided that she would use her platform to make a statement. Many were opposed to her wearing the custom suit at first, but that didn’t matter.

Women began to see how liberating and empowering it was to have choice, to wear clothes that felt comfortable and made sense in their daily lives. Suddenly, women were questioning the systems in place and how they served them.

 Bernhardt went on to play Hamlet on stage in 1899, pioneering a new mindset in where it was ok to express parts that had been suppressed for far too long. 

In 1870 actress Sarah Bernhardt wearing suit for first time and playing hamlet in 1899

 

1905: The Suffragette Suit 

 

Women had started to adopt their recreational suit wear into their everyday wardrobes, but restrictive clothing such as the hobble skirt was still a persistent presence. The hobble skirt was a menace to women’s mobility as it was hemmed so tight at the ankles that it was hard to walk.

In retaliation to this the American Ladies’ Association created the “suffragette suit”; a jacket paired with a long flowing skirt. The suit was a marker of liberty and freedom throughout the fight for women’s equal rights. 

The suffragette movement that featured black and white women fighting for liberty and freedom wearing suffragette suit

 

1910’s: The Emergence of The Chanel Suit

 

By 1905, suits were a staple in women’s wardrobes. It wasn’t until the 1910’s that suit game for women took off when the first suit for women was created. Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel; also known as Coco Chanel created the iconic Chanel suit in 1914 that revolutionized women wear for years to come. It was the women’s suit that played a major role in bringing Chanel it’s great acclaim. 

Coco Chanel 1920's

 

She seamlessly brought femininity forth through the suit which allowed women to feel confident and beautiful, while also free and comfortable.

Though the concept of the suit is the same for both women and men, it differs in the technical aspects that make it comfortable based on physiological design. Chanel understood this and made her designs to the specifications of women’s bodies.

 

Women wearing coco chanel suit in 1910's
Jackie Kennedy in famous pink Chanel suit

The suit inspired a generation of women including the likes of America’s First Lady; Jackie Kennedy to courageously embrace its style.

Even in the year 1963, it was so much so a staple in the First Lady’s wardrobe that she was wearing the suit when her husband; John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated.

The same suit now remains untouched and locked away to preserve its state until 2103. 

 

1932: The Pant Suit

 

Chanel had created the first suit for women, but these were only paired with skirts. Marcel Rochas was the next French fashion designer to elevate women’s fashion with the first ready to wear pant suit. 

 

Michael Rochas 1932 first womens pant suit

 

1933: The First Lady in a Pant Suit

 

“Courage is more exhilarating, than fear and in the long run it is easier” , Eleanor Roosevelt. 

In 1933 and many other times throughout her incredible journey in life, Roosevelt exemplified this quote when she became the first First Lady to wear trousers at an official White House event. Suits were acceptable for women by this time in government spheres, but only accompanied with skirts.

Roosevelt had been running late from riding and did not have time to change into the expected attire for such an event. Nonetheless, she made history yet again and pushed the needle further in fashion. 

 

Eleanor roosevelt 1933 first time a woman wore trousers to a White House event

 

1940: Suits As a Symbol of Strength for First Generations

 

The tensions between Mexican-Americans and white servicemen were deepening as both groups sought to take claim of Mexican-American women. These men were fighting over something that was not meant to be owned.

The young women known as La Pachucas took a stand and made great contributions to the vibrant youth culture in Los Angeles. A direct symbol of their stance against the idea that women were meant to solely be mothers and wives was by wearing the Zoot suit. They inspired a generation to accept a new way of expressing femininity and their identity as first generation.

 

1940 la pachucas first generation South American women zoot suits

 

1950’s: The Decade of Stagnation

 

The war plagued the world with an extreme situation that changed the course of life for all. This meant that men went war while women went out into the work force doing varying jobs in place of men.

By the end of it all and the great depression, there was a focus on men and women following strict gender roles in hope to regain prosperity. During this time, the revolutionary women’s suit took a back seat to the troubles and transitions of the collective. 

 

1950's black women in the work force

 

1966: The Women’s Tuxedo

 

Yves Saint Laurent was the next major innovator to master the art of women tailoring with their duly celebrated ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo. A huge statement was made with this creation that said in very bold letters; “Welcome to the new feminine”.

Many did not receive it well and banned the tuxedo in their hotels and restaurants. YSL was grossly ahead of their time at this point and despite the backlash, introduced androgyny to high fashion. 

Yves saint laurent first women tuxedo 'le smoking'

 

In years to follow (1971) Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías wed Mick Jagger in an all white Le Smoking tuxedo. This was the first notable instance of a woman wearing a tuxedo at her wedding, going down in history as one of the most iconic wedding fashion moments in history.

Bianca went on to make the white pant suit her signature style. In order to bring about it’s casualness, the suit would feature a tailored jacket paired with wide legged trousers.

 

Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías 1871 white pant suit iconic

 

1980s: The Power Suit

 

As women began to enter the workforce, having the right attire became imperative to convey a sense of power and competence. Soon 50% of the workforce were made up of women. Just like that, the term “Dress for Success” was born. Sales for suits were at an all time high and more designers began to create their own takes on the suit. 

Giorgio Armani created the “Power Suit” for an eager generation of career women who were keen to become empowered in the workplace. This was done by Armani’s boxy silhouettes that did not appeal to the male gaze. Women thought suits were the right fashion to achieve success in spaces that they longed to be in because it mirrored men’s fashion. 

 

Giorgi Armani creation of the power suit featured boxy silhouettes to mirror men in the workplace

 

Donna Karan challenged the idea that women had to wear boxy suits that mirrored men. Clothes should be complementary to the woman; comfortably accentuating her best features. Karan felt suits should be no different.

She came out with “Seven Easy Pieces” that featured a body suit, skirt, tailored jacket, leather piece, white shirt, and cashmere sweater. Karan reimagined the women’s power suit and contributed greatly to fashion by doing so. 

 

Donna Karan new take on the power suit in the 1980's

 

2020’s: The Age of the Professional Woman

 

The past 40 years have seen women rise in positions of power and this trend will only continue on a global scale as women become inspired to strive for better.

We have seen women such as Michelle Obama become a political figure through her position as First Lady in which she gained more popularity than her husband who was President. A true testament of the growing presence of women leading in all spheres of life. 

 

Michelle obama in professional suiting wear Iconic suits

 

Conclusion

 

This emergence has spurred the fashion world to cater to professional women. This is done through creating collections that capture timeless designs in high quality and natural fabrics.

At W10 Colours Inc we embody the reimagined woman to create timeless & classic clothing with a modern twist. If you strive for your best then, surely you will want to step into the W10 experience and build a wardrobe for life.

Get started with our Complimentary 30 Minutes Wardrobe Consultation or book an appointment for our Bespoke Couture Service with our one of our expert stylists now.

 

Sources:

https://arte8lusso.net/fashion/historyofwomenssuits/

https://suitshop.com/blogs/news/the-history-of-womens-suits–and-the-trendsetters/

https://www.michaelandrews.com/journal/history-womens-suits

https://dogoodkc.org/blogs/blog/the-feminist-history-of-the-power-suit

https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/a-history-of-womens-swimwear/

https://daily.jstor.org/the-history-of-the-power-suit-for-women/

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