The (Wo)Man in the Gray Suit

The democratic candidates debated last week and I took note for the first time of what a tailored suit means and what it connotes for a female politician broadcasted on national television. The suit has been a uniform of power, the standard for the public sphere and its meaning in our popular culture has been tied to this. A man in a suit can artificially create an air of authority, so much power layered in this language. And it is why the craft of bespoke and made to-measure tailoring has rivaled couture. I doubt any politician who has somewhere to be seen and something to say will buy off the rack.

In Washington, amidst the sobriety and old school tradition, suits on women tend to be prefixed by "skirt-", from Oleg Cassini for Jackie O to Oscar De La Renta for Laura Bush. These women were wives, the first ladies, the stewardesses of the white house. And as steeped in capitol hill culture as they were, their roles remain only in the private sphere absent of the responsibilities and esteem given to their politician husbands. But it was Hillary Clinton, in striking defiance, who wore the pants both on her person and in the debate. And it must be said that if she had worn a skirt on national television her words would have lost the conviction the men had only by default of their gender and their pants.

And it was only a couple of months ago that Stefano Pilati made a similar (but separate) statement on his Paris catwalk. His collection of immaculate tailoring was pure power. He brought the pant-suit YSL had shown decades before out of its novelty and into the 21st century. It is only now that the prescience of St. Laurent's pant suit finds its proper context. And hats off to both Pilati and Clinton for realizing it.

taken by marcio madeira from style.com
top photo from nymag.com


Anonymous said...

lesson #1 for female ppl working in the legal field (especially if you're short): STAY WITH BLACK!

Ian said...

Hilary could definitely use a different stylist, maybe even one that could steer her in the direction of YSL.

And thanks for starting this! You're very eloquent!

Jim Cropcho said...


Nice post. I don't know much about fashion, but from a socio-political standpoint, I found your analysis of the pant-suit fascinating.