By John-John Williams IV The Baltimore Sun
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Female politicians and the fashion-conscious alike are embracing the trend of the pantsuit, which has been called at once empowering, flattering and gender-bending.
The Baltimore Sun
Who would have thought that fashion-chided Hillary Clinton would be considered such a trendsetter this year with the Democratic presidential candidate's predilection for pantsuits?
After eight years with a fashionable first lady wearing fit-and-flare dresses, traditional feminine silhouettes appear to be taking a back seat to pantsuits and other clothing akin to the masculine contour. And there are plenty of signs of the trend everywhere from the catwalk to the red carpet.
Leslie Jones dazzled at the Emmys when she wore a custom blue jumpsuit by Annapolis-native designer Christian Siriano. Melania Trump, wife of GOP presidential contender Donald Trump, wowed in her much-discussed Gucci pussy-bow silk crepe de shine shirt and pants ensemble at the second presidential debate.
On the runways, pants have been popular among haute designers such as BCBG, Vivienne Westwood, Karen Walker and Narciso Rodriguez. Pinstripe suiting with low plunging necklines was popular with Calvin Klein, Tibi and Max Mara.
The trend also popped up recently in bridal fashion. In October, Badgley Mischka showed palazzo pants paired with a sleeveless beaded top. And Ivy and Astor showed a silk wide-leg pantsuit in part to attract the growing same-sex marriage market.
And locally, female politicians and the fashion-conscious alike are embracing the trend, which has been called at once empowering, flattering and gender-bending.
"Masculine attire for women is a fashion-forward trend that blurs the line that distinguishes the sexes," said Sally Di Marco, associate professor and fashion design program coordinator at Stevenson University School of Design. "In addition to giving us freedom of movement and comfort, the pantsuit is a symbol of strength, mirroring the men's traditional power suit."
Zoey Washington, senior style editor at Brit + Co, the San Francisco-based women's lifestyle company, echoed this sentiment. "Women are owning options," she said. "Women are not conforming to gender roles in many different respects."
This isn't the first time that this country has seen politics, fashion and popular culture intersect, according to Washington. "We saw this happening in the '70s with bell bottoms, culottes and jumpsuits as well with women's lib and women's rights with Gloria Steinem," she said. "I think the reason why you are seeing more pants in the marketplace and more pants on women in power is really because people are owning their choices. They are using every platform to further their message, and that includes fashion.
"For Hillary Clinton, who is known as the pantsuit queen, there was a time where that was seen as a negative, but now she and pop culture in general have really embraced the pantsuit and Hillary in the pantsuit," Washington said.
Many women have turned to certain designers when it comes to pantsuits, according to Washington.
In the 1970s and '80s it was Donna Karan's "Seven Easy Pieces," which consisted of a black bodysuit, tights, a skirt, a pair of trousers, a tailored jacket, a white shirt and a cashmere sweater.
"She created a suit specifically for women that played with our curves but was still put together and was still business-appropriate," Washington said. "It didn't look like it was borrowed from the boys. It was a lot softer and a lot more wearable."
Armani, Calvin Klein and D.C.-based Nina McLemore have also been go-tos for women's suits.
"[Clinton] and Elizabeth Warren love those Nina McLemore suits," Washington said. "The materials are Armani level. And she's really aware of a women's body and small details that are important to a woman of power. She still has strong shoulders in her jackets, but they are rounded so that you don't have that distinct shoulder-pad silhouette. She also shortens and creates a bracelet-like sleeve, because a lot of women were rolling up their sleeves."
Washington attributes the recent popularity in nontraditional silhouettes to the presence of more women fashion designers such as Stella McCartney, Tanya Taylor, Miuccia Prada at Prada, Bouchra Jarrar at Lanvin and Victoria Beckham.
"There are more women in charge of these major brands," she said. "The way women live is being reflected in the fashion. Female designers are embracing pants and easier options."
The trend has also found its way into the wardrobes of women in professions other than politics.
"You are seeing a growth in pantsuits, tuxedo suits for women, two-piece options, and less-conforming dress options. The market is finally acknowledging that women want to feel a certain way when they dress. And it isn't always through the framework of a male gaze, how a man is going to see them," Washington said.
Vanessa Pivec, owner of Panache, a designer women's boutique in Lutherville, Md.'s Green Spring Station, said she can't keep jumpsuits on the racks.
"The Nicole Miller jumpsuits have been on fire," Pivec said. "They have been the most beautiful of the season."
Pivec has also sold out of Yoanna Barachi jumpsuits, which have also been among the season's best, she said.
"Both designers really fit to the body," she explained. "With a pantsuit and a jumpsuit, that's what you want."
The fit of the garment is the key, according to Pivec.
"When you put on a jumpsuit or pantsuit, it has to be tailored to the bottom," she said. "It looks chic."
Rawlings-Blake says she likes to incorporate jumpsuits into her weekend wardrobe.
"I grew up in the '70s. I still remember a Snoopy jumpsuit I used to wear as a kid. The grown-up versions are a lot of fun," she said. "They are stylish, comfortable and easy to accessorize."
Cara Paige, founder and creative director of Baltimore-based Cover Paige Creative, an interior design, event production and marketing agency, has been a lifelong fan of pants and jumpsuits.
"I've been wearing them, ever since I was a toddler," she said. "For me, it's such an easy transition outfit. I can wear it to business meetings and then drinks with friends."
This season, Paige said, she's been encouraged to wear jumpsuits by stylist Rachel Zoe. Paige has purchased jumpsuits at Nordstrom, Target and H&M.
"I love seeing a woman in pants or a power suit," said Paige, who was wearing a deep V-neck black jumpsuit with gold tassel necklace and metallic gold BCBG sandals while having drinks after work recently at Cava Mezze in Harbor East. "For me, it's another way of showing power and femininity combined. We don't have to be so traditional."
Rachel Mulherin, a Baltimore-based jewelry designer, says she owns about 20 jumpsuits.
"I started wearing them two years ago," she said. "I was seeing the same dresses all over the place, so I started wearing a deep-V, tight-in-the-waist jumpsuit with wide leg pants. It's the most flattering silhouette for my body. Recently I started doing more monochromatic looks. A jumpsuit makes it super easy. You just put them on and go."
Mulherin likes the statement jumpsuits and pants make.
"I think it is a great way for a business woman to dress up and be taken seriously," she said. "It's not too girly. It's powerful. You have to be very confident to wear them."
She thinks that carries over to pantsuits.
"I think Hillary Clinton looks confident," Mulherin said. "I like her monochromatic looks. Hillary's trying."