How a Scandal in 1870 Made it Possible for Women to Wear Suits

How a Scandal in 1870 Made it Possible for Women to Wear Suits

It’s perfectly acceptable for women to wear suits today, but that was not always the case. A single choice made in 1870 began the journey that would introduce suits into popular women’s fashion, and how we perceive a woman in a suit today.

1870 – Sarah Bernhard breaks the rules

Sarah Bernhardt was a well-known French actress, starring in a number of plays throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century. She performed all over the globe and made headlines when she began to publicly wear suits, which she referred to as her “boy clothes,” in 1870. Her suits were custom made for her, and although they were tailored to accentuate her feminine curves, her bold fashion statement was clearly still very masculine in its’ design.

The start of a new era

Perhaps it was her popularity as an actress that caused her fashion choice to gain so much interest at the time. Perhaps it was also her French roots – she came from a country that was one of the major fashion powerhouses of the time (and still continues to be). This lent her choice to wear a suit some credibility as if it were just another trend that originated in Paris and would soon take over the world. She continued to push gendered boundaries long after her public suit debut – in 1899 she played the lead role in Hamlet.

Although it took a long time for pantsuits to come into popular fashion, Bernhard certainly started a movement. Suits for women became common, featuring a skirt instead of pants. By the early 20th century, these were common enough to pass as casual daywear.

Women’s suits today

Nowadays, suits for women are synonymous with business wear, just like they are with men. A suit is a symbol of power and strength, and it suggests that the woman wearing it is equal to her male peers.

Never was this more clear than the media frenzy surrounding the pantsuits that Hillary Clinton wore during her 2016 presidential campaign. Although she had made them a staple in her wardrobe long before this point, this was when it hit a fever pitch. For Clinton, they became a symbol of her campaign for gender equality – as she said in her book, her outfits were chosen because she “thought it would be good to do what male politicians do and wear more or less the same thing every day”. By dressing like men, she was making a statement, saying that as a woman she too was deserving of the power that males had. After all, there is no greater power than being the president of the United States. Although she ultimately lost the 2016 election, the legacy of her pantsuits remain.

Take charge with your own tailor-made suit

There is nothing more empowering than a made to measure suit, that perfectly accentuates feminine curves with bold, masculine structure. Invest in a suit, and relish in the class and status it brings to any business meeting. Exclusive Tailor is an exclusive tailor operating out of Phuket, with decades of experience creating perfectly fitting and affordable garments for clients from all over the world. Check out other interesting topics in our blog for more feminine suit inspiration, or get in touch with us, to get started on your suit journey.