Saturday, March 3, 2012

Suits Me: Women in Suits

To start this blog off right, let's get to the good stuff, and what I hope to be a regular feature - Suits Me: Women in Suits.

For the first post in this series, we will be taking an ad-hoc look at the history of Women in Suits, from The Lezsquire’s perspective.

The suit as we know it today is definitively masculine in origin.  A good suit has always been associated with power, prestige, and authority.  While it was once taboo for a woman to do much more than wear skirts and attend to household matters, men would wear suits to conduct business, make power plays, acquire money and prestige, and generally engage with the outside world in activities of "importance".  

But she did poison it.
Marlene Dietrich was perhaps the first global female celebrity to don a man’s suit publicly.  Though it caused controversy, it was a first step toward general acceptance of this less-than-conventional fashion choice.  Other female celebrities such as Josephine Baker, Katherine Hepburn, and Anna May Wong helped pave the early path for this "radical" style. 

Got a light?
Still, one only need revisit a copy of Leslie Feinberg’s “Stone Butch Blues” to recall that women who dared don this sacred "masculine" attire were vigorously persecuted - and worse - in pre-feminist America.

As time went on and feminist ideals spread, women became a growing force in the workplace and a feminized version of the suit (read “skirt-suit”) was born.  With this, the suit became an accepted part of mainstream female attire.  Pantsuits, on the other hand, have had a more trying history.  For example, Madonna’s wearing a “masculine” pantsuit in her (decidedly queer by intention) “ExpressYourself” and “Vogue” music videos was still considered "edgy" as recently as the early 90s.  To this day it remains taboo in some areas and professions for a woman to wear a pantsuit.  The handful of times my (supposedly progressive, liberal, Californian) law school’s career services department advised female candidates to wear skirt suits to law firm interviews “just to be safe” come to mind. 

Take that, gender norms!
Reflecting back on my life as a young Lezsquire, I can’t remember the first time I saw a woman in a suit.  However, I also cannot remember a time when they did not make my heart go pitter-patter – and when I did not long to be the strong, sexy woman rocking a business suit myself.

These days we are fortunate to have a variety of strong and successful female icons rocking the suit, from political commentator Rachel Maddow,

to queer power couple Bette and Tina from "The L Word",

A tall glass of Porter indeed.

to Ellen DeGeneres' signature suit-with-sneakers talkshow look,

and many others.

To me, wearing a suit makes me feel powerful, capable, and and worthy of respect.  It's a look back over my shoulder and a big "f- you" at the gender norms of yesteryear that said a woman couldn't or shouldn't be where I am today.  It's also a look forward at my future and the glass ceilings I have to break ahead.  I may be the only female and the youngest in the boardroom, but I am your equal and I will be respected.    

And I admire women in suits for the same reason.  The woman in the suit takes herself and the job at hand seriously, and she will not let gender norms stand in the way of her success.  She is the modern day Joan of Arc, a woman leading a charge in her personal holy war.  She wears the trappings of masculinity - the power, the prestige, the authority - and pulls it off with more beauty and grace than a man ever could.

Does wearing a suit have any special significance to you?  Thoughts on skirt suits versus pantsuits?  Any suited icons that you'd like to share?  Weigh in at the comments below!   

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