We live in a time where women can wear almost anything they want (even make really bad fashion faux pas) and get away with it. Celebrities like Rihanna and Beyoncé have broken most ‘fashion rules’, they wear the craziest outfits and encourage us women to break free, and be what we want to be. For many, fashion is a form of expression, an extension of their individual identity. 16-year-old bloggers tell us what trends to look out for and save up for, and if we can’t afford the designer labels, runway to rack fashion is super accessible thanks to high street brands like Zara, Topshop and Mango. While fashion has become so fast and fickle (some even say ‘fashion is lost’), we must still hold tightly to an important symbol—that of freedom.
In today’s most open societies we enjoy the freedom to dress as we like. But let’s pause for a moment and appreciate our reality because it’s hard to think there was a time where wearing pants would get a girl into trouble. Rewind a few decades and we see how fashion imprisoned women within rigid stereotypes and job roles.
Today’s high-end designer names were the ones who actually recognized the limitations fashion placed on women and they experimented with more controversial apparel. A fashion item that particularly interests me is the pants suit; clothing that once upon a time was reserved only for men.
Coco Chanel, arguably one of the most influential designers of our time revolutionised the way women wore clothes and paved a new way for the fashion brand. Her vision was to free women and bring them into the modern era where they would be independent, and women needed clothes that would reflect this attitude. She created clothes that gave women the confidence to leave behind tight skirts and clinched-in silhouettes for more comfortable and less restrictive clothing.
During the onset of the second world war, designers started showcasing pants and pantsuits for ladies and a few fearless actresses namely Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were brave enough to wear them despite the many nods of disapproval towards a lady in a pair of pants. When the war broke out, resources were scarce and women were needed in the industrial workforce to support their countries war efforts, women began to look through their husbands closets for more appropriate clothes to ‘make do and mend with’. They tailored them to fit their smaller size. This was the beginning of unisex clothing.
In the 1950’s Chanel designed their first full pantsuit, the infamous buckled tweed box jacket. Christian Dior, Balenciaga and many other American designers also made a big impact. The 60’s was gifted with designer Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic dinner tuxedo for ladies, complete with bowtie and a cummerbund. This suit was the epitome of power at that time. I tried one on in their store a few years ago and it gave me goosebumps.
During the civil rights environment of the 70’s, pants became a symbol of equality and were worn as a show of force that women could do anything a man could.
Today, women probably have more style choices in pants and jeans compared to men, but that’s not the point. The point is women can choose to wear pants, a skirt or a minidress. In the words of the fabulous designer, the late Gianni Versace, “Women are more sure of themselves today. They do not have to emulate the way men dress.”
The recent Versace Spring/Summer 2018 show paid tribute to the late Gianni Versace, the lyrics to the fashion show song caught my ear.
“Gianni you always recognized how powerful women are, you helped women reclaim their own voice and be themselves. Imagine a world without his allegiance to women. “
Some of us are obsessed with fashion and others do not care at all, but we all should appreciate the role fashion has played in the fight for our freedom.