Look smart in the new skirt suits
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When it comes to power dressing, too much emphasis is placed on the trouser suit. Many trace the rise of the “dress for success” wardrobe back to the 1980s, to oversized shoulders and louche, masculine shapes. (Then came Hillary Clinton, who – for better or worse – took the pantsuit, an outfit synonymous with female liberation, and put it on the political stage.) But the first true power suit was actually designed by Chanel in 1925 – and its “power” was gleaned not from trousers, but sharply tailored skirts.
“It’s so easy to take a man’s suit, put it on a woman, and say it’s a power suit,” says New York designer Prabal Gurung, whose new season collection includes a series of brightly coloured, asymmetric skirt suits. One look showcases a super-cinched peplum blazer in neon gingham; others flash a peek of contrasting underskirt beneath. “It’s much more subversive to tailor a suit with extreme femininity, and to find ‘power’ in an almost divinely feminine silhouette,” adds Gurung.
Skirt suits have returned with a vengeance for SS22 – and in a host of classic shapes. At Chanel, Virginie Viard built on Coco’s legacy with signature tweed twin sets in breezy summer pastels, her neat lines offset by the odd ruffle or drape. Maria Grazia Chiuri recalled Marc Bohan’s 1960s “Slim Look” for Dior – all A-line skirts, cropped blazers and highlighter brights. And Carolina Herrera went full-on Working Girl with loud boxy minis under strong-shouldered blazers.
While traditional skirt suits lean towards longer, work-appropriate styles, recent updates have proven more youthful. Hemlines tend to roll with the times – ’60s miniskirts in periods of social change; longer lengths during recessions – and this season, says Polly Walters, senior strategist at trend forecaster WGSN, shorter styles have seen a 50 per cent increase across collections. “Although the thought of a mini might fill many with dread,” says Walters, “a re-energised focus on body inclusivity is also driving a shift towards body-skimming and figure-enhancing looks that we’re expecting to be favoured by a broader demographic.” She points to cheeky cut-outs – see Lanvin’s sultry side slips – as popular flourishes; the addition of an oversized jacket adds a subversive touch to formal tailoring.
Miniskirt-phobics, on the other hand, will favour the season’s subtler silhouettes. “I love the idea of taking something traditional like a skirt suit and making it feel modern and effortless,” says Emilia Wickstead, whose spring collection pairs a low-slung pencil skirt with a sculptural top and short heels. “There is elegance and power in wearing a suit – it’s the ‘full look’ effect that has the power to instantly make you feel put-together,” she argues, adding that hers are designed to be worn to “transition from professional to social engagements”.
It was a similar story at Miu Miu’s SS22 show, where Miuccia Prada opted for ultra-drop-waist satin skirt suits with tufty raw hems. “For this collection, there is no pointless invention, no fashion,” she wrote in her show notes. “It is about classics, about clothing that allows you to think of bigger things.” In place of heels were simple penny loafers paired with bookish grey socks, and when skirts weren’t styled with matching jackets, Prada turned to cropped slubby jumpers or one-size-up shirts.
“The comfort factor will continue to prevail – even for evening pieces,” affirms Walters, when asked about the future of the skirt suit. After all, when Chanel designed her first styles, the intention was for women to be freed from corsets and impractical skirt lengths; much of her inspiration actually came from the sportswear worn by her then-partner, the Duke of Westminster. The key to the skirt suit, says Walters, lies in balance. For every daring mini, there’s a cosseting boxy blazer – a cropped shirt for every pencil skirt. Power, it seems, now comes in a variety of forms.