The cocktail dress is dead – long live the soirée suit. Sales of women’s suits have increased by 178%, according to Asos Design, while the fashion search platform lyst.co.uk says searches for “women’s pantsuit” and “women’s suits” have collectively increased by 78% since the beginning of November.
Jennifer Lopez, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Nicole Kidman have all cut a dash this week wearing one, while the designer Anthony Vaccarello is bringing out new versions of Yves Saint Laurent’s classic Le Smoking suit for spring/summer 2020.
“Cocktail tailoring is a nice point of contrast from all the feathery, bejewelled, sequinned frocks out there,” says Kenya Hunt, Grazia’s fashion director. “Not to mention it looks effortlessly cool.”
Practically, too, the suit provides a welcome alternative to the evening dress. “I am jealous of the gents who can just roll their tux out of the wardrobe with minimal thought when black-tie events roll around,” says Phoebe Gormley, the founder of the women’s-only tailor Gormley & Gamble. “Not having to think of the new dress, the right colour, the right hemline, the right sleeves or cleavage, the right heels to go with the right dress, a matching bag, a matching coat or something warm. Shoes for daytime, shoes for dancing, what jewellery to wear; it’s exhausting.”
During the autumn/winter 2019 season, the suit dominated. Clare Waight Keller (the designer behind the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding dress) tailored hers, for Givenchy, with moon-shaped shoulders, a yin-yang of cursive frills and angular cuts. But it was the brilliantly eccentric US designer Thom Browne (the pioneer of suits with shorts) who devoted an entire collection to the suit. It featured an array of models in various suits, beginning with three-piece, Mad-Men-style ones, moving on to baroque, regal versions, with fur linings and gold plating. “The suit silhouette just felt right for now,” he says. “It is so femininely masculine.”
While it still “queers” evening dress expectations, the womenswear suit nods to conventions that have played out for years.
Of course, female suit-wearing icons have existed for years: think Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, Vibeke Knudsen wearing Le Smoking in Helmut Newton’s 1975 photograph, and Diane Keaton, Grace Jones and Madonna. More recently, we have had Héloïse Letissier from the band Christine and the Queens and the pansexual popstar Janelle Monae serenading the star-filled Ralph Lauren autumn/winter 2019 show in a backless tuxedo top, bow tie and billowing skirt.
“I believe suits for women have now been “on trend” for so long that, almost like jeans or the perfect white T-shirt, they’re here to stay,” says Gormley. “I believe that every woman should have at least one epic suit in their wardrobe.”
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