So long to the skirt suit. Why we need to ditch this sexist uniform - once and for all
Published : 07 May 2016, 14:52
The skirt suit has had a complex life. It was born in the early 20th century as shapeless skirt and jacket combo, before designers like Coco Chanel harnessed its potential and turned the once-drab outfit into a couture icon.
From there the skirt suit spent the next few decades revamping itself to suit the fashion of the relevant era, until it reached peak shoulder-padding in the 80s. Women rocked the suit at meetings, weddings, and in the Houses of Parliament - it reeked of power.
Until: nothing. The skirt suit started to die out. In the 90s, Princess Diana was one of the few women who could still pull it off (and in white no less). But by the 00s, it was only seen on reluctant air hostesses.
Now, in 2016, you’re more likely to see a woman wearing latex (that's you Beyonce) than a skirt suit. Even Kate Middleton wouldn't have been seen dead in one on her first Vogue cover this month.
Unless, that is, you’re a pupil at Bablake or King Henry VIII in Coventry.
The £10,500-a-year private schools have just announced their new sixth form uniforms for boys and girls, produced by corporate suit-maker Brook Taverner. While male pupils have a choice of pinstriped and tailored suits, the girls’ brochure shows women in old-fashioned above-the-knee skirt suits.
The girls do also have a choice of trouser suits, but you can sympathise with female students who have branded the new uniform “sexist rubbish.”
One wrote on social media: “So the boys wear business suits straight out of Wall Street while the girls totter about on high heels in secretary skirts. When did Bablake turn into Mad Men?”
The notion of young women wearing skirt suits to school is absurd. The tailored grey skirt suit might have begun life as a symbol of women’s empowerment - but it no longer stands for that.
In 2016, it's not just hideously unfashionable, it's restrictive. The skirt suit demands the wearer pair it with heels – typically an uncomfortable stiletto court shoe - and brings with it notions of ‘sexy secretaries’. This just isn't an appropriate comparison for intelligent, ambitious young women. The skirt suit - so long a symbol for women trying to make it in the corporate world - denies the progress we've made since the 70s and sends out the message that, to succeed, women and girls have to behave and dress like men. Is that really what we want to teach our young girls?
What's more, the skirt suit shouldn’t just be eliminated from classrooms – the working world needs to ditch it once and for all.
Yes, it was once associated with 'empowerment; (who can forget Margaret Thatcher’s padded suits?). But it's time to accept that modern 'power dressing' no longer looks like this.
In the 21st century, women have options. Though we’re still nowhere near seeing a 50:50 gender split across all major industries, there are far more of us in the workplace than ever before - and it means we can finally dominate the dress codes.
We don’t have to conform to male standards of professional dress (in other words, the suit). As Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal observed in 2012: “The matched crimson suit — once deemed essential for a female executive — reflected an era when women tried, often clumsily, to fit into male moulds."
Women don’t have to do that anymore. We can redefine female professional uniforms in whatever way we choose. From jumpsuits to jeans; wide-legged trousers and trainers, women can 'power dress' in a manner that suits them and their careers.
It doesn’t make sense for a female reporter to run around all day in heels and a suit, nor for a teacher to stand up all day in uncomfortable shoes. Women should be able to choose what attire works for them on a practical and symbolic basis.
Chances are, none of them will plump for an uncomfortable, unfashionable skirt suit. What’s more, they shouldn’t be expected to.
If their cries fall on deaf ears, then perhaps they can quote Giorgio Armani’s wise words:
“[Women] have edged out their standing in the world. Today, they don’t have to wear a suit jacket to prove their authority."
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