Coco Chanel. The name is synonymous with style. We have her to thank for the little black dress and nautical striped shirts. In 1926 she designed her signature tweed jacket and matching skirts. This simple, elegant design became a classic and a staple of high society for nearly five decades.
Coco remained the head designer at Chanel until the day she died in 1971. Unfortunately around that time, the idea that a business suit can be form-fitting yet flattering, and chic yet comfortable died with her.
Thus began era of boxy suits, complete with the horror that is shoulder pads.
In the 1980s, suits were designed to completely hide any hint of a feminine figure. Even today, suits are terribly unflattering for women with curves, or really all women in general. The skirts are always the wrong length, the arms and shoulders have no room for movement, and heaven help the buttons if you have any breasts at all.
When you’re not a millionaire or a model, it is impossible to find a tailored and flattering business suit.
And as much as we hate them, we all need at least one suit in our wardrobe. The farther we go in our careers, the more we must dress the part.
The definition of business professional attire suggests women should wear suits, minimal accessories and make up, low-to-mid height heels, and pull their hair back into a neat, tight bun. Apparently, to be taken seriously in the business world, women have to resemble men.
It is frustrating that, even today, femininity in your style and wardrobe can be seen as unprofessional.
Women are more confident when we feel prettier. And it’s ironic that the days we need to wear suits are also the days when we need confidence the most – our first career fair, an interview, sales presentations, Board meetings, etc.
I’ve had to wear a lot of suits lately, and I feel boxy and boring, and I hope my colleagues haven’t noticed my constant fidgeting.
Is it really too much to ask that a suit not make me look like a linebacker? And if I want to dress up my suit with a pair of sky-high heels and a fantastic chunky necklace, does that mean I’m too frivolous to make good business decisions?
All I want is a tailored jacket that not only provides room in the bust, but slims at the waist. And then I want a skirt or pants that are stylish, fit great in the thighs and could even make my legs look longer.
If designers could design suits for real women – those of us who spend more time in Board rooms than on catwalks – then maybe I’ll get my wish. Curvier lines, forgiving fabrics and splashes of color would be steps in the right direction.
As more women join the work force and continue to reach higher-level positions, this is a tremendous opportunity for designers to have more fun with business suits. This is a generation of women that enjoys pushing boundaries. We’re not afraid to take risks. And when it comes to fashion, designers should be inspired by us and… follow suit (that was a great pun,wasn’t it?).
I don’t want to hate suits. As my career moves forward, I’m going to need to buy more. I’m simply saying that I want to feel pretty and powerful at the same time, and I have yet to find a suit that does that.
And until I do, well, I guess I’ll have to just keep reinforcing my buttons.