In the first half of the 20th century, the skirt suit became the common daytime city dress for women, whether in the workplace or out and about; suits featured softer fabrics and feminine details. Some still sported the masculine look, here shown to its best by Marlene Dietrich.
The 1920s opulence was followed by the great depression in the 1930s and women had to be innovative to be fashionable. Designs reflected limited finances and then rationing led to limited availability of cloth, lines became simple and trousers more popular as silk stockings became increasingly difficult to obtain. In 1939 Vogue published its first fashion photos featuring models wearing trousers.
During the war ‘siren suits’ became popular, they were used to cover up regular clothes and protect from dust in air raids (hence the name siren suits). Post war as rationing eased, women were able to rediscover fashion and wide shoulders, nipped in waists and full hips – the classic hourglass was the shape for clothing. Jackets were shorter and skirts fell just below the knee.
In the 1960s rationing was over and women opted for colour. The iconic photo of the time is one of Jacqueline Kennedy in the pink suit she was wearing when her husband was shot in Dallas. Jacqueline Kennedy was a true fashion icon, and this outfit is arguably the most famous of all of her items of clothing and her trademark.
Bubblegum colours were in and as women infiltrated the working environment suits became more and more popular. Dresses with matching jackets and skirt suits were ideal for the working woman and as the 60s rolled on trousers gradually became accepted as formal business attire.
In 1975 John T. Molloy published his book ‘Dress for Success’ detailed how women should dress for the office and formalised the term ‘power dressing’, the strive towards equality in the workplace gained momentum.
Margaret Thatcher took power dressing to her heart and when she became Prime Minister in May 1979 entered Downing Street in her power suit.
Next month we will be moving into the 1980s – with our big hair and even bigger shoulder pads
Read The History of the Suit - Part 1 - Men In Petticoats
Read The History of the Suit - Part 2 - Covering up one's Knickers