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Suit up, Ladies

Throughout history, fashion has been considerably restricted by societal norms and views. One major restricting view was that women should only wear feminine clothing, such as dresses and skirts. The idea of women wearing trousers prior to the 20th Century was unthinkable, especially in France as it was illegal from 1800.

Women first started wearing trousers during the 1st World War, working in ammunition factories. However, it did not become a trend until much later as many pre-war views remained within society during the 1920’s. Some famous faces did appear in the public eye wearing trousers, such as Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, during the 1930’s. Vogue also created a spread on women wearing trousers in 1939.

During World War 2, clothes rationing meant that women had to wear their husband’s clothes for work. When the clothes wore out, alternatives were manufactured for the women. By the time the war ended, trousers for women became a trend. Like in the 30’s, only certain women wore trousers outside of their houses, such as CoCo Chanel and Audrey Hepburn.

When capri’s were introduced in the 1950’s, it became commonplace to see women in public wearing trousers. A Californian law was passed in 1959 preventing employers from stopping women from wearing trousers in the workplace. Paired with the introduction of women’s jeans by André Courrèges in the 60’s, trousers officially became a staple in women’s fashion.

20th Century Trousers on the Red Carpet

Despite these advancements in women’s everyday fashion, ballroom gowns and slinky dresses dominated the Red Carpet from the 1930’s onwards. Women began to wear trousers on the Red Carpet in late 60’s, around the time when Hollywood Studios declined. Bronwyn Cosgrave mentions in her book, ‘Made For Each Other’, that actresses originally had to wear what their bosses told them.

But, once the studios declined, they were finally able to choose their own outfits and attend awards evenings in their own right. Reflecting this, Barbara Streisand was the first winning actress to attend the Oscars wearing trousers in 1969. Her outfit caused uproar, due to how it went see-through under the lights. This encouraged other women to express individualism on the Red Carpet, with the aim of creating more headlines. So, Barbara Streisand became the trailblazer for quirkier outfits appearing.

Jane Fonda was the next winning actress at the Oscars, wearing a Yves Saint Laurent suit and a Mao collar in 1972. She decided to change her look on the Red Carpet from catsuits and knee-high boots as she was not “dressing for men” anymore. She also used her suit as a reminder of her campaigns against Nixon, which resulted in her getting booed off the stage before reading her speech.

This is another example of a negative response to actresses wearing trousers. Other famous actresses suited up for the Red Carpet, such as Diana Ross in 1973, Julia Roberts in 1990 and Jodie Foster in 1992. Céline Dion’s famously appeared at the Oscars wearing a white suit backwards in 1999. Despite these examples, wearing trousers on the Red Carpet didn’t remain as a trend.

21st Century Trousers

“In the last decade, the red carpet has morphed into a beast of its own making, a high stakes fantasy land, televised and instantly dissected by millions on social media” Elizabeth Holmes, Vogue 2018

Although many advancements have been made since the 1930’s, trousers remain in the minority on the Red Carpet. Many high designers and brands started capitalising on the popularity of the Red Carpet in the mid-90’s onwards, showcasing their work on the actresses. When best/worst dressed lists appeared in the media, fear emerged among actresses and designers.

In order to appease the critics, they both opted for wearing ballgowns and slinky dresses again. The shift in focus to the actress’ body, rather than her outfit, influenced revealing outfits with cut-out panels being popular. This was a step back for individualism, enforcing the societal view of femininity on women.

“I love dresses. I’m not trying to protest dresses. But I want to make sure that young girls and women know they aren’t a requirement. You don’t have to wear one if you don’t want to” Evan Rachel Wood, Golden Globes 2017

However, the suit appears to be making another come back. More celebrities are appearing on the Red Carpet in tailored suits, such as Evan Rachel Wood. Reflecting on her experiences in the acting industry as a young adult, she looked up to actresses like Marlene Dietrich who broke the mould in the 1930’s.

Since 2011, she has committed to appearing in only suits, with the aim of showing that dresses aren’t compulsory. Other famous faces share this sentiment, such as Alia Shawkat. She appeared on the Red Carpet in 2017 in a black suit, embodying the trend of androgyny.

Hopefully these actresses will continue to influence the younger generation, bringing us one step closer to gender equality.


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