Hillary Clinton is famous for her pantsuits. But if (when?) she runs for president in 2016, don’t expect her to be wearing them.
While comments about Clinton’s wardrobe have long been seen as gendered (and rightly so - we don’t hear much about the cut of Jeb Bush’s suits, after all) the former Secretary of State’s wardrobe came up during a recent conversation between Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Style Editor-in-Chief Joe Zee about power suits.
We all know that everyone — man or woman — may occasionally need to bust out their most professional outfit, their power suit, to boost confidence or look professional. It might be for a job interview, an important meeting, or in Clinton’s case, an international summit of world leaders. But the power suit phenomenon is real, as is Clinton’s place in its evolution.
For women, the power suit has certainly seen changes. A few important stops along the timeline: Coco Chanel's iconic tweed suits in the 1930s; the 1940s when actresses like Katharine Hepburn dared to wear menswear-inspired suits; Diane Keaton taking the menswear trend to a new level in "Annie Hall" in the 1970s; and of course Melanie Griffith’s very '80s shoulder pads in “Working Girl.”
Fast forward to the 90s and 2000s when Hillary Clinton's pantsuits became arguably as famous as the woman herself. We may have made great strides for female equality in the workplace, but the topic of hemlines indicates there’s still a long way to go.
Some (perhaps dubious) pros have advised women to wear skirt suits to appeal to male interviewers, even while acknowledging that such advice is sexist. When it comes to dressing for a job interview, for example, here’s what business fashion blog Corporette says on the subject: “We know, we know: feminism, equality, misogyny, etc. We're not saying it's cool. We're saying it's a crazy world out there and you should go with the most conservative option available if you want the job — which for women is a skirt suit."
But even if you take office politics and gender equality out of the equation, fashion is moving toward a higher hemline as well, and evolving away from the pansuit. Joe Zee says that even though the power suit is still very much alive, it’s just changing shape: “It’s a lot more feminine; it’s a lot more fitted; it’s a lot more pencil skirts versus pants.”
And women are watching that trend. According to the most recent numbers from NPD Group, which tracks retail sales, women are still betting on the suit. Jackets, blazers and suit separate sales jumped 11% in 2013 totalling some $4 billion. And if you’re wondering whether those were pantsuits or skirt suits, consider that sales for tights grew 33%.
All of this will likely play out in Clinton’s wardrobe on the 2016 campaign, says Zee. “I can tell you when she runs in 2016 — when — she won’t be wearing that baggy non-fitted suit anymore, it’s going to be something that’s a lot more tailored and a lot more feminine.”
We know it may not be fair to discuss her wardrobe, but as someone who helped define the power suit once before, we couldn’t help but wonder where she might take it next.