What do Cara Delevingne and Lady Gaga Have In Common?
The Great British public are well acquainted with customary Royal Wedding attire. In fact, it’s probably the most predictable wardrobe of any event on the public calendar. The bride looked beautiful in a modest, full skirted white gown by Peter Pilotto. Meghan opted for a navy Givenchy wool coat to conceal her emerging bump. Kate’s go-to Alexander McQueen dress with a pleated waistline and puffed sleeves was a ‘bold’ raspberry shade (cue praise for stepping outside of her colour comfort zone, woo-fucking-hoo….). Many of the celebrity guests wore an insipid blue (*nods to Ellie Goulding*), and there was an overwhelming abundance of sculptural fascinators (Naomi Campbell’s was of particular architectural merit. Bravo.).
But, ever disregarding the rulebook, there was Cara. The British model broke protocol by opting for an exquisitely tailored Emporio Armani black tuxedo. Complete with tails, top hat and tie, Cara’s refined elegance put the gents to shame. Besides the fact that she looked unbearably cool, there was a statement behind Cara’s androgynous wardrobe. This is a female generational icon, at an event that epitomises traditional, conservative Britishness, wearing a gentleman’s tuxedo.
A week later, at Elle’s Women in Hollywood event, Lady Gaga delivered her speech wearing a head-turning ‘man-size’ suit.
From Marc Jacobs’ Spring 19 collection, this was the dictionary definition of power dressing. It’s been compared to the 80s power suit, but really, this is as 2018 as it gets. Accessorised with glimpses of bare skin and hair scraped into a low bun, Gaga’s elegant frame submerged in boundless fabric was modestly empowering. "This was an oversized men’s suit made for a woman. Not a gown”, Gaga told her distinguished audience. “In this suit, I felt like me today. In this suit, I felt the truth of who I am well up in my gut. And then wondering what I wanted to say tonight become very clear to me. As a sexual assault survivor by someone in the entertainment industry…as a woman who was conditioned at a very young age to listen to what men told me to do, I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today, I wear the pants.”
Pants have always equalled power. First worn by King Charles II in the 17th century, our cultural and political history is defined by a series of men in suits. Still today the suit is considered the essence of men’s dressing; the gentleman wouldn't attend an occasion wearing any alternative. Sharp tailoring indicates his competence, demonstrates his power and asserts his status. Women, too, wear trouser suits all the time. Yet a woman dressed in a suit at a formal event is still cause for the media to raise an intrigued eyebrow.
This is a sartorial statement that has long offered a convention-defying blur of gender roles. In the 1870s, actress Sarah Bernhardt scandalised Paris in a custom-made trouser suit, which she referred to as her “boy's clothes.” By 1914, Chanel had designed her first fur-trimmed jacket and ankle-skimming-skirt co-ord. That year the world erupted into war, and so emerged a decade of empowered, trouser-wearing female factory workers. Abandoning corsets held hands with female emancipation and hence, inevitably, a mounting challenge to male authority. But it wasn't until the 60s that the suit ploughed head first into mainstream womenswear. Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo of 1966 was styled alongside lipstick and heels, its empowering femininity defining the uniform of a generation. These were women of just as much value as men, and they too had to don a suit to show it.
The suits worn by Cara and Gaga are a tribute to the women that have come before them, who used tailoring to challenge the patriarchy. It is heartbreaking reality that today, women are still putting on a suit for reasons identical to that of a century ago. By 2018, an incredibly successful woman in one of the western world’s most influential industries shouldn't feel that only a suit will sartorially represent her power. But she does. The suit is synonymous with authority, influence and strength. But maybe, one day, it wont also be synonymous with men.
"I tried on dress after dress today getting ready for this event, one tight corset after another, one heel after another, a diamond, a feather, thousands of beaded fabrics and the most beautiful silks in the world. To be honest, I felt sick to my stomach. And I asked myself: What does it really mean to be a woman in Hollywood? We are not just objects to entertain the world. We are not simply images to bring smiles or grimaces to people’s faces. We are not members of a giant beauty pageant meant to be pit against one another for the pleasure of the public. We women in Hollywood, we are voices. We have deep thoughts and ideas and beliefs and values about the world and we have the power to speak and be heard and fight back when we are silenced.”
-Lady Gaga at Elle’s Women in Hollywood 2018