To date, Claire Underwood has almost never worn pants. For House of Cards’ conniving First Lady and presidential running mate, four seasons of power dressing has meant perfectly tailored dresses and pencil skirts fit for a fierce, boardroom boss.
Well, Claire might have to go shopping. Celebrity stylist Kemal Harris, the IRL closet curator behind Claire’ looks, says fresh takes on the pantsuit are back on the agenda.
“What’s great about what we’re seeing on the runway is that there are ways that women can wear a pantsuit and still be feminine,” says Harris, who has also worked with Felicity Jones, Lorde and Claire’s off-screen alter-ego, Robin Wright. Harris cites new fabrics (yes to velvet), silhouettes (hello, hourglass) and even patterns (see Prada’s electric geometrics) as reinvigorating a look that has spent recent years relegated to the back of the closet.
Since 2010, pantsuit sales declined from $1.7 billion to a projected $513 million this year in the U.S., according to Euromonitor International. But that trend appears to be reversing: the digital department store Lyst reported that pantsuit searches have increased by 470 percent since January with more sold in the past two weeks than the previous two months combined. But #PantsuitNation, the social media movement that rallied Hillary Clinton supporters, isn’t all that’s behind the surge in searches.
On runways and red carpets, the pantsuit is earning renewed fashion cred. The current resort collections signal a return to suiting from the most buzzy, directional designers, such as Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga (with a sharp-shouldered, double breasted blazer worn with cropped-at-the-knee slacks) and Phoebe Philo at Céline (with several looks involving jackets dramatically padded at the shoulder and cut tightly to the waist, paired with matching paper-bag pants). These new takes don’t mimic the balanced straight leg, regular-fit jackets of the early ’10s. Rather, proportions are blown up to exaggerated sizes not seen since the decade of the power suit.
When the pantsuit first rose to power in 1966, it was in the form of Yves Saint Laurent’s ultra slim tux Le Smoking. In the ’70s, Saint Laurent muse Bianca Jagger brought her strut to the style in wider leg, less obviously flattering versions at Studio 54.
But it was in the late ’80s and early ’90s when the look hit its crescendo, with Lauren Hutton, Sigourney Weaver, and even the perennially pencil-skirt-ed Princess Diana wearing bold shouldered, double-breasted, Wall Street takes on the classic.
And that is the era most obviously referenced as we move into the spring ’17 collections, where the oversized blazers at Céline have evolved to be v. relaxed in proportion, with seams sliding off the shoulder (and waists now wide). Meanwhile a continuation of Philo’s exaggerated hourglass proportions appeared at Jacquemus, an option for those not wishing to literally appear like they’ve borrowed their BF’s suit.In Canada, Holt Renfrew’s fashion director Ketevan Gvaramadze confirms that the luxe retailer has been stocking up on pantsuits from brands such as Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and Smythe, with more styles on order for spring. The cuts, less editorial and more wearable in nature, champion broad-shouldered jackets and high-waisted, wide-legged trousers.
Stylist Ade Samuel, who has dressed 16-year-old Black-ish star Yara Shahidi in a series of fashion-forward pantsuits, suggests those who are lost on the trend get the pants right first. “When you find a pant that fits your body the way you want it to fit, it’s easier to add a top to it and create that look,” she says.
“Don’t stick to the idea that it has to be matchy-matchy. You can have a printed oversized houndstooth blazer that you found at a vintage store and pair that up with a skinny trouser or a straight-leg pant. With a turtleneck, that’s a look.”
Harris agrees that anyone who’s not a runway model needs to tread lightly when experimenting with oversized fits. “You have to balance the proportions,” she says. “If you are going for a wider, fuller trouser, which is such a gorgeous trend, you need to think of more of a shrunken jacket on top, or defining your waist with a cropped one. A look from the ’90s that I love is the oversized blazer, but with a skinny trouser.”
And though Hillary Clinton won’t be moving her own wardrobe back into the White House, Harris sees the pantsuit as communicating Clinton’s legacy all the same: “She represents that kind of strength and badassness and femininity that you feel when you put on a pantsuit.”