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Womens Vintage Suits

February 19, 2015

What do you think of when you think of womens vintage suits? For me it’s two almost opposite styles: a neat, structured Forties skirt suit, wasp-waisted and with a pencil skirt, and a vibrantly coloured Seventies pant suit, polyester with flares.

Womens Vintage Suits-victorian women in pants 1835-hunt-and-riding-1858

Victorian women in pants 1835-hunt-and-riding-1858

Womens Vintage Suits-Options

And there’s loads of options in between: you’d think that suits for women would be a fairly modern invention worn by working women but as far back as the Eighteenth Century, perhaps before, women wore riding suits, consisting of long skirts and a matching jacket. There are plenty of Victorian versions of this, the Crimean War giving inspiration for a military twist on jackets with frogging and braid on ladylike fitted designs.

Womens Vintage Suits-victorian riding dress

Victorian riding dress

 

Womens Vintage Suits-Paul Poiret is credited among the first to create women's pants — his were harem pants in 1913

Paul Poiret is credited among the first to create women’s pants — his were harem pants in 1913

Womens Vintage Suits-Chanel

In the Twenties Chanel gave us her relaxed “Cardigan Suits”. These consisted of an unstructured, round collared jacket without lapels, and calf length skirt. They were not necessarily knitted and the skirt could be pleated or straight.

This particular style persists with variations up to the present day, so you have a Sixties version in baby blue nubbled tweed with silk edging and oversized buttons, or an Eighties version in lipstick red with exaggerated shoulder pads and flashing gilt chain edging. The skirt length goes up and down a bit too according to the decade.

 

Coco chanel in her tweed cardigan suit, 1954

 

Womens Vintage Suits in the Thirties

In the Thirties, skirts were narrow but fluid, and the jackets structured but with playful details, such as big or unusual buttons, different kinds of collar and interesting pocket details, like scallops or double flaps. The length was usually hip length but you get some boleros too, and the occasional chic wide leg trouser suit.

 

In the Forties suits were very common for women, working or not, and because the war meant restrictions on fabric they were called “utility suits”. There were laws on how deep a hem could be, on whether they could have pocket flaps, on the width of a lapel. The Forties is where the tighter, knee-length pencil skirt came in, because it uses less fabric than a pleated style. Some women got married in theirs, and photos show bride, groom and bridesmaids all in utility suits. These suits were a practical grey, brown, black or navy.

Womens Vintage Suits-Wartime Wedding in utility suit

Wartime Wedding in utility suit

 

Womens Vintage Suits-1940s-suits

1940s-suits

 

In the Fifties the structured trend continues, and the hourglass shape is perhaps even more pronounced, while in the Sixties women’s vintage suits often feature miniskirts and pastel colours.

Womens Vintage Suits-1950s oxblood skirt suit

1950s oxblood skirt suit

 

Womens Vintage Suits-Highly contoured 1950s suit

Highly contoured 1950s suit

Womens Vintage Suits-vogue for trousers

By the Seventies there is a vogue for trousers and easy to care for fabrics, so there are polyester trouser suits in every colour, especially burnt orange, pistachio, caramel, and mustard.

 

They were worn with wide lapelled shirts or rollnecks beneath, and the trousers had flares or bell bottoms. They also featured embroidery in big motifs, huge flowers climbing up the shoulders, birds or rodeo horses frolicking on the back.

Womens Vintage Suits-Women's 70s tousersuit

Women’s 70s tousersuit

 

80s power suit in blue leather

 

And in the Eighties skirts are back: above the knee, tight and in primary colours. Jackets are boxy and with shoulder pads, and you may have worn it with a flouncy blouse and big earrings, too.

 

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