Womens Vintage SuitsFebruary 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-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-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.
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-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.
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.