Year of the pant: How women asserted themselves and reclaimed freedom by donning pants

pants via Instagram

Androgynous style has been on trend since late 2014. And there is nothing new about women wearing pants. In fact, Hollywood and Bollywood divas alike have made wearing pants and pantsuits popular from as early as 1930s. This year, however, the suit gained more momentum.

In October 2017 when the #MeToo movement picked up, actors showed solidarity to victims who were coming out with their stories of sexual harassment by wearing black to the Golden Globes. Celebrities like Claire Foy, Debra Messing, Alison Brie and Susan Sarandon stood out by wearing black pantsuits to the event. The message they were possibly trying to convey was 'it is the time for woman and we wear pants'.

When a woman wears pants or pantsuits, it goes beyond just clothes. It symbolises them managing to make a space for themselves in a male-dominated world.

The fall of 2018 saw Marc Jacobs present a whole lot of wide-cut, concealing, double-breasted, shoulder-padded suits. Leowe followed suit, so did Balmain. Celebrities have been wearing pantsuits for larger part of the year too. One of the more notable appearances was by Lady Gaga. She chose to wear, on October 16, a day shy of the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, a voluminous pantsuit by Marc Jacobs to Elle's Women of Hollywood event. The singer, who confirmed engagement to boyfriend Christian Carino on stage by calling him her fiance, explained why she chose to wear the suit and not a pretty dress. Gaga said she wanted to take power back, take it back from men, and her sexual perpetrator in particular.

Gaga said she felt sick to her stomach as she tried on dress after dress while getting ready for the event. "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," she said. "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."

Fashion, as many great women including Lady Diana, Jackie Kennedy, Priyanka Chopra, Katherine Hepburn and Sonam Kapoor proved time and again, is an expression of one's self. In today's climate of shattering glass ceilings, women speaking up against predators, voices being raised for equal representation, it seems only right to follow suit.

Closer home, Bollywood beauties too have worn the pantsuit this year with panache. Some of the most notable ones were Huma Qureshi swishing in an anti-fit pantsuit at the GQ style awards, Sonam Kapoor looking like the diva she is in a pink printed suit for a promotional event, Pakistani actress Mahira Khan rocking the suit at Cannes and a proud purple Victoria Hayes co-ordinated set Deepika Padukone pulled off at the Cannes. Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhat and Kareena Kapoor too, gave us some major inspiration for donning pantsuits this year.

The trend is getting picked up in such a way almost is similar to the women's suffrage movement towards the end of the 19th century or the bra burning movement in the 1960's, both of which was about equal rights to women. Women's fashion sure has come a long way from restraining corsets and laces to voluminous skirts and girdles to A-line dresses and skirts to pants which were introduced by Coco Chanel. Yves Saint Laurent in early 1900's added the coordinated blazer to the mix. Chanel, back in 1913, had said, “I gave women a sense of freedom. I gave them back their bodies: Bodies that were drenched in sweat, due to fashion’s finery, lace, corsets, underclothes, padding.”

While growing up, women are often told what to wear, how to behave and conduct themselves. So when a woman chooses to wear a pant or even denims, she is often met with stares and tut-tuts on streets and elsewhere. Over the years, I have been told by male friends, colleagues that I look better in skirts or that I should embrace saris or salwars. Wish I had the courage to tell them to “try a skirt.”

Even Hilary Clinton, the presidential nominee for 2016 was not spared when she wore pantsuits. Her matchy-matchy clothes do her drab, dawdy self no good, wrote the media unkindly. Clinton herself pointed out how what she wore during the campaign and not what she said was given more importance and the same sadly was not true of her male counterpart Trump. No one bothered with what he wore. "There's this thing called the double standard," she said when asked what she would wear to the upcoming presidential debate, "so I think about what should the first woman nominee of one of our two major parties wear to the debate?"

When young Democrat and now Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wore a teal pantsuit, she was attacked by the right wing for wearing 'expensive clothes', something no socialist should do.

Another politician who is seen wearing pantsuits from time to time is Germany's own iron lady, Angela Merkel.

In Deepa Mehta’s film Fire, when Sita, played by Nandita Das, wears her husband's pants and tries an imaginary cigarette, she is seeking freedom from her loveless marriage. And we relate with her desire to break free.

A pantsuit, then, is not about wanting to conceal those curves; it is perhaps an expression of the yearning to reclaim their world.