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Pants suits vs. Skirt suits

2009 January 26
by Laura Blankenship

A friend of mine about my age is in law school where they just went through their first mock interviews.  The younger female students in her class all chose pant suits to wear because they thought it would be more conservative.  However, my friend knew better and wore a skirt suit. The younger students’ reasoning was that skirts showed your legs and that seemed a bit unseemly.  However, showing your legs as a woman (from my experience) puts you in your “proper place” as a visual object for me.  It also hinders your ability to move easily, constraining you (as is appropriate for women).  All kinds of interesting things going on with this issue in terms of the generation that hasn’t internalized this stuff about skirts (which is good) to it still being on the minds of older generations (who are likely doing the hiring).  Read the comments on the linked post and you’ll find all kinds of interesting stories about wearing skirts.

6 Responses
  1. Baibh Cathba permalink
    January 26, 2009

    Ooh… this is really interesting. As part of the younger generation who hung out with my grandparents a lot, I knew about this intellectually, but not realistically. Hmmmm. It’s really food for thought. Especially when one considers the Clinton issue from the media as stated in some of the comments.

    I know that my maternal grandmother and her sisters were revolutionary, my grandmother always wore pants (to be professional) her sister B was a chain smoking divorcee (in a time where it was unheard of) and always wore pants, and their third sister R was very quiet, but also wore pants. Most of the women I know of were business professionals who worked. Maybe this class thing also made a difference?

  2. Georgia "George" permalink
    January 26, 2009

    Oh darn! It looks like Baibh beat me to the Hillary Clinton… scandal? 🙂
    Moving on, I’ll just stick with some anecdotal information. For me, pant suits are not just a way of feeling more covered but I actually feel “weaker” in skirts. I always feel as though I will sit down and my skirt will bunch up too high or that a particularly strong breeze will prove to be my worst enemy.Then of course there’s that whole leg crossing thing that I just don’t even bother with anymore.
    My mother usually insists that I wear skirts. And while I do wear them to appease her, I always feel scared in a skirt. Pant suits are my “power suits.” In them I feel strong and confident. No matter how conservative society and the media wants to ridicule women (e.g. Clinton) who wear pant suits (really? I don’t get what the big deal is at all), I just do not care.
    Perhaps Baibh is right and it is a class difference. Or maybe it is, as Laura suggests, a generational difference. Either way, the fact that there is a pressure to wear skirts is unnerving.
    Great post Laura! And thank you for the link:D

  3. Guinevere permalink
    January 26, 2009

    I went to a ‘business formal’ career event at Goldman Sachs last year and my mother insisted I wear a skirt suit. It made sense to me because I felt like I looked more professional and felt more confident than if I’d worn a pant suit.

    The career event was a diversity event, so more than half the students were women, but I was the only person wearing a skirt. Even the female employees and HR representatives that spoke to us were wearing pants (not even with suit jackets, but with sweaters). I felt really out of place and over dressed, but for some reason, I still felt professional and confident; like since I’d made a better fashion decision than the other women at the event, people would take me more seriously and respect me more. How crazy is it that I felt I’d be more respected because I wore a skirt instead of pants?

    To this day, I’m still confused as to why everyone was dressed so casually, especially since the event invitation clearly said business formal, but I’m definitely going to keep wearing my skirt suit cause I like the way I feel in it, no matter what stereotypical implications it has.

  4. Ruth Goodlaxson permalink
    January 26, 2009

    A few years ago I went suit shopping with my older sister, and noticed another difference in suits for men and suits for women. We went to probably four department stores that day (it was her first suit, so we wanted a good one!) and I kept noticing that they all had “Big and Tall” sections for men’s business suits, but each store had a VERY small collection of plus-size suits for women. Those that did carry suits for women above a size 14 carried almost exclusively ankle-length skirt suits, which seemed very frumpy and not that professional. Shopping all day is annoying as it is, but I fet very disappointed overall; it seems there is room in business for men who are larger than average, but the selection suggested either that there was little market for plus size women in business or that compancy executives assume successful women are skinny.

  5. Ryan permalink
    January 27, 2009


    GREAT anecdote! I definitely would not have know better.


    A tidbit: pants became mainstream when women replaced men in the factories during WWI. ( So the trend started, interestingly enough, with the working class. (NB: if you’re interested in class and gender, look at Weimar Germany. LOTS of interesting stuff going on there.)


  6. Melanie Bruchet permalink
    January 27, 2009

    That tidbit is very interesting! I was thinking today about my grandmother’s stories of growing up in rural 1930s Georgia, where it was considered “low class” for women to wear pants. It was a sign that you had to work, probably in the fields, like the rest of your family- a very unladylike thing to do. If you were wearing a skirt, it said that you didn’t have to think about practicality. I had always wondered why she was wearing pants in all of her old pictures…

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