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What Jewelry to Wear with the New Pantsuits, Part 1

By Cynthia Sliwa

Posted on October 25, 2010

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Professional women across the U.S. are ecstatic – the pantsuit has officially returned as a stylish fashion go-to ensemble this season. A well-cut pantsuit in a gorgeous, high-quality fabric is a wardrobe staple, and for good reasons. Not only does it lend an unmistakably professional appearance, it is also comfortable to wear, durable, and especially great for travel. It is versatile, taking on a multiplicity of style influences and hues with a change of blouse and accessories. And it allows one to avoid the current favored choices in legwear – tights, which can visually add bulk to legs, and the bare-legged look, an impossible choice for many women.

Illustration: Pantsuits by Ralph Lauren, Jil Sander and Michael Kors shown in the August 23, 2010 New York magazine Fall Fashion issue.

New York magazine announced the revival of the pantsuit in its Fall Fashion Issue back in August, and savvy women haven’t looked back. In the September 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, Kristina O’Neill provides an excellent overview of the style in her article “How to Wear Pantsuits,” reviewing their history and their place in fashionable women’s wardrobes. She quotes designer Michael Kors, who, she notes, “is baffled by how far from favor suits had fallen.” Kors continues:  “But all of a sudden, you have a generation now that feels that the disposability thing is boring… . Tailoring is something that takes time and experience. A beautifully tailored jacket or coat, trousers that make you look 10 pounds thinner—honestly, you can’t fake any of that.”

Illustration from the September 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. The pantsuits are by Chloe, Bottega Veneta, Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, Balmain, Valentino, Aquascutum and 3.1 Phillip Lim.

Along with the resurgence of the pantsuit has come advice as to how to style a pantsuit. A reader of Elle magazine wrote in, seeking advice on this question:  “I’ve always liked pantsuits, but how do I wear them without looking stuffy?” Elle magazine’s Anne Slowey starts off her response (in the November 2010 issue) by noting that there is “certainly nothing stuffy about the colorful ‘60s style suits that designers are so enamored of right now for resort.” True, yes, but not entirely responsive to the question. The resort collection bright floodwater-high pants with matching jackets are one stylish option, but another option are pantsuits of sumptuous woolens in subdued hues rendered in well-cut jackets and full-length trousers also deliciously in evidence this season.  

Illustration: From the November 2010 issue of Elle, three example of the resort collection pantsuits with cropped trousers. The pantsuits are by Givenchy, Reed Krakoff and Stella McCartney.

Slowey notes that the resort collection pants, typically creased, cuffed and worn just above the ankle, are “perfect for the season’s obsession with oxfords” and adds this warning: because “There’s nothing less hep than taking a menswear look that’s perfectly balanced between casual and formal and mucking it up with a pair of prissy heels.”  I note, however, that cropped, cuffed and pleated pants are significantly less flattering than a pantsuit with full-length trousers for most women, as the cuffs and short pants break up the vertical lines of the legs, and oxfords or other flats exacerbate the shortening effect.

In her article “How to Wear Pantsuits,” representing another approach as to how to wear them (without looking stuffy goes without saying) O’Neill quotes Aerin Lauder, senior vice president and creative director of Estee Lauder, who reports: “I always wear pantsuits… . I have a formula and a uniform.”  When asked how she styles the pantsuits, she replied: “With a really soft shirt underneath, a long gold-chain Alexis Bittar necklace, a classic pointy Christian Louboutin pump, a handbag from Celine or Lanvin, and a great lipstick.”

Illustration: Pantsuits from Elie Tahari and Marc Jacobs shown in the September 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

O’Neill concludes:  “Lauder is right: A simple soft blouse is a must to balance the structure of the suit. You have to select serious heels, especially if you’re wearing a full-legged trouser. For extras, one of the new small and structured bags paired with clean cuffs or a subtle necklace with a pendant will work.” 

Unfortunately, no photograph of Lauder’s styling is included with the article. Her description of wearing a soft shirt and a long gold-chain necklace with her pantsuit morphed into O’Neill’s suggestion that a pantsuit be worn with a soft blouse and a subtle necklace with a pendant, which is a very different and less powerful  jewelry styling. And, of course, the Lauder/O’Neill suggestion that pointy pumps/serious heels are required seems to be directly contrary to Slowey’s dismissal of “prissy heels.”

The November 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar contains an eight-page spread entitled “The New Suits” that shows eight pantsuits in a “creamy palette” that is neither subtle menswear weaves nor resort collection colorful brights.

 Illustration: Jacket, blouse, trousers and pumps by Stella McCartney, pictured in the November 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Illustration: Jacket, blouse, pants and wedges by Chloe, pictured in the November 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Illustration: Blazer, blouse and trousers by Celine pictured in the November 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar; note the open-toe design of the shoes.

Of the eight pantsuits shown in the Bazaar fashion spread, four are of the cropped length, one is floor-length, and three have pants of length not ascertainable from the magazine photos. Four of the five pairs of shoes pictured in the five ensembles shown from top to toe would please neither Slowey nor O’Neill – there are ankle-wrap  platform wedge sandals and other open-toe chunky sandals, one with platforms. The fifth pair is high-heeled pumps from Stella McCartney worn with a cropped trouser pantsuit by that designer. The McCartney pumps are the only shoes shown that entirely cover the feet and therefore make the most sense in inclement weather. Short booties, so on-trend this season, are an obvious alternative in footwear.

In Harper Bazaar’s most recently published head-to-toe one-designer looks, no guidance is provided as to jewelry that might be chosen to adorn the ensembles. Just as evidenced by the range of opinion regarding shoes and as hinted at in the opinions and photos above, options are available for accessorizing a pantsuit with jewelry. I’ll discuss jewelry options in Part 2 of this post to follow.

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