Voices: I’m a fan of Sarina Wiegman’s power suit – but I still have questions

·4-min read
I’m an avid fan of women in suits; the soft curves and tailored lines are a winning combination (Getty)
I’m an avid fan of women in suits; the soft curves and tailored lines are a winning combination (Getty)

The Lionesses are dominating the media right now, and for good reason. After years of men claiming women’s football isn’t as good as men’s, the England women’s team are finally getting the recognition they deserve. But it’s not just their talent that has everyone transfixed, it’s their style too – specifically, Sarina Wiegman’s two-piece trouser suit.

Black and slim-fitting, it’s simple yet effective – it shows that Wiegman means business. Herein lies my question, though: why? Why does a suit on a woman seemingly change how much authority she commands?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m an avid fan of women in suits; the soft curves and tailored lines are a winning combination. However, the way in which a woman in a suit still provokes shock is where I take issue.

Back when most workplaces were exclusively boys’ clubs, the trouser suit was a way for women to find their footing in a sexist environment. In a bid to command confidence and to be treated with respect, wearing a suit sent a message in every seam: we’re worthy, and we’re your equals. Suits quickly became a classic tool of defiance for women, their task a tall one of disarming discrimination and rigid gender norms. Unfortunately, that “equality” (that never really was) came with the proviso that you hid your femininity because suits were deemed masculine and dresses feminine.

We fight such notions now, tooth and nail, for we know it to be a system designed to halt equality. Yet, the idea that the essence of a suit is masculine, and therefore a woman is challenging the status quo by wearing one, remains. Even its name, power suit, carries this idea of pulling the rug out from under men by daring to wear their clothes.

When men wear suits, even ones from London’s acclaimed Savile Row, they don’t receive the same label. It’s not seen as an attempt to bamboozle anyone. Arguably, if a man wears a suit, they’ll earn greater respect from people, such is how society works. But let’s be honest: that suit was already expected of them. When the England men’s manager, Gareth Southgate, wore a suit, nobody was surprised at his decision.

In 2022, I don’t feel a trouser suit should be so widely regarded as a middle finger to the patriarchy. At least, not unless the wearer states it as such. Although fashion is a powerful tool in our arsenal, we’ve gained and created other means to combat oppression over the years, one of which is to deny the gender binary altogether. Yet, the moment a woman dons a suit, all the groundwork we’ve laid and the change we’ve fought for suddenly goes out the window because it’s a woman in a suit.

How did she wear it? Was it a skirt or trousers? Who wore it better? What does it mean? All these questions and more make a suit a statement piece even when it’s not trying to be one. Yes, some might want to send a message, though typically it’s a statement you can’t possibly miss, like Cara Delevingne’s 2021 Met Gala look that read “Peg the patriarchy”. For the vast majority of female suit-wearers, however, the intended message is simply: “I feel more comfortable in this”.

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This is why the hype surrounding Wiegman’s power suit feels like such a double-edged sword: although we applaud her freedom of choice, and impeccable style, we also still regard her decision as gender-bending. She’s done something novel. Trousers, skirts, a dress – none of that should influence how we’re viewed, or how seriously we’re taken. If I wear a dress to a meeting, I still harness the same strength that a suit would invoke. The only real difference between the two is the choice I make on which outfit better represents my personality on that given day.

But when your name is one that comes with equal parts praise and scorn, depending on the will of the people, the right to choose is a luxury. And it’s an often binary one at that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wiegman feels unable to wear what she wants, I have no doubt that nobody determines her style but herself. However, we can’t ignore the fact that if she’d been at every Euro 2022 match wearing a skirt or dress, she’d have been treated differently. She’d be both sexualised and condemned for a lack of professionalism.

We’ve all seen the headlines that position women as would-be temptresses for daring to have their legs out in a workplace setting, and we’ve all heard workplace “banter” calling Sally from accounting a lesbian because she wears a suit. Misogyny is everywhere, persisting through the words of dinosaurs who should have gone extinct long ago.

In the 21st century, a suit on a woman should just be that: a woman, in a suit. Can we leave the shocked gasps in the past, where they belong?

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