Sometime between Melanie Griffith as "Working Girl" and Hillary Clinton as presidential contender, the pantsuit retired from the ranks of high fashion, as well as from most women's closets.
The new cloth isn't necessarily cut out for the corner office. At the MTV Video Music Awards in September, Taylor Swift walked the red carpet in a white plunging J. Mendel pantsuit and Kat Graham in a Bordeaux body-hugging Jean Paul Gaultier over a leopard-print bra.
"I'm really feeling the pantsuit right now; it's definitely in my top five trends," said Elle magazine creative director Joe Zee, whose series "All on the Line With Joe Zee" airs Mondays on the Sundance Channel. "People want a lot of uses out of their clothes now, and you can wear it to work, or you can break it up and wear the jacket with jeans. We're starting to see its versatility."
Pantsuits signal a larger change, said Sharon Graubard, senior vice president and fashion director for Stylesight, which forecasts and analyzes trends.
"We've gone through a period of deconstruction and fluidity, and now we're once again constructing clothes — we're interested in tailoring and matching and structure," Graubard said. "Women haven't worn suits in a long time because they've looked very stuffy, like you're going on a job interview. But these new pantsuits have the potential to be a real fashion item like they were in the '70s."
There's a silhouette and fabric for every body. Patterned and embellished with cropped pants and curvaceous lapels at Louis Vuitton. Streamlined black and belted at Yves Saint Laurent and Dries Van Noten. Trellis-patterned, double-breasted and gold-buttoned at Balmain. Slouchy menswear-inspired at Hermes. Nip-waisted, bell-bottomed at Alexander McQueen. Dandy long jackets and short pants with wild patterned shirts and ties at Miu Miu.
"The starting point now are firm fabrics like jacquards and double-knits, even," Graubard said. "We want a fabric that has some guts and can hold a shape. There's a kind of neatness to the pantsuit that's appealing to the eye right now."
Defying its corporate past, the pantsuit is free-spirited this fall, as it was when suffragettes and cabaret performers began co-opting menswear at the dawn of the 20th century.
"The funny thing is that the pantsuit still has power to transgress," Graubard said. "There's something very powerful about putting on a matching pant and jacket. Just make sure it fits perfectly. When you try one on, you should feel that you can rule the world."
Pantsuits: 20th-century moments
1926: Frida Kahlo wears a men's suit for a family portrait.
1940s-50s: Katharine Hepburn and other Hollywood iconoclasts appropriate menswear.
1965: Courreges and Yves Saint Laurent unleash a series of pantsuits that revolutionize women's wear, including YSL's Le Smoking in 1966. Helmut Newton immortalized it in a 1975 photo.
1971: Bianca Jagger makes white Halston suits a sleek signature.
1975: "Dress for Success" is published for corporate climbers. Armani establishes his brand.
1976: Suits with bow blouses abound in Vogue.
1977: Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana design suits with extreme shoulders.
1983: Trouser suits edge out skirt suits in Vogue.
1988: Suits star in "Working Girl."
1990: Jean Paul Gaultier designs iconic cone-cupped bustier with pinstripe suit trousers for Madonna's "Blond Ambition" tour.
1991: Casual Friday spells power dressing's demise.
2008: Hillary Clinton pokes fun at her anachronistic "sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits."
2012: In Miuccia Prada's fall collection for Miu Miu, 28 of the 36 looks are pantsuits.