How to style a trouser suit

Lisa Lennkh

We show you how to style trouser suits—the epitome of power dressing

I have a complicated relationship with trouser suits. For decades, they were my work uniform. You see, I worked in banking in the early 1990s when wearing dresses and skirts on a trading floor were a big no no; they invited the wrong kind of attention. The powerful androgyny of a trouser suit, however, made me feel less conspicuous as a young blonde woman in a predominantly male industry. It conveniently cloaked those parts of me that are obviously female and made me feel like I could "wear the trousers" literally and figuratively. Twenty years later, I might resent having to do this, but at the time it levelled the playing field as much as it's possible with fashion.

Since then, women have advanced into more positions of power. Wearing skirts and dresses is less of a liability in our current #girlboss era than it was on Wall Street in the 1990s. In addition, Silicon Valley's very casual dress codes have changed how we dress for work. Fashion has pushed the trouser suit to the back of its wardrobe for years.

Very recently, it has come out of hiding and has been given a colourful makeover and a slightly more relaxed fit than the ones I used to wear to work. Suddenly, a trouser suit looks cheerful, fresh, and pulled together…especially if worn in an effortless way with a tee shirt and a low heel or trainers. The punchier the colour and the easier the fit, the better. The modern trouser suit is a purposeful departure from the previous tailored dark uniform of bankers and politicians.

In fashion history, the two big moments for trouser suits were Coco Chanel wearing a men's one in 1929 and Yves Saint Laurent introducing the women's tuxedo suit, Le Smoking, in 1966. On the silver screen, I can't think of anyone who wore them better than Katharine Hepburn and Diane Keaton; they were both masters of unique androgynous style.

"The right trouser suit is a great modern alternative to the little black dress"

In my own closet, I have decided to add two recently. I'm probably late to the trouser suit party because after spending so many years of my career being stressed out in one, I had some initial resistance! First, I bought an elegant oyster coloured satin backed crepe one that is very loose and flowy...completely different from the ones I used to wear in the 1990s. With good jewellery, it works well for smart evenings out and daytime meetings. With the sleeves pushed up, a low heel, and a casual tank top underneath, it nails effortless Katharine Hepburn chic.

I also just bought a bright green shiny satin one in a sale. I appreciate that it veers dangerously close to looking like a Quality Street sweet wrapper, but in my mind, that's the making of it. It definitely doesn't look effortless, but the green colour will mix well with brightly coloured accessories in the same way that foliage and flowers do. Both of my trouser suits are trans-seasonal; I wouldn't invest in a heavy wool or linen one because the fabrics are too limiting.

The right trouser suit is a great modern alternative to the "little black dress." It can take you all the same places but you have the benefit of choosing a more flattering colour and something that can be easily styled for daytime wear. Given my past, I certainly never thought I'd be wearing trouser suits for fun, but here I am contemplating whether my next one should be powder blue or orangey-red. In these colours, a trouser suit looks the business without looking too business-like.