When Clothes Make Her-Story

Why you should feel validated wearing a pantsuit to prom as a woman.

Student Commentary

By Giulia Leo / Matthew staff

Picture this. It’s about 2 in the morning and you’re scrolling down TikTok. You fell into the rabbit hole a couple of hours ago and have no idea how to stop watching those addictive 30-second videos. So you just keep scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling, hoping that your fingers will eventually get tired, and then you’ll have to stop. You’re about to put the phone on the nightstand to get some much-needed sleep, when the video after the one you swore would be the last catches your attention. It’s about an American high school girl who “dared” to wear a pantsuit to prom rather than a dress. Curious, you click on the sound icon, and it takes you to a page with all the videos that feature the same Fleetwood Mac song.  There are 2,932 of them. The moment you realize it’s not just one video but a trend, you understand that “the times they are –definitely not– a-changin’.” 

For centuries, people assumed that skirts and dresses belonged to girls, while pants to boys. It’s no wonder that, when a boy wears a skirt to class, or when a girl decides to wear a pantsuit to prom, it seems to turn the whole world upside down. You know we live in a man’s world when both a man wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue and a woman wearing a suit in a political environment are considered a “threat” to male authority. In fact, it comes as no surprise that throughout history it has never been called their-story, or her-story but rather, his-story; it’s always been about men.

Trousers have always been a male item of clothing. They purposefully emphasize the crotch area, a symbol of male pleasure and domination. It is not a coincidence that the preferred outfit for the cock-rock scene of the second half of the ’90s consisted of tight leather pants and jeans, consumed around the inguinal region. The myth of pants as a symbol of male power is still present in our days. Just look back at when, during the Eurovision contest, the trousers of Måneskin’s lead singer Damiano David ripped open. David did not bother to hide the damage, instead, he simply walked into the press conference room with a bottle of wine, showing off the black underwear revealed from the ripped pants. In response to this,  the audience went wild.  Everyone was in adoration of Damiano, who seemed to have gained the title of a sex symbol.  

Suits, too, are synonymous with male power and authority. This is precisely the reason why suits for women are not called like those for men. They are pantsuits. According to Quartz, “while a “suit” connotes power and authority, a “pantsuit” suggests a lesser form that pretends to be a suit.” After all, “the weaker sex” cannot be concerned with the same ambitions as men. Women have always been associated with the frivolous world of gossip and sipping tea with their own kind. For some, they still belong to that environment.  

Many are the women who challenged such conservative and misogynistic views in the past, from Sarah Bernhardt, the first woman to wear a “male” suit in public, to Eleanor Roosevelt, who wore a pantsuit to an official function in 1933. From Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías, who married Mick Jagger in a white Yves Saint Laurent “Le Smoking” tuxedo, to Patti Smith, with her signature look made of a white dress shirt, black pants, and a tie. Today, influential women like Meghan Markle, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Gigi Hadid proudly carry the pantsuit heritage with them.  

In the much-loved HBO 2019 series “Euphoria” high-schoolers Rue Bennett and Jules Vaughn decide to wear their personal reinterpretation of pantsuits to prom. Jules puts on a laminated grey top, oversized semi-transparent green blazer, and/along with pink high-waisted pants. Rue wears dark pants and a matching blazer. Her look is completed by a red dress, worn as if it were a shirt. Although Rue never really says it, it is clear that she feels uncomfortable not having her legs covered. Jules understands it and styles Rue’s outfit by adding the pants. Then, Jules reminds Rue that she is beautiful, and proceeds to do her make-up, using exclusively glitter. When they’re ready, they take pictures, drive to school, and finally enter the gym hand in hand, with pride on their faces.  

It shouldn’t take courage for women to wear a suit on formal occasions. Yet, when they do, they are considered “brave,” just as with the prom TikTok trend. Most times, people assume that if a woman wears a pantsuit rather than a dress, it has something to do with her sexual orientation. What you wear is not related to courage, sexuality, or gender; but rather, it is a matter of self-expression, confidence, and comfort. One’s wardrobe is supposed to be a creative playground, free of prejudice or rules. So, wear those pants to prom, and get married in a suit, and feel empowered and beautiful and confident. Because, for once, this is your story.