Elizabeth Day: I finally learned the secret of confident dressing
Styling: Holly Elgeti. Make-up: Nicky Weir using Hourglass Beauty. Hair: Alex Szabo at Carol Hayes using T3 Haircare. Shirt, Lisou. Earrings, Missoma. Trousers, Marella. Rings, Daisy Jewellery, Pilgrim.
There are certain things that you can only fully appreciate as an adult woman. They are the kinds of things you would have found boring and comical in your youth.
They are generally middle-class concerns, born of having enough time and money to worry about trivialities such as regular online supermarket delivery slots (very necessary). Dental hygiene appointments are another example. As is investing in nice underwear and throwing out the pants that have been in your knicker drawer since time immemorial. Other revelations include the versatility of pesto. Finding a hairdresser who understands when you ask for a ‘tousled’ blow-dry you do not mean ‘ringlety’. And so on…
It is only relatively recently that I have been able to add another item to the list: the joy of a trouser suit. Until I turned 40, I never understood the power that good tailoring has. Like many, I had worn skirts as part of my school uniform, then graduated on to jeans and tracksuit bottoms with the odd party dress thrown in for my 20s. My work wardrobe consisted of a pair of black trousers from River Island teamed with whatever top I had remembered to wash. In my 30s, I bought nicer trousers but the ethos was the same. Jeans for days off. Skirts or separates for work. A dress for celebrations.
The only women I knew who wore trouser suits were famous ones. Although I grew up with iconic imagery (Bianca Jagger, impeccable in a white two-piece as she walked across a London street holding her daughter by the hand, is a particular favourite) I never assumed that such an outfit would be for me. The trouser suit, like the shoulder pad, seemed to denote power and confidence, and I never felt powerful or confident enough to do it justice.
But the older I got, the more I found myself wanting to dress not for others, but for me. When, a year or so ago, I was asked to speak at an event in front of an auditorium full of guests, I realised that the best way of tackling my nerves was to dress as if I didn’t have any.
I started researching trouser suits, and when I found the perfect one (a black satin tuxedo, since you ask) I loved how secure I felt when I put it on. There was something about having two layers of matching clothing, rather than a wispy top and too-tight skirt, that felt safe. Immediately, I looked pulled together and I didn’t have to think about anything else to go with it because any camisole or T-shirt would do. One of the best things about a trouser suit, I realised, was the sheer number of pockets: there were trouser pockets, jacket pockets and an extra-special selection of pockets sewn into the lining. I could carry my wallet and phone and lip balm without the hassle of a handbag. It was a revelation.
Besides, a well-tailored trouser suit on a woman just looks great. It is stylish and chic without much else having to be done. It says that this is a person who knows what she’s about; who doesn’t need to try because she already is. It says: I don’t need to submit to your conventional notion of femininity in order to be feminine.
It made me realise why men have been wearing them for centuries. Suits are designed to make your experience of the world easier. They enable you to be unencumbered, in a way that so many women’s clothes don’t.
Since that salutary occasion, I have worn trouser suits whenever the opportunity presents itself. I’ve just bought a midnight blue velvet one for the Christmas season. Even if we’re not allowed out for parties, I intend to wear it whenever I can, stuffing festive cheer into my multiple pockets.
This week I’m…