Vintage fashion: Sassy, stylish women’s suits from the 70s

Vintage fashion Women's suits from the 1970s

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After years of living in casual separates, these stylish women’s suits from the 70s offered a new way to dress: in a suit jacket and skirt or pants made for each other, with a tailored menswear-like flair.

Women’s suits from the ’70s: Several reasons why women turn to the man-tailored look (1976)

The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) September 15, 1976

One reason for today’s popularity of a man-tailored look in women’s fashions is the innate need for some discipline in our lives, believes psychologist Mary Elizabeth Reeves, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois Medical Center.

“The man-tailored way of dressing is a disciplined look; it’s a reflection of the need for a more structured life,” says Dr. Reeves, a member of the psychology department faculty.

Retro 1970s suits for women (1976)

“We’ve just gone through a period of extremely casual wear, a faddy, do-your-own-thing piling on, with everything inter-mingled. Society was less disciplined in that anything-goes period.”

Dr. Brenda C. Solomon, of the Institute for Psychoanalysis, believes that women are buying classics because such clothes have longevity.

“When women are sure of themselves and certain of their own identities, they don’t have to wear ‘in’ things,” she explains. “They wear what is functional and practical.

Retro 1970s suits for women - plaid and black with wide color

“Not too long ago, fashion said pants would go and dresses would be in. But pants didn’t go, because women found them practical and comfortable.”

This tendency toward the classics is a reflection of today’s society, Dr. Reeves adds. “What designers are showing is a classic look, and a classic lasts for some time; a fad is not a lasting influence.

“The return to buying classics is a reflection of our economy. It reflects a different way of looking at our lives, buying things that will last rather than be in and out within a season or two.”

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Womenswear - Vintage suits from the 1970s

Designer Bill Kaiserman, who heads Rafael, Ltd., agrees. “The growing demand for male-influenced women’s clothes has to do with practicality,” he says.

“Every savvy woman knows that men’s clothes are impeccably tailored and menswear fabrics are geared for wear and tear.

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“What’s selling the idea of mannish clothes is the fact that menswear is carefully constructed and made to last indefinitely. Besides, menswear is evolutionary. Modern women resent and shun overnight fashion revolution.”

70s woman in business suit with skirt rushing through the airport (1978)

Mr. Kaiserman, who started designing men’s fashions six years ago, later this month will receive the Coty Hall of Fame Award for his menswear.

“I started designing tailored looks for women two years ago simply because it’s a way of dressing many women like, whether it happens to be a fashion of the moment or not,” he says.

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Retro casual red suits for women (1979)

Ralph Lauren, who initiated the wide tie, then went on to design a total men’s wardrobe (the Polo label), began with man-tailored shirts for women in 1971. Since, he has become equally well-known for his women’s tailored and rugged wear.

“I never have called it menswear for women,” Lauren says. “I call it tailored sportswear that fits into the American woman’s lifestyle.

“Long after hacking jackets and blazers give way to other trends, I still will design what I believe in, a look for a thoroughbred kind of woman, a Katharine Hepburn kind of woman. I don’t think my look will die.”

3 piece suit for a woman with a bow - Vintage 70s fashion

Since Lauren and Kaiserman introduced their women’s tailored clothes, innumerable menswear companies have started women’s divisions.

Stanley Blacker, Arthur Richards, and Haspel began manufacturing women’s collections in their factories where once only men’s tailored clothing was made.

Dunhill Tailors began doing crisp, expensive suits for women. Pauline Trigere began a “Pauline too” collection of pantsuits, including a tuxedo, made by Sussex.

Corinne Pulitzer, wife of men’s sportswear designer Bert Pulitzer, joined him with a Pulitz-Her collection.

In Chicago, where some of the highest-priced men’s clothing is manufactured under the Oxxford label, a new collection of Oxxford women’s suits, blazers, trousers, and polo coats was born.

Supermodel Cheryl Tiegs in a tailored women's suit (1979)

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When Yves Saint Laurent so strongly endorsed the man-tailored look for women, he ignited an international trend that filtered to all price ranges. Even women’s sportswear firms began producing man-tailored clothes.

Peter Haspel, vice president of Haspel menswear, started a women’s division a year ago, simply because “we wanted to provide better quality than the man-tailored looks that were being made on Seventh Avenue.”

Business is “startlingly good,” he reports, “not because this is a mannish look, not that women like to dress like men, but because this is a fashion look.

“It is a repeat, a cycle that has turned full circle. And, just as the man-tailored look came back into fashion, it will go away eventually.”

Vintage pantsuits from the seveties

Psychologist Reeves agrees. “For centuries, this look has popped up, then dropped out of sight. It’s not new. Man-tailored shirts, for instance, are a part of life.”

In the ’20s, Chanel, Patou, and Paul Poiret introduced pants for women and popularized a garconnes look that included tailored suits, shirts, and men’s ties.

But the ones who really made the man-tailored look chic — both on and offstage — were the film stars of the ’30s, especially Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn.

Dr. Ruth Gandell, an associate in Northwestern University Medical School’s department of psychiatry, says, “Women who are attracted to this look are fashion conscious. It is a tailored look that especially appeals to the sophisticated.”

Retro suits for women from the 1970s

She visualizes women dressing up for work in such suits because “it looks professional, but it can be sensual, for example, in the Marlene Dietrich style of dressing.

“This kind of suit would make me feel more professional and more serious,” she adds, “not necessarily less feminine, but definitely not sexy.”

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Suits for women from 1979 - Black and red

To wear what we feel like wearing has become so much a part of our culture, Dr. Gandell adds.

“The women’s liberation movement has encouraged women to be physically comfortable, and pants and tailored suits can provide that. I see no negative connotations as might exist if a man wore something effeminate.”

The trend toward the man-tailored is an indication of today’s fluidity, Dr. Marian Tolpin, faculty member of the Institute for Psychoanalysis, believes. “There isn’t the rigidity in clothing there once was. There aren’t any stereotypes.”

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Vintage fashion Casual suits for women (1973)

Looking through fall fashion catalogs proves what a tremendous influence women’s fashions have had on menswear, she says. “Look at the colors, the patterns that have drifted over from women’s fashions.

This man-tailored look for women is simply a fashion, a fresh way to wear pants, which have become a part of our lives.

“So many things that were once men’s apparel have been reintroduced over the years and have become fashion — bell-bottoms, for example. And right now, jeans are the international garb for all young adults, because they are enormously practical.

“Pants would be passe if designers didn’t refresh them in some way. I believe they’ve chosen the man-tailored suit as a way of freshening the pants look.”

Women in casual colorful suits with pants (1973)

In some circles, this look has been tagged the “macho mood,” but designers and doctors tend to negate this idea.

“I don’t see anything to this look that indicates that women want to be like, look like, or dress like men,” Dr. Solomon says. “It’s a matter of fashion, a choice of something classic and functional.”

Kaiserman dismisses any obvious connections between fashion and women’s liberation movements.

His women’s suits are not men’s suits in women’s sizes, he says. He cuts his clothes to emphasize the female silhouette.

“A woman doesn’t have to expose herself to project femininity,” he explains. “Suggested curves can be a very sensuous form of seduction.”

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Retro 70s flannel suits for women

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Fashion for women: The suit is back! (1979)

Good Housekeeping – October 1979

After years of living in casual separates, there’s a new way to dress — with great finish, sophistication, style — and it all begins with a suit jacket and skirt made just for each other, worn with the perfect accessories. Here, the look for day… and evening.

Fashion for women The suit is back - 1979 (1)

Fashion for women The suit is back - 1979 (2)


Plaids, solids and stripes: Well-suited in polyester double knit

Stylish plaid vintage suits for women from 1979

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Versatile jacket and 2 pairs of pants (1979)

Tweed and plaid jacquards harmonize on the long-sleeve, button-front blazer. This 3-piece pant set comes with 2 pairs of elastic-waist pants. The jacket’s plaid trim matches one pair of pants; the tweed matches the other pair of pants.

Vintage pink knit casual suits for women (1979)

Womenwear blazer + vest + pants + long skirt (1979)

This four-piece pacesetter takes you into town, out on the town, or off on a weekend — it’s that versatile. The classic blazer is impeccably tailored with 2 patch pockets and top-stitched detailing.

Take note of the long A-line skirt — its mitered stripes give a richness of tone that is excitingly different. Solid color pants have smart, straight leg; best has 5 button front. Elastic waist on pants and skirt.

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Pantsuit and suit with a skirt - Vintage fashion for women in tan (1979)

Checks ‘n solids in wool-like polyester

A study in brown — checked blazer to top the solid vest, and pants to give a classic man-tailored look. Separates have the look and feel of wool.

Checked blazer is done with two-button front, two patch pockets, and wide notched lapels.

Woman in cowl-neck shirt and checked brown double-knit polyester paintsuit with jacket (1979)

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