The Triumphant Return of the Skirt Suit
The last time any fashionable woman took a skirt suit seriously, Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver were clobbering one another for corner-office rights in the 1988 film "Working Girl."
"A business skirt suit doesn't exist any more," said Susan Foslien, owner of the Bay Area boutiques the Grocery Store and Susan of Burlingame, "and they haven't existed since the early 1990s, when Helmut Lang took over the fashion scene with his pantsuits," said Ms. Foslien, who has dressed fashionable working women for close to 30 years.
Since then, pantyhose have been all but exterminated, briefcases borrowed from men have been put in storage and the matching jacket-and-skirt duo has lost its lacquered semblance of power, even for women in the most serious of professions.
"I haven't worn a suit like that in years," said Amy Adler, the Emily Kempin Professor of Law at NYU School of Law, who now shows up to the classroom or law offices in printed shift dresses by Trina Turk. "I'm at a point in my career where I don't need my clothes to give me authority. Clothes are now fun and adventurous."
But the fashion industry loves a flashback and, unpredictably, some of that fun factor may well be linked to this office relic. For fall, the two-piece skirt suit was resurrected with near-uniform enthusiasm in collections from Prada, Proenza Schouler, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior and Rochas.
From the waist up, the '80s-era "Working Girl" version was cut much like a man's suit (boxy and boring), while the skirt (tight and lopped off well above the knee) was the lone visual cue that the package was meant to be worn by a woman.
Now, seemingly endless varieties are flourishing. At Prada, they're in jewel-hued tweeds or bright checks, with puffed and cuffed sleeves. From Proenza Schouler come sleek, buttonless jackets crafted from strips of perforated, bicolor leather—twisted and woven to look like classic bouclé tweed. Even 29-year-old designer Alexander Wang showed a quietly elegant suit in soft black wool at his much-anticipated debut for French label Balenciaga.
Generally, the new skirt silhouette is only bun-hugging when the hem falls demurely past the knee, as at Nina Ricci. Otherwise, the latest trend is the voluminous circle skirt, seen at Prada and Dolce & Gabbana.
The matching skirt and jacket is so far off most women's radar that it now resides in the realm of subversive fashion. "I have to say, they're intriguing," Ms. Adler remarked of the new styles. "They are like high-fashion fantasies of the work suit. I love that [Proenza Schouler tweed] one. It's more formal than I'd wear on normal days, but it would be ideal for something important or fun."