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The Power of Dressing Up in a Dressed-down World

February 06, 2018 | Filed in: Your Closet

While I often laud the virtues of the versatile blazer, it has taken me a while to come around to the idea of a full suit. I know women have been wearing them for decades to stunning effect: Coco Chanel debuted her first suit in the ’20s; Hitchcock heroines set a new standard for elegance in the ’50s; Yves Saint Laurent introduced his iconic Le Smoking in 1966; and then, of course, there was Diane Keaton’s breathtaking power wardrobe in the 1987 film Baby Boom (my favorite working-woman movie of all time). But despite the strong historical precedent, by the time I graduated from college in 2006, women’s suiting was in a sorry state.

A mere handful of brands were selling boxy, uncomfortable pantsuits for young professionals, and although we felt obligated to buy them, we weren’t happy about it. It was nearly impossible to feel like yourself in these restrictive garments. It always seemed like the suit was wearing you, and we all had a story to tell. (Mine involved the Shiny Brown Skirt Suit Fiasco of 2007.)

So it’s no surprise that when MM.LaFleur was founded in 2013, our unofficial tagline was “death to the pantsuit.” We were eager to banish the clothing category that had caused us so much angst. And yet here we are, five years later, introducing a game-changing line of women’s suiting. I can’t help but think of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”: Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

As a brand, we do indeed contain multitudes, and we no longer want to kill the pantsuit—we simply want to do it justice. The moment I tried on our new suits, I knew Miyako had gotten it right. It’s not just about how they look (crisp, elegant, polished); it’s about how they make me feel (powerful, competent, and entirely on-top-of-it). But here’s the kicker: They also make me feel cool. These suits are stylish enough for “fashion people” but buttoned-up enough for businesspeople—an elusive balance. I wear them to work, but I also wear them on the weekend to shock and awe my friends, who are accustomed to seeing me in my typical off-duty uniform of jeans and old-man sweaters.

There is something so gratifying about walking into a roomful of denim-clad people, only to shed my coat and reveal a power suit. It’s unexpected, it’s fresh, and in an increasingly athleisure-ridden world, it’s downright subversive. I’m convinced: Dressing up is the new dressing down. And for me, the elegant-subversive balance is the holy grail of dressing. I have never felt chicer than I do in the Oliver jacket and Clooney pant. This jacket runs a bit big, and I like the oversized look. I bunch the sleeves up to my elbows to create an oh-I-just-threw-this-on vibe.

The Carson blazer and Mejia pant combo has a similarly nonchalant-but-formal effect. The raisin color makes me feel like Prince (I am thrilled about this), although the classic black is gorgeous as well. When I am feeling extra saucy, I wear it with my Japanese cat shirt, and I tell anyone who will listen that it’s my business-catsual look.

fashionable women's suits

See? Business catsual, featuring the Carson blazer, Mejia pant, and Tory’s shirt that she bought at a Japanese train station.

On days when I want to look truly buttoned-up—like if I’m speaking on a panel—I opt for the Hoffman blazer and Crosby skirt. The ingeniously-engineered seams of this jacket make it super comfortable. It can withstand an eagle pose, but still remain crisp and wrinkle-free throughout the day.

fashionable women's suits

Putting the Hoffman blazer, Cobble Hill skirt, and Rowling top to the test.

So, it’s official: I am a suiting convert. In an ever more casual world, there is something defiant about dressing up, even when it’s not necessary—perhaps especially when it’s not necessary. Here at MM, we talk a lot about the art of self-presentation. Clothing is not everything; it won’t make up for a lack of knowledge or confidence. But the right outfit can underline who you already are. I know I am capable, but the right suit makes me feel capable. I stand a bit taller when I’m wearing one, and people take me more seriously. Coco, YSL, Diane, and all those Hitchcock heroines were definitely onto something, and now I get it. Every woman should spend some time in a beautiful suit—if only to see how it alters her experience of the world.

Photographs by Yan Ruan.


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Tory Hoen is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and brand strategist. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at MM.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.


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