Before the late 1960s women only wore pants while working in the garden or around the house, engaging in such female-approved sports as bowling, or traveling to the beach. In most any business, school, or formal public or social setting women were expected to wear skirts or dresses. As feminism, the social movement to gain full and equal rights for women, grew more powerful in the 1960s and women increased their presence in the workplace, the notion that females and skirts were synonymous was viewed as impractical and outdated. French designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936–) and other top designers responded to this desire for skirt-liberation by creating the pantsuit: an outfit, designed and tailored specifically for women, comprised of matching slacks and jacket. By the mid-1960s nearly all the important Paris, France, designers were creating and marketing pantsuits. Pantsuits allowed women in the workplace the opportunity to enjoy the mobility and flexibility they lacked when wearing a dress or skirt.
Some pantsuits were female versions of traditional male suits. They featured solid colors, blacks and blues and browns, or came in plaid or tweed. Others were more traditionally feminine, designed in pastel colors or even in white lace over pink. Jackets came in varying lengths and were single or double-breasted. Pants were narrow, tapered, or flared. The suits were made of a range of materials, such as wool, suede, leather, twill, velvet, silk, cotton, polyester, and cotton-polyester blends. Unlike their male counterparts, women accessorized their pantsuits with necklaces, pins, gloves, scarves, and designer handbags and shoes.
Pantsuits were not immediately accepted as formal social or workplace attire. Younger women began wearing them and were scornfully viewed not only by the male establishment but by their older female coworkers as well. Exclusive restaurants refused to seat women dressed in even the most stylish and expensive pantsuits. Eventually, workplace and restaurant dress codes were altered to accommodate women wearing them.
Molloy, John T. New Women's Dress for Success. New York: Warner Books, 1996.