Throwback: A history of the pantsuit, from the 1900s until today

For some, the 2016 election was about much more than politics. It also brought to the forefront that even fashion (yes, even clothes) can present a significance that words can't. 

“Clothes increasingly are becoming a frontier for political activism,” confirmed Fashion Institute of Technology curator Emma McClendon to Yahoo Lifestyle. "We’re all becoming more aware of the power dynamics inherent in clothing.”

Of the sartorial moments that were grander than designer names and their price tags included Melania Trump's controversial pussybow shirt that appeared right after Trump's leaked Access Hollywood tapes and the unification behind the color white. If you recall, democratic congresswomen made headlines by arriving to President Trump's first Congress address in 2017 in a sea of white in a nod to the suffragette movement. 

Vintage photos of the pantsuit over the years
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Vintage photos of the pantsuit over the years
Clothing Jazz tissue teagown - coat lined with blue georgette has tight sleeves with brass ball buttons, also the trousers the same. October 1928 (Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
A woman wearing a leaf-pattern trouser suit and broad-brimmed sun hat, circa 1928. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Actress Louise Brooks in Oriental Style Pantsuit (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Model wearing orchids, pinned with a bowknot of rhinestones, a waistcoat, and Ascot scarf. (Photo by Lusha Nelson/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
Dancer, Eleanor Powell, wearing a light short-sleeved pantsuit with flared legs, tap dancing, with open arms. (Photo by Edward Steichen/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Modeling a natty sports outfit at time when many of the most glamorous legs in America were covered by trousers in a fashion trend toward masculine attire, this blonde Miss was on the verge of stardom. The year is 1933 and the girl is Ginger Rogers. Ginger, who reached the pinnacle of success in Hollywood, is about to open a Broadway play called, 'The Pinn Jungle.' Filed: 10/24/59
Wearing a beret and carrying gloves, Marlene Dietrich, prominent Paramount screen star, jauntily strolls along Hollywood Street attired in a grey man's suit, with turtle-neck sweater. Stylists declare this mode set by Marlene will sweep the country--which probably means that men will have to find themselves some cute tailored skirts.
Actor Ronald Coleman wearing a sports coat, slacks and a striped tie and Mrs. Ronald Coleman (nee Benita Hume) in a pantsuit with a short sleeved jacket, standing in the garden of their Brentwood, California home. (Photo by Alexander Paal/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
Standing model Meg Mundy in red wool slack suit emblazoned with eagle figure, with white shirt and white turban, surrounded by mythological constellation illustrations. (Photo by John Rawlings/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 6/5/1948-New York, NY: Star of stage and screen Katharine Hepburn, becomingly clad in slacks, unbent and gave an interview to the boys of the press as she sailed from New York, June 5th, on the S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam.
Actress Norma Shearer on Beach by Her Home (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
German actress Marlene Dietrich (1901 - 1992) wearing a purple trouser suit, circa 1950. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Belgian model and actress Claudie Lange arrives at Heathrow Airport, UK, 11th October 1969. (Photo by Gary Weaser/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
SEP 12 1969, SEP 13 1969 Knit Pantsuit in Fashion Spotlight Partygoers at Children's Hospital-May-D&F fashion show luncheon Friday included Mrs. Vernon Taylor Jr. Who is one of Denver's leading fashion pacesetters. Nearly 900 Denverites attended the annual style parade. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Israeli actress, Daliah Lavi, kneeling on a beach, in a Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers pants suit with a Glentex scarf wrapped around her head. (Photo by John Cowan/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Man Tailored. Paris: Marc Bohan creates a man-tailored pants suit for the Dior-Paris collection this fall. Done in a black currant shade of wool, the suit features a long slim jacket over a plaid check overblouse belted at the waist.
Model Galya Milovskaya in Sokolniki Park in Moscow, Russia, wearing a white chamois suede tunic and pants by Viola Sylbert for Samuel Robert, with two grommet-lined belts by Elegant crossed at her waist, and a long black scarf by Sally Gee. (Photo by Arnaud de Rosnay/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
French designer Yves Saint Laurent shows his 1979 spring-summer women's haute couture collection in Paris. The model is wearing a cream pantsuit. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Model, walking in an underground garage, wearing a dark silk double-breasted raincoat, double-breasted Glen plaid jacket and wool herringbone pants, all by Bill Blass, with a neck scarf and large sunglasses. (Photo by Chris von Wangenheim/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
Model Beverly Johnson, standing on a rocky beach, wearing a rayon jacket with patch pockets over white jeans, by Blassport, with a white necklace choker around neck. (Photo by Francesco Scavullo/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
A fashion model wears a haute couture pantsuit by French fashion designer Marc Bohan for the Christian Dior fashion house during his 1976-1977 Fall-Winter fashion show in Paris. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - MARCH 1: Model Stephanie Seymour in Donna Karan's tan wool gabardine suit with a silk knit tank CREDIT MUST READ: Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast via Getty Images. (Photo by Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
French design house Nina Ricci shows its 1985 spring-summer women's haute couture line in Paris. The model is wearing a striped brown pantsuit with a wide-brimmed red hat designed by Gerard Pipart. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Portrait of an unidentified model, dressed in a red pantsuit, a gray jacket, and a black hat, as she walks on a street below a suspension bridge, New York, 1980s. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
Fashion model Katoucha wears a ready-to-wear red pantsuit and bicorne hat by American fashion designer Patrick Kelly. She is modeling the suit during his Autumn-Winter 1988-1989 fashion show in Paris. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Of course, amongst the other powerful statements made at the last presidential election include the pantsuit, courtesy of Hillary Clinton. In honor of Women's History Month, we're revisiting the history of the style and how it's become a uniform for groundbreaking and powerful women in the public sphere. For those that don't know the history of the pantsuit, the style has become synonymous for fearless, rebellious women.

"[Pantsuits] hid [a woman's] femininity—and by that I mean their femaleness—because it is a serious liability," said Marjorie Jolles, a women's studies professor to Vice. Tailored jackets and trousers had long been a fashion standard for European men, but for women in the early 1900s, pants were illegal. 


In the 1870s, French actress Sarah Bernhardt caused quite the scandal when she dressed in the style as one of her many ways to "blur gender roles." But the style still didn't pick up until the early 1900s when women adopted pants for everyday activities. In 1914, Chanel designed her first suit.

World War One was a watershed not just for women, many of whom were called into the workforce, but for the fashion world as well. Levi's creation of Lady Levi's epitomized this. 

“In addition to referencing WWI, which ended in 1918 when Freedom-Alls were introduced, the name also implied liberation in women’s clothing, offering a suit women could wear to enjoy popular new outdoor activities, like hiking or driving, or to do housework,” said Tracey Pankek Levi Strauss & Co. historian to Yahoo Lifestyle. The company's introduction of "hiking togs" in the '20s (matching khakis and tops) confirmed the popularity of a new style as movie stars like Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn brought the looks to the big screen. 

Yet, it was still controversial. "Only the most unconventional designer would offer a straightforward pantsuit, and only a fearless woman would wear it," explained the Museum of Modern Art about the trend in the 1930s, confirmed Racked

RELATED: Clinton and her many pantsuits

Hillary Clinton's various pantsuits
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Hillary Clinton's various pantsuits
OTTUMWA, IA - JULY 07: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at an organizational rally at the home of Nancy and Dennis Emanuel on July 7, 2015 in Ottumwa, Iowa. Clinton's second stop of the day in Iowa provided the 60 people in attendence with an opportunity to hear from the former Senator and Secretary of State about her platform for her run the office of President of the United States. (Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JUNE 14: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters during a campaign event at the the Elwell Family food Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on June 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Clinton officially kicked off her 2016 bid for the White House yesterday during an event on New Yorks Roosevelt Island. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 13: Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters as former President Bill Clinton looks on her official campaign launch on June 13, 2015 in New York City. The Democratic presidential hopeful spoke at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Democratic Presidential hopeful and former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton participates in a small business roundtable discussion with members of the small business community at Capital City Fruit on April 15, 2015 in Norwalk, Iowa. Mrs. Clinton has spent the last two days in Iowa to focus on smaller communities in Iowa and have discussions about how to make the economy work for everyday Americans. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL B. THOMAS (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 16: Honoree Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks onstage at the RFK Ripple Of Hope Gala at Hilton Hotel Midtown on December 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for RFK Ripple Of Hope)
RIDGEWOOD, NJ - JULY 17: Hillary Rodham Clinton signs copies of her book 'Hard Choices' at Bookends Bookstore on July 17, 2014 in Ridgewood, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses members of the audience at the The World Resource Institute Courage To Lead Luncheon at the 538 Park Avenue on June 12, 2014 in New York City. Clinton delivered remarks as she introduced Chairman of the World Resources Institute James A. Harmon, who was being honored at the luncheon. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Hillary Clinton speaks onstage during the 2017 Girls Inc. New York luncheon celebrating women of achievement at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on March 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Hillary Rodham Clinton, as US Senator of New York and Democrat presidential candidate, Cheyenne, Wyoming, photo
FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2001, file photo, then-President Bill Clinton, left, and daughter Chelsea hold a Bible during a mock swearing-in for freshman Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. by Vice President Al Gore in Washington. For America's first ladies, Oscar de la Renta was more than just a skilled artist who helped give them a dose of confidence whenever they slipped into his dresses, beaded gowns and pantsuits. He was also a friend to some of them. From the teal pantsuit Clinton wore when she was sworn in as a U.S. senator to a red gown for Nancy Reagan to a gray suit still hanging in Laura Bush's closet, de la Renta endeared himself to some of the most scrutinized women in the world. (AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison, File)
Hillary Rodham Clinton, as US Senator of New York and Democrat presidential candidate, New Orleans, Louisiana, photo on black
WASHINGTON DC -- SEPTEMBER 10: First Lady Hillary Clinton waits for her husband outside the White House on their way to a Democratic Business Leaders event, the day after Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr sent his report of impeachable offenses to Congress, Washington, DC, September 10, 1998. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC -- SEPTEMBER 10: President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton leave the White House to attend a Democratic Business Leaders event, the day after Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr sent his report of impeachable offenses to Congress, Washington, DC, September 10, 1998. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, left, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrive during the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States today, in a celebration of American unity for a country that is anything but unified. Photographer: Win McNamee/Pool via Bloomberg
WASINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton arrive at the Capitol Building prior to the presidential inauguration January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. (Photo by Jack Gruber-Pool/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to tour the Port of Melbourne on November 7, 2010. Australia is the final country on an Asia Pacific tour that has taken Clinton to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Cambodia, China and Vietnam. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Scott Barbour (Photo credit should read SCOTT BARBOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, speaks during the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast in Selma, Alabama, U.S., on Sunday, March 3, 2019. This event celebrates the cultural and spiritual diversity of the Voting Rights Movement and calls for people of all faiths to work together. Photographer: Nicole Craine/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The 1960s catalyzed a new wave of feminism and consequently, the popularization of the groundbreaking style. Fashion powerhouses (most notably Yves Saint Laurent) jumped on the trend with the famed "Le Smoking tuxedo" suit in 1966.

“It wasn’t until the experimental ’60s and ’70s that we see a watershed moment, a real breaking down, in terms of fashion chronology, of women’s fashion," said McClendon to Yahoo Lifestyle.

"Yves Saint Laurent deserves a fair amount of credit for continuing to pave the way for women wearing pants for all occasions, with tuxedos for formal wear alongside gowns and women in safari suits. He was revolutionary in that he didn’t feminize pants at all. He was significant because he was literally putting women in menswear, presenting different archetypes of masculinity and femininity," she continued. 

The "Pantsuit Rebellion of 1993" urged a new era in Washington, when Barbara Mikulski staged a protest to allow women working on the Senate floor to wear pants. 

RELATED: Show your support for Women's History Month

Girl boss products we love
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Girl boss products we love

Banana Republic International Women's Day Canvas Pouch, $39.50

"Proudly donating $5 from the sale of this product to CARE in support of P.A.C.E."


Madewell x Girls Inc. Female Symbol Keaton Pullover Sweater, $69.99 (orig. $88)

"50 percent of the retail price from the purchase of this limited-edition sweater will support Girls Inc. and its mission of empowering young women through advocacy and education."



"100% of proceeds from this collection go to VoteRunLead"


Rachel Rachel Roy RAINBOW WOMEN TOTE, $40

"100% of the proceeds benefit World of Children"


Sodastream "SHE" Women's Day bottle, $24.99

"100% of profits will go to female empowerment organizations and programs."


ADAY #Future is Feminine Tank, $58

"100% of the proceeds from sales of the limited edition tops will go to the Stonewall Community Foundation in support of numerous LGBTQ+ projects and funds."



"100% of proceeds will support #BUILTBYGIRLS’ Girl, You Better (Net)work initiative"


"It was a snowy day, and I found out more bad weather was coming,' Mikulski said at the time. "I just really wanted to be comfortable. I'm most comfortable wearing slacks. Well, for a woman to come on the floor of the Senate in trousers was viewed as a seismographic event," she recalled according to Vice

The fashion continues to symbolize how something as simple as a pair of pants can change the course of history. So in 2016, when voters were casting their ballots, the pantsuit became a go-to uniform for Hillary Clinton supporters as they made their way to the polls. It's even something Clinton jokingly refers to as her "sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit." 

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