A Gendered History of the Tailored Suit

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Coco Chanel in her Paris apartment, 1954.Photo: KAMMERMAN

Prior to Jaden Smith and the popularity of gender-neutral clothing lines, people spent a solid 15 centuries maintaining a sharp divide between men’s and women’s fashions. The defining tenet of menswear was arguably the suit, which ultimately shaped both genders’ fashion sensibilities after the design was conceived in the 17th century.

In Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress, to be reissued by Bloomsbury on August 25, historian Anne Hollander traces a history of fashion and gender, detailing ways in which two disparate worlds have met and diverged at various points in time. Hollander argues that liberating women’s clothing (and the female body) required adapting aspects of menswear that allowed for more physical movement – perhaps explaining why Zara’s Ungendered unisex line skewed so problematically toward “male” clothing.

Click ahead to see “male” and “female” looks throughout history, from a 16th-century queen in royal regalia to Marlon Brando foregoing the formal suit altogether in A Streetcar Named Desire to Coco Chanel in her signature tailoring.