Fifty years ago, when a woman in a two-piece suit first dared to enter the German Bundestag (parliament), it was a scandal. Even today, wearing trousers is a statement.
On 15 April 1970, Helene-Charlotte von Bothmer was the first woman in trousers to enter the Bundestag. The vice-president of the Bundestag, Richard Jaeger, had previously declared that he would not allow any woman to enter the plenum in trousers or even stand at the lectern. His colleague Liselotte Funcke of the FDP subsequently suggested that the female members of parliament send a signal. She herself lacked the format, Funcke said. The SPD politician von Bothmer dared. For her appearance, the then-fifty-four-year-old bought herself a bright two-piece. Six months later, on 14 October 1970, she also gave a speech in a trouser suit.
The reactions? CSU hardliner Jaeger saw the dignity of women violated, and of Bothmer's party colleague Carlo Schmid, the dignity of the house. Outraged people sent letters of anger to the politician. Von Bothmer recalled, " 'You can see where this is going with the red party women,' they wrote. And: 'You are not a lady' ".
The outcry is not surprising, considering the role women played in politics at the time. After the 1969 federal elections, they made up only thirty-four of the 518 members of the Bundestag, just over six percent. There was only one woman in the social-liberal coalition government under Brandt: the Social Democrat Käte Strobel - as Minister for Youth, Family and Health.
As feminist as the trouser campaign was meant at the time, many in the women's movement saw it differently. "They didn't want to have anything to do with women entering male domains," says Elisabeth Zellmer, historian and science manager at the Technical University of Munich. "The concern of the women's movement was rather to create its own feminist world, away from the existing patriarchal system."
The fashion designers saw it differently. Yves Saint Laurent created the first trouser suit for women that attracted attention. In 1966, the French fashion designer presented "Le Smoking", a revolution to the world. From the mid-seventies onwards, women's fashion increasingly revolved around male dress codes. Power dressing was the order of the day: dots, pinstripes and houndstooth instead of flower patterns; masculine cuts; striking shoulders and high-necked necklines. Pearl necklaces and other jewelry set feminine accents. But instead of trousers, most female politicians at that time still wore skirts.
Today, women in high offices tend to wear trousers rather than a skirt or dress. Angela Merkel and her blazer combinations are the prime example. But also Ursula von der Leyen, IMF boss Christine Lagarde or Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen often get into the suit.
"When women fall back on trousers and jackets and thus adapt to the male standard, they’re trying to avoid discussions about their clothing and hope that their concerns and projects will be heard more easily," says Christina Holtz-Bacha. The professor of communication science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, who likes to wear a trouser suit herself, is an expert in political staging.
According to Holtz-Bacha, there is a risk that authority will be questioned if clothing is playful. "Up to now, women have always juggled with the female role model and the expectations associated with it, as well as a still strongly male-dominated image of politics and power. This tightrope walk transfers to the style of dress," she says.
Unlike men, however, women politicians usually choose two-tone combinations. The German Chancellor, for example, usually appears in black trousers with a coloured blazer instead of a uniform suit. "This could be because it is perceived as too elegant for daily appearance," says Holtz-Bacha. "If Merkel is dressed all in black, it has a special meaning; she does that on special occasions and festive occasions."
Perhaps the color combination also has simple practical reasons, as fashion sociologist Monika Kritzmöller suspects: "A pair of trousers has to be renewed more often than a blazer worn with different types of trousers. These combinations also make travelling easier". In addition, it is often difficult to find a suit that fits well everywhere. After all, not everyone can afford made-to-measure clothing like Angela Merkel, who has been ordering her blazers from Hamburg designer Bettina Schoenbach for years.
One politician who has made the pantsuit her trademark is Hillary Clinton. In her election campaign against Obama, she often wore black, conventional two-piece suits. In competition with Trump she then went for modern cuts and colorful fabrics. In the television duels she wore suits in red, white and blue - the national colors of the USA.
Fashion sociologist Kritzmöller also recommends reinterpreting male dress codes. Women who only wear suits to be taken seriously radiated: "I sign the men's rules and submit to them." It is better to break what is considered masculine clothing with, for example, waisted jackets, silk blouses or jewellery.
Or a woman immediately falls back on one of the current models. Unless the dress code at the workplace, to which many will probably soon be allowed to return, is strict, because this year's trouser- suit trend is all about fun and less about business. Influencers like Caro Daur and Leonie Hanne recently presented, for example, pantsuits with belly-free tops, two-piece suits with shorts or blazers on bare skin. That would still be a scandal in the Bundestag, even in 2020.
Note: original article from https://www.spiegel.de