A Fashion Icon Dies,His Unusual Legacy Lingers

Yves St. Laurent died on the weekend. For whatever else he’s to be remembered for, his biggest accomplishment was probably selling the public on the idea of women wearing pants, which was first pitched by Coco Chanel, but took YSL to make fly.

It could be argued that women in the workplace were never taken seriously until they started showing up in pants in the ’60s. Slowly and surely the gender roles have faded and shifted over the years, largely because hemlines became mostly non-existent for a while. (Then came Ally McBeal and the ’90s, eh?)

With YSL’s death, a revisiting of his life will occur, and new schools of thought will examine his place, his fashion revolution’s place, in the yet-still-changing new world order of men and women.

Without the pantsuit, where would Hillary Clinton be? At home, baking cookies? Who knows. The pantsuit changed everything for women. It spoke of power, it conveyed femininity while not conveying too much of it. Suddenly women could sit in a meeting and have the focus be on them without having to worry about the leech in the corner who’s staring at her skirted legs or focusing on the sweater-vest outline of her boobs.

It’s strange, that a piece of clothing should be so responsible for a change in the social tide, but it’s not the first time it’s happened. Three pieces of clothing, I think, pretty much revolutionized society: The first pair of blue jeans, patented in the 1870s; Marlon Brando getting noticed for wearing a t-shirt in The Wild One, unleashing the fad of wearing a t-shirt as an actual shirt, a fashion item on its own, and not just an under-garment; and that of YSL and Chanel foisting the idea of pants-suited women taking over the workforce.

In a world filled with images, it’s visionaries like Yves St. Laurent who help shift our worldviews. From the skirted June Cleaver in the ’50s to the panted Elizabeth Taylor in the ’60s, no roles have changed quicker or with greater repercussion than that of the post-war woman in America, and YSL will always be remembered for playing a strange yet pivotal role in the shaping of the modern femme.