Television has a rich and proud tradition of featuring women not just defying gender roles and inspiring generations, but doing so while wearing one of fashion’s most elegant yet practical ensembles: the pantsuit.
From comedies to procedurals to late night talk shows, some of our most beloved pop culture icons have shown us the power of a well-coordinated jacket and slacks. The pantsuit is arguably the ultimate power outfit — as exemplified by a few other prominent powerful women — and so today, on a historic day for America, we look back at just a few of the legendary ladies who have graced the small screen in style.
Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) – “30 Rock”
In a consistent rotation of looks, Liz Lemon put on a pantsuit when Businesswoman (is that even a word?) Liz took priority over Creative Liz, who favored everything from long-sleeved T’s to flannels and sweaters. For as often as her style was mocked, few women looked as comfortable and at ease in a formal jacket as ol’ Liz Lemon. She just made it work for her, usually by not giving a shit what other people thought. Couldn’t we all learn a little something from that attitude?
Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) – “Commander in Chief”
There are plenty of strong women who have played Presidents on screen, but Geena Davis as Mackenzie Allen stands out as one who really made the clean lines of a slim-cut pantsuit work. Would Mackenzie have been any less presidential if she hadn’t worn a pantsuit on the regular? Doubtful, as Davis brings with her a certain level of command — a level of Command-er in Chief, if you will? But despite the short-lived nature of the 2005-2006 ABC drama, it certainly left an impact.
Samantha Bee – “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”
This fire emoji of a late night host isn’t a strict adherent to the pantsuit cause — she sometimes switches it up with blazers and pants. But her spirit is 100 percent pantsuit-esque, reflected in her fearless ability to tear into the absurdities of 2016. Even if she happened to wear a pencil skirt one day, we’re quite confident that she’d figure out how to kick some ass in it.
Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) – “Gilmore Girls”
When Grandpa and Grandma Gilmore decided to renew their wedding vows, they invited granddaughter Rory to be the “best man.” Not only did she embrace the role, but wow, she did Annie Hall and Annie Lennox proud by suiting up elegantly — tie, loose updo and all. I do, indeed.
Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) – “The Good Wife”
The titular “Good Wife” technically returns to work at the beginning of the series because her family is facing rough financial times. But you wouldn’t have necessarily guessed that based on the incredible suits she wore on a regular basis. Alicia was never afraid to switch things up with a skirt, should the occasion call for it, but she definitely leaned towards pants a fair percentage of the time, and perfected her powerful, yet always feminine look. Because, you guessed it, pants are not exclusive to the menfolk. And women can look damn good in them.
Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) – “Homeland”
A uniform of sorts for the hard-ass CIA agent, Carrie Mathison is one of the only choices on this list to use her pantsuit in combat situations. We wonder: Does she think of it as a tactical garment? After all, it should certainly help her blend in this upcoming season, as she shoots between D.C. and N.Y., surrounded by bureaucrats in similar outfits. It’s always been impressive how she finds ways to hide in plain sight, and the pantsuit has been and will be key in doing just that.
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) – “Parks and Recreation”
Perhaps the best way to appreciate Leslie Knope’s style is to see it on someone else: specifically, April Ludgate, when she donned a spare pantsuit stolen from her mentor’s wardrobe. In “Ann’s Decision,” Season 5, Episode 12, April tried to dress like an adult to hilarious results. Yet the garments that seemed silly on April looked amazing on Leslie, in part because she wore them with such confidence, authority and practicality. Leslie’s pantsuits didn’t define her: She defined them. Leslie Knope is how we all want to be seen, even if we can’t fill her suits in the same way.
Michael Scott (Steve Carell) – “The Office”
Michael’s fashion faux pas may have been a setback in his negotiations with Darryl, but he should be proud of his MISSterious pantsuit. It marks a strong step forward in feminism. We all have to make sacrifices in the war for equality, and Michael sacrificed his position of authority within the office (you know, that only he thinks he has) in order to say, “Hey, why do women have to wear their buttons on the other side?” “Hey, why don’t women get pockets?” And, “Hey, why can’t a businessman wear a woman’s suit?”
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) – “Scandal”
Before “Westworld” posed the question, “White hat or black hat?” to its guests, Olivia Pope chose to wear the metaphorical white hat… and the literal white pantsuit. While her fashion sensibilities allow for pantsuits on the full color spectrum from gentle nudes to bold jewel tones, her use of white is her signature color — giving her an angelic look (no matter how grey her actions) and a devil-may-care stance on stains.
Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) – “Sex and the City”
OK, so as a lawyer in the ’90s, Miranda didn’t have much choice in her daily workplace wardrobe. Everything about her screamed “Professional!” (with a capital “p”) and the pantsuit played its part fittingly. But watching Miranda grow over the course of six seasons (and at least one movie) allowed us to see the various shades the suit brought to her — and her to it. Sure, she looked like a lawyer. But she also, over time, just looked like a badass.
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) – “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”
Career gal that she was, Mary Richards was able to embody her ambition, competence and spunk (Lou Grant hates spunk!) in a variety of sensible but stylish pantsuits in a broad range of warm colors. Mary made a bold statement with her wide-collared shirts underneath but would sometimes change it up with a more sensible and toasty turtleneck or even a sleeveless style. Now if she would hang onto her hat…
Elaine Benes (Julia Louie-Dreyfus) – “Seinfeld”
Intelligent and assertive, Elaine is perhaps one of Jerry’s most stable friends when it comes to her professional life as an editor. This is reflected in her very sensible but rather blah pantsuits and wire-framed glasses. Although this belies her impulsive and neurotic personality, we support anything that restrains her unique form of dancing with the little kicks and thumbs.
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) – “Mad Men”
Peggy is conservative in her attire, which means she’s more careful about adopting the latest trends. Therefore, it was a big deal when she finally donned pants, and did it in the ultimately Peggy way: a tessellated plaid. The twist of a vest instead of jacket allowed her to wear a less stuffy orange turtleneck, which, besides gold and apple green, are some of her best hues. Add her usual no-nonsense flip, and you have one power suit with a punch.
C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) – “The West Wing”
C.J. wasn’t pants-exclusive. In fact, she notably even went on the news show “Capital Beat” without pants at one point, due to a paint-related incident. But when Allison Janney suited up, she did so with the sort of taste, grace, and style that’s left an indelible impact on what we expect from the person who represents the President for the press. How hard did Allison Janney rock a pantsuit on “The West Wing”? Any time she likes, if she feels like it, they let her drop by to rock the podium.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) – “The X-Files”
It’s important to remember that “The X-Files” wasn’t an instant Emmy-winning hit when it premiered in 1994. Could that be related to the fact that it wasn’t until Season 2 that Gillian Anderson really began rocking some quality pantsuits? Add it to the conspiracy theories surrounding the show, while also remembering that for nearly a decade, Dana Scully represented the epitome of why the pantsuit has become such an iconic part of the television landscape.