Masculine pants or a feminine dress? Which side of the fashion debate are you on?
Most women instinctively favour smart trousers over a feminine dress. Fashion director Marie Kelly and freelance writer Geraldine Carton reveal where their sartorial hearts lie.
I was never a tomboy as a child; quite the opposite, in fact. I loved playing with dolls, dreamed of owning a dolls’ house and changed Sindy and Barbie’s outfits more often than the TV channels were changed by one or other of my five siblings. I grew up on old Hollywood movies – my father began his working life as a projectionist in a cinema 60 years ago (or movie theatre, as they were then called) and developed a passion for film that he passed onto his children. I adored the elegance of Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, the unapologetic glamour of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the frail femininity of Joan Fontaine in Rebecca.
But as I grew into my teens, I found myself more captivated by actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich. I loved their less obvious femininity and the manner in which they made traditionally male clothes look sexy (not a novel idea today, but in the 1940s and ’50s, it was radical). They made me realise that I wanted to wear bag pants far more than a ball gown.
And so my style has been defined by a boyish vibe, and trousers have always formed the bedrock of my wardrobe. I feel most like me in a pair of tailored pants with pockets (no pockets, no sale). To me, the relaxed nonchalance of this look is sexier than any dreamy dress ever could be. That’s not to say I don’t wear dresses. I do, and I own a couple, in particular, that make me feel like my very best self (they have pockets too, though). In the same way that I might try a coffee one morning, but reach right back for builder’s tea that afternoon, I’ll always revert to trousers the day
after wearing a dress. It’s just who I am. Marie Kelly, fashion director
From the get-go, I’ll say that my main affection for a gúna stems from its practicality. A dress requires that you simply swoop your head and arms through the designated holes, and bam, you look great and you’re ready to go.
Dresses feel like loyal friends who are there for me when I need them most. Whenever I lack the time and/or energy to suss out a stellar outfit, a fabulous dress ensures I get out the door, not just on time, but looking totally pulled-together too. There’s no faffing about; none of that erroneous “What top will work with these trousers” or “Does this shirt and skirt combination look matchy matchy in a good way?” palaver.
Dresses are also forgiving. The easy-breezy nature of a dress means that you can happily throw caution to the wind and dig in to your second dessert (as long as you haven’t opted for a bandeau or corset option, of course), unlike denim or high-waisted trousers, both of which can make a particularly indulgent dinner or weekend brunch feel like a slow form of torture. Dresses also understand your need to shine bright like a diamond. From LBDs to sweetheart gowns, you won’t find a garment that has the power to part a bustling crowd quite like a gúna. And in the face of a silky red slip dress? Pfft, no other item stands a chance.
To me, dresses represent fun and memorable moments in my life – frilly party dresses as a young birthday girl, awkward strapless contraptions at teenage discos, matching bridesmaids gowns at my sisters’ weddings – and to them, I will always remain loyal. Days seem so much brighter, more manageable and carefree when I’m wearing a dress. That, plus twirling around in a pair of trousers will never match the joy of doing a full spin in a fabulous frock. Geraldine Carton, freelance writer