When Lady Gaga stepped in front of the cameras Monday night at Elle’s Women in Hollywood event, she looked different.
The award-winning singer and actress, one of the night’s honorees, was enveloped in a wildly oversize suit, her limbs entirely obscured by swaths of fabric. The jacket, complete with wide shoulders, hung to the middle of her thighs. Matching baggy pants brushed the floor. Her platinum-blond hair was pulled back into a sleek low bun.
The suit was a departure from Gaga’s usual ensembles. This is the same woman who has worn a dress made entirely of meat and was once carried down the red carpet in an enormous blue-green egg. In recent days, while promoting her critically acclaimed film “A Star Is Born,” Gaga has favored stunning gowns with intricate detailing that ooze Hollywood glamour.
Why, then, did she choose to don Marc Jacobs’s billowing, monochromatic menswear-inspired look? It wasn’t a momentary fashion misstep, nor was she, as many joked, drawing inspiration from NBA players of the early 2000s. Gaga wore the suit, part of the designer’s Spring 2019 collection, because she wanted to make a point — and a powerful one at that.
In a raw and emotional acceptance speech that touched on her mental health struggles and experience with sexual assault, Gaga said putting on the suit was a way for her to “take the power back.”
“Today I wear the pants,” she said defiantly. “Today I wear the suit.”
It all began when Gaga was getting ready for Monday night’s event.
“I tried on dress after dress today,” she said, as the star-studded and largely female audience laughed sympathetically. “One tight corset after another, one heel after another, a diamond, a feather, thousands of beaded fabrics and the most beautiful silks in the world.”
Pausing for a beat, she continued, her voice thick with emotion, “To be honest, I felt sick to my stomach.”
Surrounded by beautiful gowns, Gaga said she asked herself what it means to be a woman in Hollywood.
“We are not just objects to entertain the world,” she said. “We are not simply images to bring smiles or grimaces to people’s faces. We are not members of a giant beauty pageant meant to be pit against one another for the pleasures of the public.”
Rather, women in Hollywood “are voices,” who have “deep thoughts and ideas and beliefs and values,” she said, adding that women “have the power to speak and be heard and fight back when we are silenced.”
“So, after trying on 10 or so dresses, with a sad feeling in my heart that all that would matter was what I wore to this red carpet, I saw an oversized Marc Jacobs suit buried quietly in the corner,” Gaga said, as the audience laughed and cheered.
When she put on the suit, Gaga said she was met with a “resounding view of eyes glaring at me in confusion.” The people styling her had “lots of questions,” Gaga remarked dryly.
The suit, rather than a gown, was menswear made for a woman, she said. While wearing it, she remembered beginning to cry.
“In this suit, I felt like me today,” Gaga said, getting choked up. “In this suit, I felt the truth of who I am well up in my gut, and then wondering what I wanted to say tonight became very clear to me.”
She took a deep breath before speaking again.
“As a sexual assault survivor by someone in the entertainment industry, as a woman who is still not brave enough to say his name, as a woman who lives with chronic pain, as a woman who was conditioned at a very young age to listen to what men told me to do, I decided today I wanted to take the power back,” she said.
Gaga added: “I had a revelation that I had to be empowered to be myself today more than ever. To resist the standards of Hollywood, whatever that means. To resist the standards of dressing to impress. But to use what really matters: my voice.”
The star’s decision to wear the masculine suit is a power move women are all too familiar with. Going back more than a century, pants and suits have consistently been used by women to defy convention.
In the mid-1800s, when women were still expected to wear painful corsets and unwieldy long skirts, women’s rights activists popularized “Turkish pantaloons,” an outfit consisting of a much more manageable knee-length skirt paired with loose pants, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Amelia Bloomer, an editor of the Lily, the first women’s newspaper, is widely associated with the brief trend after printing a visual of herself wearing the revolutionary clothing in the paper, the Smithsonian reported.
Throughout history, suits continued to be tied to strong female figures and women’s movements.
There was the “suffragette suit” in the early 1900s that allowed the wearer to walk unrestricted by tight hems. There was the rise of women in zoot suits in the 1940s. Worn by “pachucas,” a subculture of Mexican American women, the “zoot look” symbolized “rebellion, difference and even un-Americanism,” wrote Catherine S. Ramirez in “The Woman in the Zoot Suit.”
Fast-forward 40 years, and it was the era of the unforgettable “power suit.” With its big shoulder pads and long jacket, the suit was intended to guarantee success in a corporate world dominated by men, NPR reported.
On Monday, an empowered Gaga, dressed in her suit, issued a rallying call to women.
“Let’s lift our voices, I know we are, but let’s get louder,” she said. “And not just as women, but as humans. . . . For me, this is what it means to be a woman in Hollywood. It means, I have a platform. I have a chance to make a change.”
As she concluded her speech with the customary thank-yous, Gaga took a moment to give a special shout-out.
“To the designers that sent me all those beautiful dresses, thank you, too,” she said. “It taught me something that I needed to learn again today.”
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