Strong, powerful, casual, sexy ... feminine? Tamsin Blanchard extols the versatility of the trouser suit
T rouser suits have come a long way since the hard-working, hard- nosed Eighties when women who weren't wearing short skirts and power jackets strove to look like men in masculine suits. Today women can share the ease of dressing in a suit that men enjoy, gain instant no-fuss authority and, if chosen correctly, find a look that elongates and flatters the body. But ever since Madonna wore a baby-pink satin corset over her wide pinstripe Gaultier trousers, the trouser suit has had a gender crisis. It has discovered that it can look soft and feminine, too. (Or in Madonna's case, aggressively sexy.)

As our pictures illustrate, there is a huge choice of styles around, from the informal and casual boxy jacket and easy trousers, to the boyish flat-fronted trouser with a softly tailored jacket, the serious pinstripe business suit and the dressy evening suit - a relief for women who do not take too easily to evening dress .

For men, a suit is seen as a uniform to be given personality only by a flash of colour from a tie. Women, however, have much more freedom within the confines of a suit. For them, it is much more of a fashion item than an extension of school uniform. And, because of that, they are available on the high street at affordable prices. A trouser suit does not have to be an investment buy, although it is useful to have one suit that has a life span of more than one season as it is a classic staple of the wardrobe, to be worn again and again without the complication of yo-yo-ing skirt lengths.

The only problem with trouser suits is finding the right one to suit your body shape. Anyone under 5ft 8in need not look in the windows of Armani, where a strong pair of shoulders and long legs are required. At Joseph, the best-selling suit is a wool gabardine one-button, slim-fit jacket and hipster trouser ensemble. For the pear-shaped, more fit might be required over the bottom than a hipster can provide. But most importantly, the waist must be in the right position. If your torso is short, the jacket will all too often narrow at the spare tyre below your waist and make you both feel and look fatter than you really are.

This season jackets are particularly tailored and structured, making fit imperative. Nicole Farhi's suit of the season is a short, fitted jacket with straight, front-pleated trousers. But their other alternative, the least fitted jacket in the collection and another best seller, does not depend on a sveltly tailored body. And for this season at least, Madonna fans (and those desperate to wear a piece of strict tailoring) should wear their corsets directly underneath their jackets.

Photographs by

Andrew Lamb

Styling by Belinda Morris

Hair and make-up by Daniel Sandler at

Neville Daniel Hair

and Beauty Salon

Above: lightweight wool striped double-breasted jacket, pounds 250, and matching classically cut trousers, pounds 100, by Olivier Strelli, from Europe, 64 High Street, London NW3, and Fenwick, Newcastle upon Tyne; angora/wool cropped short-sleeve sweater, pounds 70, by Amaya Arzuaga,

as before

Left: wool worsted cropped single-breasted jacket, pounds 286, and matching wide pants with side adjusters at the waist, pounds 139, both by John Rocha, available from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1 and The Strand, 22 Queen Victoria Street, Leeds. Sleeveless wool/Lycra turtleneck sweater, pounds 70, by Amaya Arzuaga, from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge SW1, and Harrods, Knightsbridge SW1

Single-breasted hip-length, fitted wool crepe jacket, pounds 379, and matching full-cut trousers with turn-ups, pounds 169, by Nicole Farhi, 158 New Bond Street, London W1, and branches nationwide; zipped, leather ankle boots, pounds 99.50, by Russell & Bromley, selected branches; necklace, pounds 12.95, and earrings, pounds 9.99, from Liberty, Regent Street, London W1