What Women Wear

Do We Still Need To Wear A Dress To Feel Like A Lady? Hell No.

Four designers revisit the ever-shifting idea of femininity through their Autumn/Winter 2020 collections.

Do We Still Need To Wear A Dress To Feel Like A Lady? Hell No.
Image: Adrien Dirand for Dior

As guests arrived at Dior’s Autumn/Winter 2020 show, they were greeted by a neon green signage blaring the word “Consent”. That, along with slogans like “We Are All Clitoridian Women” and “Women Raise The Uprising”, signalled that Maria Grazia Chiuri was up to something.

Never one to shy away from the topic of female empowerment and the controversy it stirs, this runway show by Chiuri felt particularly poignant. The evening before, Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape and handed a 23-year prison sentence.


Indeed, for Chiuri, being feminine is about being in control. Attributing her own awakening to female rights to the liberation marches of the ’70s, she wants to infuse her Dior woman with the same vigour that drove her to march down the streets of Rome and protest against patriarchal standards that dictated what women wore or how they behaved.

“The ’70s gave me the attitude I have,” she says. And this attitude was clearly expressed throughout her latest collection, which opened with black tailored suits and sober dresses, all devoid of embellishments.

For one look, Dior’s famous bar jacket — known for shaping the female form — was cut straighter and paired with pants. This wasn’t for women who made house and sipped tea, but for modern-day warriors who demand their worth.

  • Dior
  • Dior
  • Dior

As the show progressed, Chiuri introduced more ’70s-flecked elements: autumnal checks and blanket plaids featured alongside bohemian tulle dresses and chubby shearling trims. One look, which comprised a cream-coloured waistcoat and roomy pants, was perked up with a slogan tee shouting “I Say I”.

This narrative isn’t exactly new from Chiuri, but her Autumn/Winter 2020 collection shows her at her most outspoken and vivacious.


For Chanel, femininity has always celebrated sisterhood while clad in your (very comfortable) double Cs. And Virginie Viard found her starting point in Coco Chanel’s approach to liberating female equestrians — the Mademoiselle famously rebelled against the restrictive riding skirts women of her time wore in favour of sensible jodhpur pants and riding breeches.

And to expound on this idea of freedom, Viard showed almost no dresses within the collection. “Romanticism but without any flourishes. Emotions but without any frills,” she comments in the show notes, and she delivered as promised.

Anchored by long, loose shapes, the collection featured pieces that moved with the body — embodied by a pistachio green coat, billowing leather pants with press studs on each side, or the puffy black dress on Kaia Gerber.

  • Chanel
  • Chanel

Models even strutted out in groups of two or three, chatting and laughing as they made their way down the runway. When combined with the insouciant, fuss-free and unpretentiously pretty clothing, it made for a wardrobe that befits the modern-day woman and her band of sisters.

Shining through in this collection is Coco Chanel’s belief that beautiful clothing shouldn’t come at the hindrance of a modern woman’s life.


Across Paris, at the city’s former prison grounds known as Conciergerie, Julien Dossena of Paco Rabanne reflected on the notion of feminine power, albeit more literally, with models looking poised for the battlefield in armour-like dresses.

The Conciergerie was where Marie Antoinette was kept up till her execution, and while her famed love for excess informed Dossena in the rich floral embroideries and sumptuous velvet, he looked to another famed historical female figure for inspiration: Joan of Arc.

Referencing the heroine’s storied battles against foreign invaders, Dossena sent out a series of gowns that featured Paco Rabanne’s signature chainmail, all as if marching into war. Some offered matching hoods with sharp tassels swishing about as models stomped down the runway hilted in leather combat boots with sharply-tasselled bags.

  • Paco Rabanne
  • Paco Rabanne

By fusing the sweetness of Marie Antoinette and Joan of Arc’s grittier glamour, Dossena wanted to create a fantasy where the warrior queen would have ridden in to save the doomed queen from the guillotine; never mind that they lived centuries apart.

Despite their armour-like appearance, these chainmail creations were cut close to the body to accentuate every curve and movement. It serves as a reminder that raw strength and sexiness can co-exist, and beautifully too.


Miuccia Prada loves exploring sensuality and the role of women through a contemporary and (at times) subversive lens. For Autumn/Winter 2020, she continues that exploration, this time choosing to focus on the details often seen as clichés of femininity: think ostentatious jewellery and flapper fringe.

“We can be strong and feminine at the same time… women carry the weight now,” she says.

Prada AW20’s women’s show finale.Image: Prada

Past explorations of femininity by Miuccia have led to vintage car motifs (alluding to how women are often objectified) and Stepford wives–inspired attires to address antiquated views of women held by society. This season, in exploring how women are breaking frontiers, Miuccia wants them to have a hardier wardrobe.

The blazer — a mainstay of every contemporary woman’s wardrobe — received plenty of attention from Miuccia. It came tailored in a boxier fit, pulled in at the waist with a plethora of belts in every colour and material; it brings to mind the squarish suit popular among working girls of the ’80s, although Prada glammed it up by teaming it with silk fringe skirts.

Others were padded with fluffy down feathers, as if to offer the working girls an extra layer of protection against their working environment.

For Prada, you can be both feminine and powerful. So for this collection, she took elements traditionally considered “pretty” and subverted them for a tougher vibe.

  • Prada
  • Prada
  • Prada

Jet beading — which serves little purpose beyond adding sparkle — cascaded down the shoulders of a satin blouse like military epaulets, or covered fragile sheer dresses like glittering thorns. The message? Don’t approach, unless you know who’s in charge.

Flapper fringe trims were not only supersized but also beaded with floral motifs, while basketball jerseys were elongated into dresses and offset with soft fringes. Neck ties replaced necklaces, and in place of restrictive evening gowns, the Prada lady opted for a more sensible ensemble of satin tunic and slim-fitted pants.

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