How To Find (& Buy) The Perfect Pantsuit

Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images.
2016 has been many things to many people. And if you’re like me, this year’s left you feeling a bit guilty about indulging in first-world frivolities, like Pokémon Go and fast fashion. So let’s get real and Full Metal Jack-it up: If there’s one category of clothing that’s truly done its time and earned its (pin)stripes this year — it’s absolutely the pantsuit.

Really, we couldn’t think of a better time to sit down for a fireside (read: Facetime) tête-à-tête with celebrity stylist, pantsuit doyenne, and ball of blazing astral energy Samantha McMillen (full disclosure: I’ve been #blessed to have assisted her and her team). While there’s her breathtaking list of male clients (Johnny Depp, Chris Rock, Keith Richards, and the late Leonard Cohen), what we really love is the mark she’s made on the face of women’s fashion by powerfully suiting up many of young Hollywood’s most empowered females — Ellen Page, Elle and Dakota Fanning, and Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood (batteries not included), to name a few.

But if there's one thing we know about shopping for a pantsuit, whether you're going for classic Hillary Clinton or oversized Rihanna, it's that fit isn't easy. Neither is styling. That's why we tapped McMillen, our bona fide two-piece pro, if you will, for tips on finding the perfect set for you. Warning: The tips ahead contain stylishly strong language.

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Let’s cut right to the chase: When did you lose your pantsuit virginity?
"My first job, right out of college, was working for Richard Tyler in the early '90s, so his was my first proper pantsuit, you know, where the pants matched the jacket. I still have it — and I’ll never get rid of it. It’s black silk with a wide belt, so chic, and it’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. And I guess that’s the one that really got me going. Another early find of mine was this black satin Betsey Johnson suit with a skinny leg and a cropped jacket. And then I worked at Armani, so forget about it: Let's just say I had a trove of pantsuits!"

COS Long Wool Blazer $190 $95, available at COS; COS Wool Melange Trousers, $115, available at COS.
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Was it love at first fit, or did pantsuits have to grow on you?
"I’ve always loved pantsuits. I’m a child of the '80s, so I was very influenced by all of the androgynous looks of that moment — Annie Lennox in The Eurythmics and their 'Sweet Dreams' video, Grace Jones, Duran Duran, and, of course, David Bowie."

Rachel Comey Rupture Double-breasted Wool-plaid Blazer, $613, available at MatchesFashion; Rachel Comey James High-rise Tapered-leg Wool-plaid Trousers, $426, available at MatchesFashion.
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Is there one type of pantsuit fit that most women can gravitate toward?
"Well, it really always depends on your style. But one of the keys for a flattering fit is finding a classic jacket that sits just below the hips. And then finding a pant that’s not too skinny and not too wide-leg —just the right straight cut."

Zara Velvet Jacket, $169 $89.99, available at Zara; Zara Velvet Trousers, $99.90 $59.99, available at Zara.
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What’s an easy way to “funk up” a pantsuit?
"I love playing around with a blouse and — I hate to say it now — a pussy bow. If you have a great blouse, even from a thrift store, you can get some ribbon from a fabric store and tie it in different ways around your neck in a bow or knot."

Gucci Single-breasted Wool Silk Jacket, $2,300, available at Gucci; Gucci Wool-silk Ankle Pant, $1,100, available at Gucci.
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Is there any easy, borrowed-from-the-boys tactic for suiting up gals? Or is it always better to stick to something specifically cut for women?
"When I was younger, I would buy men's suits from the '40s from the thrift store and wear the blazers with skirts and wear the pants super-high and cinched super-tight at the waist with a belt, which was great. But now there are so many options cut specifically for women that make it so easy — there’s no extra fabric where it shouldn’t be — so I have to say that’s usually the best way to go."

Warehouse One Button Jacket, $176 $89, available at Warehouse; Warehouse Straight Leg Trouser, $141 $71, available at Warehouse.
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What pantsuit styles and designers are most relevant now?
"Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren do it well for women, if you're being a purist. Max Mara for something super minimal and clean. Altuzarra is making amazing suits right now; Dolce & Gabbana makes great androgynous-yet-feminine ones. Gucci’s fun if you don't want to go so simple but still want to have the boy-girl look, and Chanel, of course, is always a classic, though theirs feel less like 'menswear.' If you’re on more of a budget or want something more practical to wear day-to-day, Theory makes some really great androgynous cuts, and there are also some great options from Topshop, ASOS, and Zara."

Soft Geo-Print Co-ord, $190, available at Topshop.
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What have been some of your favorite pantsuit fashion moments?
"So many — there’s that Helmut Newton photo of the Yves Saint Laurent 'Le Smoking' that’s just so iconic and beautiful. And then Marlene Dietrich with the top hat and tails. Jodie Foster when she wore a pantsuit to the Oscars and won for Silence of the Lambs — that was a big moment, kind of a game-changer that no one had really done before."

Jacquemus Bow Detail Deconstructed Blazer, $744 $372, available at Farfetch; Jacquemus Bow Detail Deconstructed Trousers, $511 $409, available at Farfetch.
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You’ve been responsible for some good fashion moments, too...any favorites?
"I have! I have to say, a standout one is Elle Fanning in a Miu Miu suit with purple and navy brocade when she was younger. The way she wore it was so funky and cool, and it really captured her personality — and I was pretty proud of that."

Tibi Silk Blazer, $695, available at Tibi; Tibi Silk Straight-leg Pants, $595, available at Tibi.
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If a woman were to have only one pantsuit, it should be…
"Well, it really depends if you’re just trying it for the first time or if you’re a seasoned pantsuit wearer and want to experiment, but a two-button notch-lapel jacket that lands just below the hips and a mid-rise pant with a nice straight leg is a great place to start."

Cedric Charlier Shirred Houndstooth Cotton-piqué Blazer, $1,395, available at Net-A-Porter; Cedric Charlier Shirred Houndstooth Cotton-piqué Skinny Pants, $720, available at Net-A-Porter.