How Lady Gaga Saved The Pantsuit

Hillary Clinton makes gentle fun of herself wearing them, and the pantsuit has certainly come a long way since St. Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’—Gaga revolutionized it again at the Super Bowl.

02.08.16 11:55 PM ET

Few would have guessed that Lady Gaga—she of bubble wrap coats and raw meat dresses —would wear a traditional women’s pantsuit while performing the national anthem at Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Of course, this wasn’t just a pantsuit: It was a shimmering red blazer-and-flares ensemble, custom made for Gaga by Gucci. It was at once traditional and subversive, demure and campy.

The Internet speculated that Gaga’s outfit signaled a presidential endorsement of Hillary Clinton, whose very name is synonymous with pantsuits.

But the outfit was, in fact, signature Lady Gaga: tradition turned costume; a kitschy take on a classic that celebrated American patriotism while subtly subverting it.

Gaga’s conservatively cut power suit was indeed reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s favorite wardrobe staple.

But the pop diva was still playing dress-up. Her eyelids were painted glittery red like her jacket, which had exaggeratedly wide lapels; her long nails were electric blue; her vertiginously high platforms were mismatched (one glittery blue, the other red-and-white striped).

The jacket and pants were somewhat ill-fitting, and Gaga likely preferred it as such.

Still, this was the most persuasive case for pantsuits we’ve seen since the white ones worn by Kerry Washington’s character in Scandal, Olivia Pope, who turned power wardrobes into a mainstream obsession when the show debuted in 2013. Not since Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking had pantsuits looked so sexy.

Stars have worn various pantsuit iterations on the red carpet over the years, but lately there’s been a return to the classic cut, as with Jennifer Aniston’s burnt red Gucci pantsuit at the 2015 Critics’ Choice Awards and Beyoncé’s orange velvet ensemble during an October performance of Broadway’s Hamilton.

Even Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits—once universally mocked—are now beloved by her millennial supporters, so much so that her campaign sells a novelty “Everyday Pantsuit Tee.”

While stumping for the Democratic frontrunner in New Hampshire and Iowa last month, Girls creator Lena Dunham raved about the presidential candidate’s outfit of choice. There’s even a meme of Clinton wearing pantsuits in every color of the rainbow.

The former Secretary of State has been recycling self-deprecating pantsuit jokes for nearly 10 years now. (Speaking at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008, Clinton thanked “my supporters, my champions…my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.”)

Such quips have never rolled off Clinton’s tongue, but her fans have taken to both her pantsuit jokes and her pantsuits themselves with unprecedented ardor this election. They love that she has never conformed to standards of femininity or fashion trends.

The same goes for Lady Gaga and her “Little Monster” fans. Even as she’s embraced old Hollywood glamour and ballgowns usually favored by Céline Dion, Gaga always puts a transgressive spin on her costumes.

As my colleague Kevin Fallon noted, Gaga has always represented outcasts. But there she was at the Super Bowl, a tradition as American as apple pie, singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” to all of her Little Monsters. She wasn’t just out there to hit all the high notes and make football players weep (though she succeeded on both fronts), but to deliver a theatrical, daring performance.

Indeed, her outfit looked like something out of a Broadway musical—a combination of Lola in Kinky Boots and Margaret Thatcher in Billy Elliot.

Leave it to Gaga to make the pantsuit revolutionary once again.