Put On Your Pantsuits: How A Fun Event Became An Empowering Movement

Put On Your Pantsuits:

How A Silly Event Became An Empowering Movement

I laced up my electric blue New Balance sneakers, smoothed out my lime green pantsuit, and peered into the mirror at my reflection. I’ll admit it: I grimaced. This outfit was not my finest look.

It was October 22nd, the morning of National Pantsuit Day, an event that myself and three friends had diligently worked on every hour of the previous 20 days. But now I was in an itchy, ill-fitting, borrowed pantsuit. It was raining. I felt a creeping, all-encompassing anxiety. Was this going to work? Was this a terrible idea?

I blame it all on that damn feminism.

As best as I can describe it, I was raised as an “indoor feminist.” It wasn’t a childhood of marches or protests; but there was never any doubt that women were definitively the equals of their male counterparts, no matter the field or laboratory. It was an incredible privilege that not until I left for college did I begin to grasp that this was not the accepted norm.

That’s not to say that I’d never encountered gender bias or discrimination – far from it. But I’d thought that creepy catcalls, unwanted advances, lecherous older men and misogynist authority figures were all aberrations, people operating completely outside of acceptable society.

Quickly, I realized how insulated I’d been. As a woman and independent business owner in New York City, I’m repeatedly reminded of all the ways in which females are not seen as equal to their male counterparts.

National Pantsuit Day Celebration. Photo Credit: Ben Sidoti

This has never been more obvious and unavoidable than in this election, with the all-consuming, pestilence of hatred and intolerance that to me comprises Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Suddenly, the need for more action, more progress, more visible, safeguarded equality in legislation and in our government, felt urgent.

Which is when Sami called.

My good friend Sami lived down the block from me in Greenpoint, and asked if I’d help her with communications for the event she had created, National Pantsuit Day. I said yes and quickly joined the rest of the “team,” my friends and fellow creatives, Mike Jacobson and Kate Dearing, to make this event a reality, all within three weeks.

National Pantsuit Day Celebration. Photo Credit: David Williams

We were motivated and united by our exhaustion of the negativity, cynicism, and apathy we’d witnessed the past two years. We were tired of listening to continual tirades, smirking asides and “dog whistles” that insisted equality of all American citizens was just a fabrication by the liberal media. With the creation of National Pantsuit Day, we decided to try to counter this, to flip the narrative on its head.

NPD was designed to recognize the progress we’ve made as a country, and the incredible work Hillary Clinton has accomplished to further the equal status of women and minorities. And, honestly, to add some much needed levity and fun to the conversation.

What resulted was more massive in scale and momentous in impact than we could’ve dared to envision. National Pantsuit Day was held on October 22nd – a drizzly, cold mess of a day – and began downtown at Foley Square. With the help of a generous brass band at the helm, 200 New Yorkers marched and screamed and sang as they walked from downtown Manhattan, across the Brooklyn Bridge, to Hillary Clinton’s HQ (where we earned some hi-fives from staff and ambassador Michelle Kwan), to a celebratory party at Hill Country. (Pun not intended but appreciated.)

Our loud, brash parade wasn’t confined to New York City’s borders. Spurred by a similar urgency, seven other organizers volunteered in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to put on their own simultaneous events under the National Pantsuit Day umbrella.

The attendees were all ages and colors and professions and backgrounds. There were families with small children, millennial-aged men (in women’s pantsuits, thank you), older couples, and even two dogs in pantsuits. The most commonly heard sentiment was that the day was “refreshing,” and “joyful” — clearly, we’d all been hungering for something positive to celebrate. We’d all had our fill of hatred. Every person who attended or shared their images on social media or emailed or wrote about our project, felt like a resounding rebuke to the incessant ignorance of Trump’s campaign.

And incredibly, the movement continued – and actually grew more quickly – after the event’s close. We began collaborating with our (previously unknown to us) sister site, Pantsuit Nation, which was founded by Libby Chamberlain in Maine. She’s created and meticulously nourished a private Facebook group of over a million members, all of whom were equally hungry to share their stories of inequality, progress and hope.

During our march we were outgoing and friendly to everyone we met, brightly-colored, ridiculously dressed, and impossible to ignore. We unabashedly took up as much space as we could, and no matter how dorky my pantsuit, it felt incredible. Even more incredible? The fact that we, lime green pantsuit included, got the attention of our female presidential nominee herself and incredibly, were included in her final campaign video.

Though it’s unclear what the future for this movement holds, it’s been a thrilling experience to have tapped into this thriving community of enthusiastic humans of different backgrounds and beliefs. And so for the first time I’m confident that no matter what happens on November 8th, we will find a way to continue marching forward.

Lauren Benet Stephenson

Lauren Benet Stephenson is a journalist and creative consultant who specializes in digital editorial strategy. She lives in Brooklyn, is studying the history of women's reproductive rights and social organization, and hopes to expand upon her meager pantsuit collection.

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