Originally created 12/31/06

Tuxedo twist



NEW YORK - Special occasions require special-occasion clothes - and many people treat New Year's Eve as though it's the biggest, most important night of the year. If there's ever an evening to pluck the tuxedo from the back of your closet, then, this is probably it.

That means women, too.

Tuxedos, or at least "tuxedo-inspired" pieces, have been all over the runways and red carpets as black-tie fashion took a 180-degree turn from embellished glittery gowns to black ties.

Kate Moss and Kate Winslet are among the celebrities photographed in tux looks this year. During a recent window-shopping tour of Rockefeller Center, a twist of the tuxedo was spotted front and center at a half-dozen stores.

It's a style that sees ebbs and flows in popularity but hasn't really completely fallen out of favor since Yves Saint Laurent introduced Le Smoking tuxedo in 1966.

Saint Laurent's Le Smoking was an extension of the revolution he'd started a few years earlier by pushing pants for women, says Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

"YSL helped dress women for the daytime in a much more masculinized style - to confront men as equals at work," she says. "He took that power look and did his magic on it for evening, doing a sexy Marlene Dietrich in drag. The combination was an androgynous sexy look."

In the 1970s, it was the Studio 54 glitterati, women such as Bianca Jagger, who would dare wear a tuxedo, observes Avril Graham, the executive editor of Harper's Bazaar, but it has become a more acceptable form of cocktail and eveningwear for all women in all parts of the country.

Still, she says, women should make an effort to both feminize their outfit and to make it glamorous.

"For those attempting this look for the first time, it goes without saying that the obvious, i.e. the pleated shirt and black bow tie, should be avoided. Adapt this look to suit your body type. There are great tuxedos out there that cater to all shapes and sizes and are very chic," Ms. Graham says.

When Tom Ford was charged with reinvigorating YSL in 1999, he used the company's archives as guidance and also reinvigorated the brand's signature tuxedo, giving it an even slimmer, sexier fit.

"I think that the reason there is a timeless and constant appeal of a beautiful woman in a tuxedo or even a man's tailored suit is that the hard, clean lines of a tuxedo set off the feminine curves and soft beauty of a woman by standing in stark contrast to them," Mr. Ford says, "thus making them more apparent, powerful and striking."

The tuxedo can't - or at least shouldn't - change too much or it will lose its strong presence, says Ms. Steele, of the fashion institute.

"It's like a traditional riding habit, you don't change it very much unless you're making a statement. ... The beauty of the tuxedo is it's a classic," she says.

A little tweak is OK, though: The institute has a dark-blue tuxedo-style dress by YSL that Ms. Steele says is stunning.

Ms. Graham says the recent shift to skinny-leg pants gives the tuxedo an instant update. Her favorite versions come from Chanel, Jil Sander, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani. Some trendsetters have also dared to wear Dior Homme's slim tuxedos, which really were intended for fashion-forward men.

More accessible brands also see the value of ever-so-slightly changing the black-tie look to meet modern demands.

Viktor & Rolf's collection for Hennes & Mauritz and Ann Taylor Loft both featured many tuxedo details in their holiday collections. In fact, when H&M presented the new line to the press, its head of design, Margareta van den Bosch, was in a black tuxedo shirt from the men's collection.

"Men's clothes on women has been strong for us the past few years," Ms. van den Bosch says. "It still looks fashionable."

There is something sexy about a woman in a tux. She can accentuate that by wearing a silk camisole or a glittery top underneath the jacket; skyscraper heels and anything-but-subtle makeup.

There's also cleavage: Show off something a man in a tux will never have.

If you're not that daring, there's always ruby red lipstick.