VERY FEW GARMENTS can make a power move like a tuxedo. The style was named after the tony New York village Tuxedo Park, where, in the late 1880s, society folk adopted the look as a less formal alternative to white tie and tails. Controversy ignited when gender-bending women first wore the style. A tuxedo-clad Marlene Dietrich made headlines in 1932 at a Hollywood premiere and, decades later, singer Françoise Hardy provoked screams and hollers when she hit the Paris Opera similarly outfitted. In 1968, New York socialite Nan Kempner, wearing an Yves Saint Laurent tux, was barred from La Côte Basque because the snooty Manhattan eatery banned women in pants. Her solution: Drop trou and sally forth wearing the jacket as a minidress. No one stopped her.
The story underscores the tuxedo jacket’s ability to go it alone. When women’s liberation gained momentum around the same time, tuxedos by Yves Saint Laurent and Halston declared that women could compete in a man’s world; in the ’90s, rascally Tom Ford thrust the blazer’s latent sexuality into the open. Today, the jacket rivals the little black dress in popularity.
Its near-ubiquity, however, might give you pause: Will you just be one of many tuxedo-clad women at a party? Not a chance, because it comes in dozens of variations: cropped, shawl-collared, sleekly fitted and—for those who want to channel Bianca Jagger—white. Don’t worry: None of them will prompt hollering.
LUXE BE A LADY TONIGHT // FIVE ELEGANT RIFFS ON THE CELEBRATED STYLE
STRONG SUIT: Daniel Pallas, who co-designs the bold Pallas Paris line with Véronique Bousquet, calls the jacket “the new armor” of the modern woman. Jacket, $1,775, net-a-porter.com
GET SHORTY: This cropped Saint Laurent version recalls the incendiary Spencer style (see “A Scorching History Lesson,” below) in traditional grain de poudre suiting wool. Jacket, $3,290, ysl.com
GRAND BUY: With a shawl collar and satin-trimmed flap pockets, this polyester-blend Zara jacket delivers a lot of tux for fewer bucks. Jacket, $90, zara.com
IVORY POWER: Although it comes in black too, this double-breasted Theory blazer is equally polished and elegant in snowy winter white. Jacket, $585, theory.com
PEAK EXPERIENCE: The nipped-in waist of Tom Ford’s double-breasted iteration is accentuated by its wide peaked lapels and strong shoulders. Jacket, $2,890, tomford.com
The versatile satin-lapeled blazer may just be the best holiday present you can give yourself (early, of course)
WITH THE HOLIDAYS looming, know this: The tuxedo jacket lets you forgo glittery Liberace-like cocktail garb or a reindeer sweater’s saccharine cheer. Its versatility will take you through multiple commitments. You’ll be suitably attired for a New Year’s Eve gala or an office soiree. The pedigreed tuxedo jacket is dressy enough for formal events but takes on an air of cool when democratized with jeans and a soft blouse.
While early-Hollywood stars often amped up the tuxedo’s gender-bending shock factor by wearing it with bow ties, top hats and canes, the modern version is less by the book. “I don’t feel it looks quite right when paired with men’s shirting and accessories,” said Betty Halbreich, director of solutions at Bergdorf Goodman. “Too ‘I took it out of my husband’s closet.’ ” Her advice is to keep it simple and reveal a little femininity: “I see it with a slim silk shirt, no ruffles, open down the neck to show some cleavage, worn with flowing or ultra-slim pants.” Even simpler? Some versions have imperceptible inside pockets, so you needn’t carry a purse.
Interview With A Vamp
We quizzed a particularly buttoned-up tux on how and when it cuts loose. Its responses were surprising
Q. You’re so formal. Do you ever dream that some crazy, Amazonian gal will play beach volleyball wearing you?
A. Certainly not. I find your line of questioning impudent.
Q. C’mon, loosen up, will you?
A. I will not. Did I even invite you to interview me? If so, did you RSVP?
Q. No, but I did BMOB. Want to chug a Bud?
A. Indeed not. Have I found myself miscast in some sort of “fish out of water” Hollywood comedy film?
Q. Speaking of water, anyone ever swim in you? Like, with nothing else on?
A. Why…I….well, to be perfectly honest, that did happen on at least one occasion. My first such experience was in the Azores. Lovely scenery. And so balmy. It was all perfectly innocent.
Q. Who was—
A. Then there was the time I stayed up all night in Monte Carlo. “Carousing” would not be too strong a word. The caviar stains were something tragic.