My eldest daughter and I were invited to my godson’s Bar Mitzvah in New York earlier this year. After she quizzed me about what exactly a Bar Mitzvah actually was, she quickly turned to the question of dress code. She’d never attended anything so glamorous. I relayed how it was black tie and, without allowing me to explain any further, she interjected and announced confidently – and very abruptly – that was exactly what she intended to wear: black tie and tails. As I gently explained that she would very probably be in a very small minority with that outfit choice and, it dawned on me that this child of mine was nine and she had a voice and style of her own that I should encourage. She hates frills, always has done. So a suit was bought and my seamstress called to fit it to perfection.
I could not have been prouder of my daughter on the night. Shy and determined to be herself, she unknowingly stood out a mile among the glitter and tulle. She hadn’t worn black tie for the purpose of being different, but ended up enjoying the compliments that came her way because of her unconventional, gutsy style. She simply felt happier looking and feeling more androgynous, and happened to look pretty chic in the process.
In the grown-up world of dressing, there is a knowing context to our sartorial decisions. We consciously decide whether we want to fit in or stand out. For a woman, wearing a tux can be the ultimate choice in formal dressing with a difference, and I have yet to find a female it doesn’t suit. The fashion legacy of the tux is immense and dripping in chic, rebellious cool. Ultimately, Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking is at its core, with Betty Catroux and Catherine Deneuve as unforgettable muses who defined an era of change in fashion. Images of Katharine Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Diane Keaton are relentlessly referenced and more current icons such as Cate Blanchett, Emily Blunt and Cara Delevingne have kept monochrome, masculine dressing right in the public domain. The tux is strong willed, sexy, flattering, timeless and daring.
If money is no object, Saint Laurent is the (obvious) ultimate. As current YSL creative director Anthony Vaccarello said at his SS20 show, “This is the house of the tuxedo. If you need a tuxedo, you have to come to Saint Laurent because otherwise it’s a fake tuxedo.” Indeed, YSL will spoil you for choice with its many sexy manifestations of the tux. There’s a Nan Kempner-style long blazer worn as a dress (perfect with sheer polka-dot tights).
Or you can capture Bianca Jagger’s iconic white moment.These exquisitely tailored trousers are high-waisted and narrow-legged, and I love the idea of completing the look in purist fashion with a cummerbund. Sharp pagoda shoulders are the 80s dream and scream of impeccable tailoring and strong personal style – this velvet blazer is exquisite. A mini romper takes the tuxedo to a whole new playful level but you definitely need the legs for it. Again, at this time of year, sheer tights – particularly patterned or monogrammed – are the way to go.
Ralph Lauren is another go-to, investment brand for the ultimate suit – more classic and generic in style, but of such a flattering cut and premium quality. Extra wide lapels, covered buttons and a double-breasted form make this a forever purchase. Stretch fabrication makes it a flattering option. Ralph Lauren has also produced the perfect wing-tip collar shirt with geometric-shaped bib and black buttons for a Debrett’s depiction of black tie. A long, white tuxedo style dress is long and lean – and a sensational option for a supremely formal, show-stopping moment.
I am a huge fan of Galvan London, which is all about luxurious, streamlined, effortless eveningwear. Its tuxedo jumpsuit is the epitome of feminine power dressing and I love the idea of wearing a modern cut-out neckline underneath a black or white blazer for a deconstructed interpretation. Reiss does a more affordable black velvet blazer that looks fuss-free and sexy with a black plunge-neck body. Zara is a great option for high-street tailoring and has a few options: a simple black tux; a black velvet version with relaxed trousers; and a bold red suit with double-breasted jacket for those giving the genre a real twist. Each X Other has an animal-print sequin suit in black that has a perfect disco feel for an uber-glam occasion.
For a super luxe version of a smoking jacket, head to the jacket god that is Blaze Milano. This belted, richly textured houndstooth design can be worn as a jacket or a dress. A crisp white shirt is a great way to subtly nod to the tuxedo look, even when worn with jeans. Cos does a fantastic collarless version in its archive editions, as does Amanda Wakeley. A ruffle-neck shirt can take your tux vision in another direction with Brigitte Bardot undertones. It’s more flamboyant, has a hint of the dandy about it, and I adore pushing the look one step further with a black hair bow. A simple strip of black velvet tied low will look fab but, if you are a woman of drama, check out these incredible creations from Emily London I’ve recently discovered.
When wearing a tux, I like to wear my hair slicked back in Helmut Newton homage. It’s streamlined and makes me feel empowered. I often add chandelier earrings (gold or diamond) for a contrasting decorative finish. Otherwise, accessories are kept minimal and monochrome but on point. Patent accents work well – I have a shiny Chanel quilted clutch that looks great with a black suit – and I’m in love with Saint Laurent’s vampish Betty D’Orsay heels, but any good, pointed patent court will work (the more angular and higher the better). I recently wore a tux to an event and ditched the white shirt, opting for a simple black body. If your neckline is bare, it’s the perfect moment for a chunky gold necklace. Nuggets are an ideal accompaniment.
So, when you’re next searching for a dream evening gown that might only be worn once, think of these words from the great trailblazer Saint Laurent himself: “For a woman, Le Smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”
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