We’ve all seen it — guests on the holiday party circuit, stuffed into spangled frocks that won’t stay in place, an undergirding of Spanx holding in the wobbly bits. Then a glamorous guest sweeps in, the epitome of stripped-down sophistication in her sharply tailored tuxedo suit. The look is so effortlessly elegant that it seems to put over-the-top party dressers to shame.
“I feel like the tuxedo epitomizes glamour and androgynous cool,” says local celebrity-stylist-turned-designer Rachel Zoe, whose namesake collection is known for incorporating tuxedo elements. “It exudes a strong and powerful message and is a less overt way of being sexy.”
Moving way beyond the suit, tuxedo dressing options have multiplied in recent seasons, with an influx of creative new styles. Ranging from jumpsuits, cape-style jackets and shorts to drawstring trousers, dresses and trompe l’oeil tops, these party dress alternatives work year-round as wardrobe staples.
“The tuxedo has always been something that I have looked at and [I've] wanted to change the way people think about it,” says New York designer Phillip Lim, whose holiday collection includes tuxedo-inspired coats, jackets, T-shirts, dresses and trousers. “I love the idea of it being worn in an off-kilter way, in a luxe pajama style or in a really feminine dress version. I think the resurgence is coming from this idea that people are getting more creative with black tie dressing, and it means that everyone can have a lot more fun with the options.”
Rozae Nichols, creative director of 3-year-old local fashion label Clover Canyon, designed a playful take on the penguin suit for her holiday collection, juxtaposing a hand-painted penguin pattern with a tromp l’oeil print of a tuxedo vest, complete with a pocket square and cummerbund, on her Black Tie Event sweatshirts, tops and dresses.
“I go to the L.A. Philharmonic once a month, and I was just so enamored by watching the orchestra,” says Nichols. “I’m always enchanted by their black tuxedos in the winter and their white tuxedos in the springtime. The collection [which also includes prints of musical instruments] was completely inspired by them.”
Local boutique Just One Eye has nearly sold out of a limited-edition, capsule collection of women’s tuxedos, designed by French brand Pallas in collaboration with Belgian model Hannelore Knuts, known for her androgynous style.
The signature, tomboy style of a growing number of stars, such as Rita Ora, Rihanna, Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Alexa Chung, Lou Doillon and model-of-the-moment Cara Delevingne, may be a factor in the latest tux redux.
And thanks in part to the fashion influence of J. Crew and its creative director Jenna Lyons, borrowed-from-the-boys dressing has gone mainstream; the company offers sleek women’s tuxedo jackets, gingham tuxedo shirts and tuxedo-striped chino trousers, designed to wear from a.m. to p.m.
For styling tips, take a cue from the celebs: It’s all about a mix of masculine and feminine, timeless and trendy. In October, Ora donned a red plaid Moschino tuxedo suit with a matching bow tie and stiletto booties, siren red lipstick and intricate drop earrings. Nicole Richie was a lesson in laid-back chic at the Chloé fashion show and dinner in Beverly Hills, wearing a monochromatic white tuxedo blazer with a silky blouse, jeans and heels. Last month, Lupita Nyong’o showed up on the red carpet in a Prabal Gurung tuxedo dress from the 2014 resort collection, paired with crisp white Christian Louboutin heels, an understated clutch handbag and vivid purple lipstick.
“[The tuxedo suit] doesn’t always have to be worn as a full tuxedo, and you don’t have to treat it so preciously,” says Zoe. “If you have a longer three-quarter-length jacket, wear it as a dress with tights, heels, a bold lip and a topknot for a holiday party. I just think the modern girl breaks it up — she wears her tux jacket with jeans and a white tee and her tux pants with a leather bomber and sunnies.”
“Great jewelry will always make or break the tux look,” adds Lim.
And sometimes, less is more. Gwyneth Paltrow was recently photographed in a fitted tuxedo suit, minus a blouse or bra, plus a dazzling diamond necklace, while shooting a campaign for the new Boss Jour Pour Femme fragrance in Los Angeles; Cyrus followed suit, stepping out last month at the American Music Awards in a white Versus Versace tux with nothing underneath. Fashion icon Kate Moss left a little more to the imagination, accessorizing her classic Saint Laurent Le Smoking tux suit with a sexy, sheer striped blouse and strappy sandals.
After all, a Saint Laurent tuxedo piece is always the ultimate in chic, given that designer Yves Saint Laurent introduced the first Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women in 1966. The venerable brand’s current designer, Hedi Slimane, carries on the tradition with modern reinterpretations of the label’s iconic tuxedo pieces.
“My all-time favorite tuxedo look would have to be the iconic YSL suit, circa 1975 — the Helmut Newton shot with that gorgeous tuxedo shoulder,” says Nichols. “It doesn’t get much better than that!”