Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

A Brief History of Ladies Wearing Tuxes

Have you watched any of the award shows lately? I find myself looking for anything unique and quirky among the similarly styled stars. This brings me to women wearing tuxedos.

I came across this quote from the writer Quentin Crisp: “When a man dresses as a woman, the audience laughs. When a woman dresses as a man, nobody laughs. They just think she looks wonderful”.

I thought about this recently when I acquired a wonderful 1970’s Yves St Laurent ladies tux. It made me think about the allure of a woman wearing  black tie, which is elegant and  sexy in an interesting way.

The earliest references to women wearing tuxes are from the 1920’s among performers in Harlem & Paris.

ladies wearing tuxes

Performers Gladys Bently & Josephine Baker

By the 1930’s, several screen stars introduced the idea to a larger audience, most famously Marlene Deitrich. This makes sense since the 30’s, much like the 70’s, was a time when strict gender boundaries had become a bit more fluid, at least in cities and in show business.

ladies wearing tuxes

Marlene Dietrich & Anna May Wong

In the 1940’s, nobody did menswear better than Katherine Hepburn:

ladies wearing tuxes

Katherine Hepburn

The 1950’s ideal was so ultra feminine that gender bending fashion was not seen much in the mainstream.

Then, in 1966, Yves Saint Laurent caused a big stir by creating the first tux designed for women. Using the French term for tuxedo, it was dubbed “Le Smoking” and what began as boundary pushing  became iconic.

ladies wearing tuxes

Betty Catroux, Liza Minelli, Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling in the 70’s

The black tie trouser suit with heels and lipstick is now a red carpet regular. To the modern eye, it doesn’t look gender bending at all; it looks very feminine in a self assured way.

Here are some modern ladies looking strong and sexy in their tuxes.

ladies wearing tuxes

Alexa Chung, Emma Watson, Janelle Monae

Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

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