Special occasions require special- occasion clothes — and many people treat New Year's Eve as if it's the biggest, most important...

Share story

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

That means women, too. Tuxedos, or at least “tuxedo-inspired” pieces, are popping up on the runways and red carpets.

Kate Moss and Kate Winslet are among the celebrities photographed in tux looks this year. On 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, 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, 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 at all costs. 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,” says Graham.

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 of the feminine curves and soft beauty of a woman by standing in stark contrast to them,” 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 Steele of FIT. “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.”

A minor tweak is OK, though: FIT has in its collection a very dark blue tuxedo-style dress by YSL that Steele says is stunning.

And, 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.

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

Ann Taylor Loft aimed to put some tux touches into an everyday wardrobe. Shari Hershon, senior vice president of design, added tuxedo stripes down the leg of herringbone gauchos and on thin-wale corduroys, and around the body of a velvet clutch handbag.

Some of the outfits could be black-tie appropriate, she says, but some could be worn during the day or to an office party. Sweaters with tux pants is a casual look, a chiffon blouse is a dressy one.

Either way, the top, even if worn under a jacket, should be soft to balance the masculinity of the other pieces. “You need to be able to tell there’s a woman under there,” Hershon says.

You also need to find the most flattering style for your shape. A curvier woman should choose a wider leg and a strappy platform shoe, Bazaar’s Graham advises, but for those who are tall and thin, go for the skinny legs and a high-heel sandal. “This version of a tuxedo can look like a knockout.”