Imagine walking into an after-party for a famed designer who has just finished presenting months of hard work.  In these modern times and especially at these types of fashion events would it be so shocking to see men wearing skirts and women in suits and ties?
YSL Vintage Ad

YSL Rive Gauche Ad.  Photo from Danklook

As men’s fashion becomes increasingly feminine, and women’s fashion embraces the masculine visage, gender-bending is now très chic. Although most men won’t be going full tilt feminine anytime soon, many women have already shrugged on a blazer and tied on their oxfords. It wasn’t always so, however.  Even though Coco Chanel had revolutionised womenswear by getting rid of constricting corsets and introducing more functional, masculine dressing.

Yves Saint Laurent’s unveiling of Le Smoking in his 1966 couture show made society’s eyebrows shoot up.

YSL smoking woman 1966

Le Smoking (1966)

Tuxedo For Women

Le Smoking was essentially a tuxedo for women.  Hiding feminine curves beneath strict tailoring, it presented an exhilarating alternative in evening wear for women and was commonly known as a replacement for the Little Black Dress.  Women rarely wore trousers for fancier occasions, not to mention an entire suit.  It was for the woman who knew she was just as good as the men.  It was a power suit, and it spelt liberation.  While it did take time for society to accept a woman in trousers, Le Smoking quickly became chic and even more alluring than a dress.

Throughout the years following, YSL has continually redone Le Smoking to suit the changing times in fashion.  Here is a look at some notable variations on the now ubiquitous ensemble:

Not long after Le Smoking was unveiled, Saint Laurent introduced his ready-to-wear line, Rive Gauche.  He sold more affordable versions of Le Smoking in this line, ultimately making the suit available to a larger group of consumers.  Needless to say, the young and hip quickly snapped up his designs.  In this advertisement, the smoking suit is done more casually in a looser cut and a slouchy black tee.  Saint Laurent loved a sharply tailored jacket, but this image is testament to the trickling down of Le Smoking into the wardrobes of the average woman.  The suit was originally made for evening wear, but now it was made for the streets.

Smoking women vintage

Le Smoking (1968)

There’s an interesting dynamic going on in this version of Le Smoking.  The upper body has evolved to include more feminine touches, such as a sheer blouse (how coquettish!), a floral brooch pinned to the lapel, and an exaggerated bow tie.  But, standing in stark contrast to this femininity is the most obvious difference between this later version and the original Le Smoking: a pair of boxy shorts.  The cummerbund is still there, but the original trousers have been chopped.  Although revealing more leg would appear to be a move away from androgyny, the model’s boyish pose says it all.  The original smoking may have been dressed up, but at the heart of it all remains a dedication to practicality.

smoking women vintage l

Le Smoking (1975)

In this famous interpretation of Le Smoking for French Vogue, Helmut Newton manages to capture the attitude of the suit.  The quintessential pose when wearing Le Smoking was one of casual indifference: slouching with hips forward, one hand in a trouser pocket, and of course, preferably a smoke in the other.  It was so masculine, yet so decadent.  The original cummerbund has been replaced with a thin belt, and ’70s fashion is reflected in the wider trouser legs. But, overall, the idea remains the same; without attitude, Le Smoking means nothing.

Le Smoking (1975) 

Le Smoking (1999)

Le Smoking started as eveningwear, moved on to become streetwear, and, in its next step, became reinvented for winter wear.  In this advertisement with Shalom Harlow peering down at us, the relation to Le Smoking may seem to be loose, but it is the head-to-toe black that makes it an obvious reincarnation.

  Le Smoking is not actually about the look; it’s about the attitude. 

Although Harlow has her hip jutted out in an ultra-feminine pose, she still has a masculine edge in a pair of trousers, slick boots, and an effortless jacket that stubbornly insists on blurring her curves.  She’s powerful, and we can feel it we know it as we gaze back up at her.

Tuxedo For Women smoking

YSL Spring 2002 Couture  Photo from Echos.

Oh, what a moment in Yves Saint Laurent history!  In Saint Laurent’s last show, he presented a staggering 277 looks which chronicled his career to an audience of thousands.  Saint Laurent included another one of his famous creations – the Mondrian Dress – but Le Smoking was given the special spotlight.  It opened and closed the show, with the finale being version after version of the influential suit.  We saw blazers with bare chests, significantly cropped and abbreviated jackets, maxi skirts instead of trousers, and broad shoulders reminiscent of the ’80s.  Saint Laurent’s last hurrah proved that no matter how much (or little) Le Smoking is tinkered with, it will always exude confidence and power – even in moments of goodbye.

le Smoking 2002

Le Smoking (2011).

Photo from Pas Un Autre.

During his time at Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati has been well-liked.  He has captured the essence of YSL so meticulously that his last collection before his departure from the label was met with a grand standing ovation.  In this look from Autumn/Winter 2011 RTW, Pilati shows that an interpretation of Le Smoking does not have to be so literal.

Over the years, Le Smoking has been de-constructed in such a way that the jacket can show up in one look, and the white blouse in another.  The reference to Le Smoking here is in the trousers.  A sheer décolletage with the plunging sweetheart neckline adds a racy update to the high-necked blouse of the original. What’s interesting is that while the jacket has been replaced by a dramatic, sweeping cape, the cape still manages to do what the blazer was meant to do: create a boxier frame.  Another way you know this is Le Smoking reborn?  That hand in the trouser pocket.

le smoking jacket women 2011

Le Smoking (2013)

Photo from Luxaholic.

Saint Laurent Spring/Summer 2013 started out almost like a procession of Les Smokings but a bunch of contemporary Les Smokings, naturally.  There was something so undeniably chic and wearable about these looks.  Trousers were slimmed down to cigarette pants, and in keeping with the trends of the season, trouser legs were shortened so as to expose the new erogenous zone: ankles.  Sophisticated black pumps bring a sense of femininity, ushering in the new rule of androgynous dressing: masculine dressing with feminine tailoring.

The sharply tailored blazer and white blouse stay true to the original Le Smoking, proving that a classic look like this is synonymous with style.

YSL 2013 Le smoking

Le Smoking (2014).  Photo from Style.com.

Admittedly, this is not the most popular rendition of Le Smoking. Saint Laurent and grunge do not mix, yet Hedi Slimane boldly shows us what the result of this union would be. The Smoking jacket has been pared down to its bare bones – no buttons, no pocket – leaving a clean, minimal blazer in its wake. The ruffled blouse has now become a white t-shirt, and the lightly embellished bow gives off an edgy disposition.  From the waist down is likely the shocker.  A miniature leather skirt, fishnet tights, and motorcycle boots… it has the same rebel mentality that made Le Smoking famous, but not exactly the same elegance.