Holiday parties are the best excuse going to wear frilly clothes, but after a while they can seem a little fussy. The wardrobe antidote is a sleek, modern, fitted tuxedo.
The man-tailored suit - usually a jacket with lapel and trousers with a tonal-fabric stripe down the leg - can be sophisticated and super-sexy. Just look at Angelina Jolie, who wears them regularly on the red carpet.
It's what you wear underneath, from the top down to the attitude, that makes a difference.
"It's what gives the woman a little tailored naughtiness," says Calvin Klein creative director Francisco Costa. "It's very sleek. It's for that kind of woman who really likes to have that spirit - easy in pants, structured shoulders. It says something about her: She's a little different than everyone else."
The woman in the tuxedo always stands out, Costa says, but not in the way of the woman in a red dress, or something low-cut or sheer. "The idea of equality is bold and represents a freedom. ... I think it's provocative but it also has power to it."
Marlene Dietrich separated herself from the red-carpet pack back in the 1920s and 30s with a smouldering signature suit look, and then Yves Saint Laurent reintroduced it to the runway crowd in the '60s with his "Le Smoking" suit. The tuxedo in some form or another - sometimes even with a skirt - then became a staple of Saint Laurent's collections throughout the decades, says Colleen Hill, assistant curator of The Museum at FIT in New York.
"YSL was an influential proponent of women in trousers, in general," she explains. "He was the first to make the tuxedo and tuxedo pants a high-fashion, acceptable style. He was often quoted as saying women look as good in pants as in a dress."
One of Saint Laurent's suits, worn and owned by the late model Tina Chow, is included in the new FIT exhibit "His & Hers."
Hill says its appeal is a "hint of scandalousness."
“A menswear-inspired silhouette has the wink effect of a boyfriend shirt or blazer”, says designer Jill Stuart. “They're not overtly sexual but they ooze an inner sensuality”, she adds.
For her upcoming spring collection, Stuart offered a white tux, with the flattering, elongating satin stripe, that had a cropped pant leg. She says that little bit of leg is a teaser (high heels are a must), and she'll either wear a lingerie-style camisole or a crisp white shirt underneath "depending where I'm going."
Costa suggests pairing the suit with a bustier or T-shirt.
Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo recently wore red lipstick and a long strand of pearls with a Phillip Lim ivory cutaway tux jacket with matching tux shorts to a black tie luncheon - "and felt great in it," she says.
"I would advise finding a way to 'make-it-your-own' and feminise it, so as not to look literally masculine," Fargo says.
She expects to see more women in tuxedos next year, since many designers were influenced by a Saint Laurent retrospective.
A longer jacket with slim trousers is the most modern proportion, according to Stuart. Chow's tuxedo from the early 80s, however, had a high-waist pant and a cropped jacket.
"I don't know if there's a particular style of tuxedo that's been the most popular over time, but a lot seems to depend on body type and fit," says Hill. "I think a lot of women prefer a tux that's been fitted for a woman's body instead of a real men's tuxedo."
Women have been adapting menswear to suit their style for centuries, adds FIT colleague Jennifer Farley, noting dresses from the late 19th century that had a bodice that mimicked jacket lapels. Then came everything from Oxford shoes to the button-down blouse.
"I think in a lot of ways that menswear tailoring is part of women’s wear now," Farley says. “It rarely works the other way, although the breaking of rules - such as a tailored jacket with jeans - really got its boost from fashion-forward women”, she declares.
Calvin Klein's Costa is loose with his definition of a tuxedo, saying it's a hard look to define because fabric, colour and fit can vary, but you do know it when you see it.
"It's like knowing the difference between a day dress and a cocktail dress," says Costa. "There usually is a lot of tailoring and details - a satin lapel or stripe gives and evening touch. It's an elevated suit."