Yves Saint Laurent: The man who put women in trousers

  • Style
  • Thursday, 28 Mar 2019

Yves Saint Laurent was one of the first designers to have presented trousered designs for women.

While we don’t bat an eye when seeing women in pants, it wasn’t so in the past. In the 1960s for example, it was still considered ill-mannered for ladies to appear in public clad in trousers.

The man who changed it all? Legendary French couturier Yves Saint Laurent. He was the first designer to present the suit as a form of acceptable women’s evening wear in 1966.

His “Le Smoking” tuxedo-style suit caused an uproar among polite society. It was even reported that women who wore it were refused entry by some of the more swanky restaurants.

American socialite Nan Kempner was famously turned away from Le Cote Basque in New York City while wearing the suit. She then removed the bottom half and styled it as a mini dress instead.

It was however, renowned fashion photographer Helmut Newton who sealed the iconic status of Saint Laurent’s creation – by shooting it for the French Vogue magazine in 1975.


His photograph featured an androgynous woman standing in an alleyway dressed in the suit. With her hair slicked back and in a pair of heels, the look was very much unforgettable.

“For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel in style, for it is a stylish garment and a not a fashionable garment. Fashions fade, style is eternal,” Saint Laurent famously stated.

Saint Laurent’s “Le Smoking” suit was not an exact copy of a men’s tuxedo. He used the same codes but adapted it to the female body. It was initially snubbed by his haute couture clientele though: only one was sold

This changed when it was reintroduced for the ready-to-wear market. Younger clientele snapped it up and Saint Laurent went on to include it in each of his collections until 2002.

Yves Saint Laurent
A display of Yves Saint Laurent's "Le Smoking" female tuxedos at the Denver Art Museum in 2012.

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