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A Brief History of Women in Tuxes

A Brief History of Women in Tuxes

A Brief History of Women in Tuxes

As we get close to prom season again, may we remind you that women have been sporting men's formal wear for over 100 years?

Ceara Sturgis, pictured below, elegantly refused to wear the weird drape that photogs have been forcing on high school seniors for over 50 years in their official yearbook portraits. (The secondary issue that the drape forces underage girls to lower bra straps and reveal bare midriffs to the photographer, usually male, is a whole other issue worth pondering.)

Sturgis was assured it would be all right to wear a tuxedo, then was told her photo would not appear in the yearbook, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which then took up her case. Sturgis told the ACLU, "For senior portraits, the school said that boys must wear a tuxedo and girls must wear a drape that made them look like they’re wearing a dress. I tried on the drape, but I just felt so uncomfortable. Imagine forcing a typical 'jock' guy to wear a ball gown and have that be the defining image of him in his high school years forever. That’s how I felt wearing the drape. It was humiliating to me to pretend to be something I wasn’t."

She eventually won her case and the school changed its policy.

OK, so that was waaay back in 2011. Things have changed, right? Nope. Last Sunday we reported on the struggle Claudetteia Love of Monroe, La., was engaged in to be allowed to wear a tuxedo to her prom.

A release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights states, "Last week, Claudetteia, 17, was told by Principal Taylor that she would not be allowed to attend her prom if she wore a tuxedo. Geraldine Jackson, Claudetteia’s mother, met with Principal Taylor to discuss this further and was reportedly told that 'girls wear dresses and boys wear tuxes, and that's the way it is.' Principal Taylor also reportedly claimed that approximately half of the faculty scheduled to work at the prom would refuse to chaperone if Claudetteia were permitted to wear a tuxedo. Claudetteia and several of her friends originally planned on attending the prom together, but, because of the school’s refusal to allow Claudetteia to wear a tuxedo, have opted not to go to the prom unless the school changes its discriminatory policy."

This story has a happy ending. “We are pleased to hear that Principal Taylor and the Monroe City School Board corrected this wrong before any serious harm was done. Forbidding girls from wearing a tuxedo to the prom would have served no purpose other than to reinforce the worst sorts of harmful stereotypes and censor a core part of Claudetteia's identity,” said NCLR executive director Kate Kendell. But how many girls in small towns have Claudetteia's bravery? And for that matter, how many boys would like the same freedom to dress to their true nature?

So, to encourage all the young ladies who feel more comfortable in a tux to speak up, we present a portfolio of women who dressed to please themselves and, in some cases, please their fans as well.

Marlene Dietrich, the queen mother of the tux for women, was so famous for appearing in films and onstage in a tuxedo that she incorporated it as part of her costume selection for decades.

Cary Grant and Dietrich in Blonde Venus, 1933, directed by Josef von Sternberg.

In Morocco (1930), Dietrich thrilled audiences by kissing a woman in the audience during her cabaret act.

When the author of The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall, dressed in men's clothing, she was not performing for an audience. She simply felt more comfortable and made it her style.

Weimar Berlin was the perfect place to sport a tux, as worn beautifully by erotic dancer and bisexual Anita Berber above.

Anna May Wong, the screen star groomed for success by her presumed lover Alla Nazimova, sips and stares smokily from under her top hat.

Gina Palerme, a French music hall performer, here pictured in 1915, poses with a jaunty confidence.

Jazz great Gladys Bentley.

Renate Mullerin Viktor und Viktoria (1933), directed by Reinhold Schunzel. This early version of the film inspired at least four more versions, the most recent being the Blake Edwards–Julie Andrews film in 1982.

Edwardian actress and famed beauty Lily Elsie.

Gloria Swanson (left), of Sunset Boulevard fame, in 1916's The Danger Girl.

Frances Langford adds some dazzle in Broadway Melody of 1936.

Above and below: Mary Pickford in Kiki (1933), basically a show world version of Fatal Attraction, sans rabbits.

Happy birthday, Doris Day! Here she sings her heart out in Lullaby of Broadway, 1951.

Judy Garland ditches her pants in Summer Stock (1950).

Cheryl Ladd and Bea Arthur also explore variations on a tuxedo theme.

Grace Jones invented shoulders in 1981 on the cover of her album Nightclubbing.

Icon Jennifer Beals puff and pouts for a still to promote her huge film hit Flashdance (1983). Below, the breathtaking reveal of side boob.

Helmut Newton's 1975 photography for Saint Laurent's ad campaign for le smoking put every woman in the '70s in a tux.

And more recently Hedi Slimane's 2013 campaign using Kim Gordon continued the allure.

Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson out on the town promoting 2009's Bride Wars.

Possibly the cutest girl to ever get her tux on, Ellen Page at the Trevor Project's 2014 TrevorLIVE NY event in 2014 in New York City.

More ladies in tuxes? See our sister site, SheWired, for this: Tuxedo Porn: Women in Tom Ford Tuxes Make Us Lesbians Want to Get Into His Pants

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Christopher Harrity