In Buddhism, there is Saṃsāra: the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, bred by attachment and fixation. Seasons—Fall! Pre-Fall! Spring! Resort!—would be its sartorial equivalent. Except, of course, during "summer-to-fall" when "Transition Your Summer Into A Fall Wardrobe!" tips inevitably appear. My favorite is the contradictory 15 Steps from WikiHow: "Go without tights for as long as you can" is quickly followed by "Change up your summer dresses by wearing them with tights."
The idea is to stretch summer staples before cocooning in a Polar Vortex puffer. But, summer spent right is spent wearing minimal clothing. And by minimal clothing, I do not mean Helmut Lang asymmetrical dresses or Calvin Klein tank tops, but minimal amounts—meaning, hardly anything...at all. So, if I have to wear pants, I’d rather not wear a shirt. A compromise, if you will, and my 16th step addendum to transitional fall fashion: don’t wear a shirt.
Yves Saint Lauent may have shared my sentiment. Or, at least the women who wore his le smoking did—women like Bianca Jagger and Betty Catroux who wore the ensemble sans shirt. Created in 1966, Yves Saint Laurent tailored menswear for women’s bodies. If today this no longer seems ingenious, I give you an anecdote from Vogue’s Paris editor Susan Train on wearing a le smoking: "People would shake my hand and say hello, and their eyes would go down, and they’d see that I was wearing pants. And the shock, the horror! I must be the Whore of Babylon!"
Sounds like a challenge. I like a challenge. And also, being just a little chilly. But still, how does a plebeian pull off a le smoking?
Stephanie recommends Saint Laurent or Zac Posen tailored to your body. I have a J.Crew blazer stolen from my mom and an altered Band of Outsiders tuxedo jacket because it was two sizes too big but massively discounted at a Barney’s Warehouse Sale. I opt for the Band of Outsiders paired with white Madewell jeans and black ankle boots for a modern day "I’m Bianca about to marry Mick Jagger" look.
Yet, dressing is only half of the equation. "There’s a little bit of shock—it’s a very deep V—because you have no shirt on," Stephanie forewarns. So courage, too, is required. "It’s how you carry it." She suggests doing so in an icy, removed way. Reminding me, "all you’re seeing is breast bone. Less is showing than what a lot of people wear."
This fact is evident on a Friday night in the Meatpacking District. Still, I receive some queries ("Are you really not wearing a shirt?"), scant discomfiting looks, and approximately three-and-a-half remarks. One from a woman who said, "I like what’s going on here" and another man who asserted, "People, when they look at you, are definitely not thinking you’re the smartest person in the room” (he was very drunk, to be fair). Most interestingly, though, is that risqué becomes risky: People assume I’m daring by nature. Though evidence in my daily life suggests otherwise, wearing a jacket with no shirt on in public seems to negate this truth.
From afar, not wearing a shirt isn’t glaringly noticeable. It feels comfortable, even. (Which is why a perfectly fitted jacket, as Stephanie suggests, is key.) The breeze on your bare chest is reminiscent of beach days of yore. It’s nice. Perhaps most challenging is the need to now negotiate one’s movements. For example, when speaking with someone, your entire body should face him or her directly, lest the jacket gapes from the side. So, when walking next to someone and talking, the side-shuffle or grapevine is your move.
Other things to note:
- NSFW (duh).
- You cannot slouch in a le smoking—making it an excellent substitute for posture corrective braces.
- You must be hypervigilant about your movements—making it incompatible with alcohol consumption.
- Not wearing a bra proved OK for someone of the inconspicuous, yet surprisingly fun to grab variety of bust line. Should you be well-endowed or wish to wear a shirt, Stephanie recommends an Agent Provocateur body suit, or, a tiny white American Apparel t-shirt.
- If not, you should probably buy double-stick tape. It would have made maneuvering far more manageable.
There you have it: transitional fall fashion that makes trading Tevas and swimsuit tops for tuxedo jackets tolerable. Though, Stephanie informs me Saint Laurent also makes a long le smoking, solving the problem of needing to wear pants.
Photos by Hannah May.