Costuming in Sailor Moon (Part 1: Le Smoking and Tuxedo Mask)

Was this post inspired solely by the fact that Tuxedo Mask has an attack in the manga called “la smoking bomber” and reading way too far into that?

You decide.

A brief history of Naoko Takeuchi and her relationship with fashion

Sailor Moon‘s creator, Naoko Takeuchi, drew inspiration from high fashion advertising and runway shows — as well as movie advertisements, figure skating and figure skating costumes, the Takurazuka Revue, and myriad other pieces of art or marketing like any artist — for costuming the Sailor Scouts. There are entire posts that source her fashion inspirations, as well as other specific influences.

In the Sailor Moon manga, there are several full recreations of prominent fashion pieces from the early-to-mid 1990s that showcase her love of high fashion and, more specifically, French fashion designers. These include but are not limited to: Hotaru Tomoe/Sailor Saturn and Koan in 1992 Thierry Mugler, Setsuna Miou/Sailor Pluto in 1992 Chanel, Calaveras in in Christian LeCroix, the Amazoness Quartet in 1991 Yves Saint Laurent, and most famously Christian Dior’s 1992 Palladino dress as Princess Serenity’s signature look. Not only was Takeuchi aware of fashion, but she enjoyed it so much that she used it in her own art frequently and paid attention to visible trends in high fashion.

French singer and Yves Saint Laurent muse Françoise Hardy in the Le Smoking tuxedo

The Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking tuxedo suit and 1960s fashion

Many fashion historians point to the 1960s as a transformative decade in women’s fashion, especially in the United States and England. Mass production of garments combined with easier access to media (the rise of television) developed in an environment of social change, technological discoveries, child labor laws*, and second-wave feminism. The decade also marks a shift in marketing for women’s fashion, especially as ready-to-wear lines and department stores allowed for a relative flattening of socio-economic status regarding new or on-trend clothing. Where previously, girls and young women would have worn more childish versions of adult trends and adults were the ones with buying power, teenaged girls became the more sought-after market. Women’s fashion evolved from the late 1950s-style mid-calf, full-skirt silhouette that was still popular in the early 1960s to a dramatic rise in hemlines with the introduction of the miniskirt by the mid-to-late 1960s.

British designer Mary Quant introduced and popularized it in the mid-1960s although French designer André Courrèges (credited with the go-go boot) was also experimenting with this hemline and shorter, miniskirt-style hemlines had also appeared in 1950s science fiction films. The 1960s look that’s often presented in films or characterized as “60s” is often the mod look (complete with go-go boots or slim and short vinyl dresses in bold, geometric prints) or a more stereotypically “hippie” look that was actually more on trend towards the late-1960s/early 1970s.

What’s most important to know about the fashion of the 1960s is that it was a time of experimentation where what would have previously been considered high-fashion styles only, more easily trickled down to women of varying socio-economic statuses due to multiple factors including streamlined mass production methods and the rise of children and young women as valuable advertisees.

From a 1969 copy of the Japanese magazine, Young Woman (source)

In Japan specifically, post-World War II fashion was heavily-influenced both during the time of the American occupation until 1952, and in the years that followed as a steady pipeline of American and western movies were made more readily-available in Japan, surpassing pre-war popularity as fashion trend-setters***. The film The Red Shoes caused a red shoe trend following its 1950 Japanese screening and Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (shown in Japan in 1954) caused a trend of “Sabrina pants and shoes” (form-fitting capris and flats). This was hardly the first time American or European media had influence on Japanese women’s fashion, but accessibility due to mass production and a similar shift to ready-to-wear as a focus meant that these trends could be adopted more quickly by more people**. A 1967 visit from Twiggy to Japan also had major influence on Japanese women adopting shorter hemlines and other British or American trends.

Along with the modernist shift dress — which presented a more androgynous silhouette — menswear and pants became more popular in the west. (This isn’t to say that 1950s and earlier women didn’t wear pants, I just mentioned Sabrina‘s influence in the previous paragraph, after all.) In 1966, French designer Yves Saint Laurent created the Le Smoking tuxedo for women, giving a high-profile, high fashion version of a powerful garment for men, and making it fit a women’s silhouette and body better. Le Smoking was controversial at the time and panned by many critics, but it helped further blur the line between masculine and feminine silhouettes while using a significant garment (the tuxedo) which was already seen as a signal of style (and class) for men. It became a pioneer garment that helped inspire the women’s pantsuit and statement suits for women.

“La Smoking Bomber,” Tuxedo Mask, and Mamoru Chiba

The tuxedo is a key part of Mamoru Chiba’s costume and identity in the Sailor Moon manga. It’s also just something that Takeuchi thought would look cool on a good-looking guy (looking attractive and feeling good is the impetus for most fashion choices, let’s be real here).

It’s important to note that the television version of Mamoru is either cold and stoic beyond belief or incapacitated in some way (captured by the enemy, possessed by the enemy, dead). Kunihiko Ikuhara, director of the Sailor Moon television series from the R through SuperS seasons, famously stated that if he could remove Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask from the series entirely, he would.

By contrast, his manga persona (Takeuchi’s version of him) was a cool, smart guy in a tuxedo. This may have backfired as Takeuchi herself said in the manga notes that her friends teased her about his costume and personality, calling him a “useless guy.” Mamoru is someone who is aloof and doesn’t have any (okay, I suppose Motoki counts as a friend) friends. He’s understandably hesitant to let others in, but not nearly as standoffish as his television counterpart. Mamoru’s powers revolve around psychometry and it’s revealed that he can feel or see the thoughts of others and heal others by touching them. He’s studying to become a doctor, another nod to his caring personality and a way to help children in the way that he would have wanted to be helped after his parents died in a car crash. His name means “protector” and he’s an interesting counterpart to Usagi in that he is a healing support and facilitator for her while she is the primary fighter. As an aside, this is actually why one of my high school friends loved Mamoru, while I always fought with her that Seiya was the better romantic option for Usagi, but that’s a story for another time.

In the second major narrative arc of Sailor Moon, the Black Moon arc (or the R season if you’re thinking of narratives in terms of the television series) Usagi’s inner circle is being targeted by members of the Black Moon Clan. One-by-one, Usagi’s friends are abducted. Mamoru laments that this would be a time where he should be able to step in and help Usagi, but he feels powerless to protect her. When they’re later attacked by the Black Moon Clan again, Mamoru receives instruction from his future self (King Endymion) to unleash an attack called “Tuxedo La Smoking Bomber.” Outside of the difference in pronouns (the feminine “la” instead of the masculine “le”) this seems to be a direct reference to Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo for women. Bomber could be a reference to a bomber jacket, just as Smoking could simply be a reference to a smoking jacket, or the action of the attack.

Given the way that Takeuchi liked to play with gender in the manga through fashion — there will be an entire post dedicated to the traditionally masculine stylings of Haruka paired with the traditionally feminine styles of her partner Michiru among many other things — and how much fashion inspired her, it’s not inconceivable that she named this attack after Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo.

What’s particularly interesting about this is how Mamoru is already playing a supportive/healing role (traditionally reserved for women) for Usagi, the one who ultimately delivers the finishing blow (even if that blow is a healing/restorative one). The Le Smoking tuxedo was revolutionary for the time because of how it took a traditionally masculine signature garment and turned it into a powerful fashion item specifically tailored for women. Mamoru himself transforms into a tuxedoed man named Tuxedo Mask as a way of hiding his true identity while presenting a traditional image of power and influence. The context in which Mamoru uses this La Smoking Bomber attack is at point where he feels powerless. It’s one of his most offensive-based attacks and it comes from his own hand, not his cane or from throwing a rose. Reading far too much into this (as I am wont to do) it could be another way that Takeuchi is playing with traditional ideas of gender through fashion. This could also be a complete stretch and over-analysis.

Le Smoking is still influential and well-known to this day, and maybe Takeuchi just thought it looked and sounded cool (again, the impetus for fashion and many other things in life) for Mamoru, who is supposed to be a cool, hot guy. Either way, it’s still a neat coincidence that was fun to write about.

*This was important to fashion’s evolution and the shift towards marketing to young people because suddenly they were not expected to be tiny adults until a coming-of-age, and were given more room to grow as people (and, through their parents, more purchasing power). There was also a new emphasis on enjoying one’s youth to the fullest, being free-spirited, and thinking of fashion as something playful.

**Japan was still slightly behind trends in the west, but the spread was more rapid than in previous decades thanks to technological advancements in media. It also wasn’t a 1:1 pickup of western trends and, although hemlines were raised, Japanese fashion companies often had their own spin on styling these trends while keeping to the fashionable silhouette of the time. One major difference I noticed is that the Japanese garments lacked the vinyl “space-age” trappings of some of the British modernist creations and focused on using more acceptable and traditional fabrics.

***It’s worth noting that the first major influx of western fashion in Japan happened during the Meiji period following Commodore Perry’s forced opening of Japanese ports to trade and commerce with the United States in 1854. This rapidly transformed business attire for men, particularly the adoption of western-style military uniforms for public servants as the Japanese government required works to wear western clothing at work. In the emperor’s court, a mandate for western attire was passed in 1872 for men and in 1886 for women.

Finally, I am a fashion hobbyist and enthusiast but by no means am I a fashion historian. If I get anything wrong in this post or subsequent posts, please let me know so I can make a correction. Special thanks to my friend Keung Yoon Bae helped me with some of the film influences and context. 

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