Classic Black Tie: The Gold Standard
No matter what extremes
Hollywood people go to in making black tie garish and tieless, the
real thing retains its unassailable verve, élan and sheer
Glenn O’Brien (GQ “Style
The current definition of
proper black tie, like most contemporary definitions throughout its
past, provides options that can produce either a timeless look or a
look relative to a specific era.
While the relative look can be hit or miss (remember
ruffled shirts and powder blue suits?) the timeless look delivers optimal results every
time: It makes a man look taller, stronger and younger, it
focuses attention on his face, it provides sophistication, swank and uniformity and it
channels time-honored sartorial convention.
Therefore if we strip past and present black-tie definitions
of their temporal variations, we are left with the quintessential or
“classic” black tie code: the Depression-era ideal.
Prior to the 1930s black tie
was still largely an informal offshoot of white tie, borrowing its
parent’s white waistcoat, stiff shirt and even bow tie at times.
During the Depression era it finally came into its own with
its standardization of the black waistcoat, adoption of a formal
shirt and acceptance of swank warm-weather alternatives such as the
double-breasted and white jackets and the cummerbund.
“No other era could have produced such a sartorial success,”
says author and designer Alan Flusser. “Since the culmination of the
dinner jacket’s design in the late 1930s, men’s fashion has yet to
improve upon the genius of its original design or the unimpeachable
refinement of its accoutrements.” It
is for this reason that the standards of the 1930s have remained the
benchmarks for successful black tie to this day.
This section examines those
standards in detail, exploring what Mr. Flusser describes as
“the exquisite relationship of form and function" that were worked
out through the collaboration of English tailors with their fastidiously dressed
Just as importantly, we will see how those details enhance a
man’s appearance more effectively than any other type of civilian
information will allow a reader not only to assemble his own quintessential
formal wardrobe but also to successfully navigate contemporary
variations on that ideal.