The Story of the Guide: My Black-Tie Journey
The Dress for tonight is Formal: Tuxedo (alternatively a dark suit) for gentlemen. Dress Codes will be enforced in the Britannia and Grill Restaurants.
Queen Mary 2 daily programme, April 17, 2004
It all began with a ship.
In the summer of 2002 I booked passage on the 2004 inaugural transatlantic crossing of the Queen Mary 2, Cunard’s recently announced and highly anticipated ocean liner. Knowing that this historic maiden voyage would inevitably draw patrician travelers from both sides of the Atlantic I could only imagine the opulent finery they would don for the ship's formal nights. Having never been on a cruise before let alone attended an upscale social event, my greatest fear was to arrive at my first shipboard dinner looking like a forty-year-old prom date.
My suspicions of a formalwear class system were confirmed a month later when I attended my premier black-tie affair as a dry run for the QM2. Although I rented a seemingly traditional tuxedo I noticed a number of subtle differences between my attire and that of the more well-heeled gentlemen in attendance. As I set out to purchase an equally refined ensemble I looked forward to learning about these elegant nuances from experienced retailers. Much to my dismay I discovered that whether in person or online these supposed specialists regularly dispensed advice that was either contradictory or completely inaccurate. Whenever I asked about conventional etiquette the teenage clerks would glibly inform me that there were in fact no rules and that I should instead opt for the latest formal fads they assured me were “really popular”.
Determined to find the truth, I scoured dozens of obscure online resources until I finally stumbled across a couple of sites that offered educated descriptions of classic black tie. Although the absence of illustrations was frustrating, the written details were enough to help me purchase a tuxedo that turned out to be more authentic than those of many other passengers aboard the long-awaited QM2 crossing. Best of all, I had managed to do so on a reasonable budget. Little did I know that the conclusion of my ocean voyage was just the beginning of the next phase of my black-tie journey.
Now that I owned a tuxedo I planned to attend formal events as often as possible yet my initial research had left many lingering questions about the finer details of my outfit. It was time to seek professional expertise the old fashioned way: in print. And so it was that over the next two years I discovered the wonders of the Toronto Reference Library’s outstanding collection of fashion histories and put together my own collection of modern publications on classic menswear. At the same time, I was continuously browsing etiquette books to find more black-tie traditions where I could sport my ever-improving formal wardrobe.
The discovery process during this time proved to be so rewarding that I was compelled to share the results with the world. I wanted to encourage other young men to experience the same sophisticated maturity that black tie had introduced into my life. I wanted to help them avoid the costly pitfalls of compiling their formal wardrobe out of substandard garments, as some of mine initial purchases had turned out to be. And I wanted to counter the extensive misinformation being spread about black-tie customs so that future generations would not be robbed of this noble tradition’s genteel pleasures. Thus in the spring of 2006 I began to refine the outcome of my research and create the kind of Web site I wished had existed during my Queen Mary 2 preparations. Then I decided to get serious.
As I began assembling my rudimentary site I became aware of an online community of highly-knowledgeable menswear aficionados and realized the site would never be truly authoritative if it simply reiterated the teachings of other authorities. It was also crucial that a practical guide to such a visual topic include extensive illustrations, a feature notably lacking in most other resources. What followed then was another two years of research which can best be described as thesis-level study. Hundreds of hours were spent reviewing tens of thousands of pages of vintage menswear magazines in major libraries from New York to Vancouver. Hundreds more hours were dedicated to combing through printed and online resources for historical etiquette and contemporary attire information. Rounding out this academic research was my “field research” carried out at opening night performances, fund-raising galas and even another cruise. (Hey, it’s a tough job but someone had to do it.) After extracting the most relevant facts and most descriptive illustrations from this new mountain of research – and honing my amateur webmaster skills – The Black Tie Guide is finally complete.
I am extremely proud of the final result and greatly pleased with the influence it is having on readers. Every time I receive a thankful e-mail from a newly converted advocate or an appreciative longtime believer it makes all the years of hard work worthwhile. I look forward to a journey that I know will continue for the rest of my life and I truly hope that finding this site will be the beginning of yours.
Black Tie v2.0: The Second Edition
Who knew so many people were interested in tuxedos?
When I first created The Black Tie Guide in 2006 I figured that a primer for such a relatively obscure dress code would be of interest to only a handful of people. I never dreamt that four years later it would be drawing over 40,000 visitors per month.
I also had no idea of the reverence many of those people felt for the tuxedo’s predecessor, the tailcoat. The Guide was intended to be a practical tool for the average man which meant there was no point in delving into an ultra formal dress code that in its heyday was reserved for only the most elite members of society and is now virtually abandoned by even those select few. Yet the longer I researched the storybook-like history of evening wear and the more I heard from passionate stalwarts of this tradition, the more I realized that white tie was an integral part of the study of black tie.
Because the white tie information would impact a large portion of the Guide I decided to take the opportunity to overhaul the entire site to reflect new information and insight obtained since the first edition and to ensure consistency across pages that were originally written over a span of two years. And so after another fourteen months of research and writing – including a five-month leave of absence from work – I am proud to announce the revised and expanded second edition of The Black Tie Guide.
I think it is fitting that this enhanced tribute to evening wear's timeless appeal is being published on the 125th anniversary of the tuxedo's export from its British home to the world at large. I don’t know what the future holds for the enduring Victorian dining suit but I hope all of the Guide's readers will have a chance to experience its sublime pleasures at some point in their lives. And if you happen to see me at a gala affair down the road please say hi. (I'll be the guy soaking in every minute of the evening's experience.)
I would like to acknowledge the generous support of site sponsors, past and present, for helping me to offset the Guide's substantial research costs without having to clutter the pages with distracting ads. I would like to thank them for their recognition and their financial contribution.
I also want to acknowledge the Toronto Reference Library's invaluable role in the creation of the site. The Guide's unparalleled History section, in particular, would not have existed without the library's extensive collection of vintage materials and its extremely accommodating staff.
Finally, none of this would have been possible without the tireless support of my husband, Brandon Taylor. For years he has not only allowed himself to be dragged to libraries across the continent for ongoing research but has also provided extensive technical assistance required to make the site efficient for me to create and simple for readers to navigate. And he looks damn good in a tuxedo.