Two Takes on Classic
The peaked lapel jacket, formal waistcoat
and stiff wing-collar shirt combination on the right is the apex of black-tie
formality. The shawl collar, cummerbund and soft turndown collar shirt
on the left offer a more dégagé interpretation.
Buttoning the Jacket
At first, the dinner jacket was worn open in
imitation of the tailcoat. By the 1910s it was usually worn
closed which is the most effective way to emphasize height,
slimness and a V-shaped torso.
► Midnight Blue
Daniel Craig at 2009 Oscars
in his Quantum of Solace dinner suit
For the history and sartorial etiquette of midnight-blue dinner
The Black Tie Blog.
X Dress Decorum:
X Formal Stripping
Cruise diners on "formal night"
Removing your jacket and exposing your wrinkled shirt, suspenders
and/or waist covering clasps is a sure way to downgrade the
elegance of any formal occasion.
As long as the ladies remained fully dressed you should
The curves of a cummerbund
have a tendency to emphasize girth on portly men, especially
when the garment is colored.
X (Not So) Well Suited:
X The Naked Navel
Even with your jacket buttoned, a waist covering is
essential to look your best.
The image on the right has been retouched to show how
a covered navel increases perceived leg length, making a man
look taller and slimmer.
X (Not So) Well
X Wimpy Wings
Short attached wing collars are unflattering to any man but look
particularly bad on men with long necks. And any height of wing collar
tends to emphasize portliness on men with short necks or chubby faces.
X (Not So) Well
X Matching Sets
Matching ties and waist coverings scream "prom
rental." Always keep the tie black.
► Tuxedo Field Guide
Learn from the best - and the worst - of the red-carpet celebs
Slate article by the Guide's creator.
III. Style Summary
As explained in the definition of
black tie, the dress
code's prescribed attire actually allows for a number of variations. To best
understand how the individual options impact the overall outfit we
will divide them into two basic categories: classic and
Classic Style: The Black Tie Benchmark
Ever since black tie came into its own as a distinct form
of evening wear in the 1930s its definition has varied, with some
elements remaining constant and others coming and going with the
times. By stripping the contemporary fluctuations from black tie's
various definitions over the years we can define its
quintessential or "classic" features:
· black wool is the norm
· midnight blue is equally correct
model can be:
is slightly less formal
lapels can be:
· peaked lapel
· shawl collar
and can have:
· satin facing
· grosgrain facing
no vents is most formal
one button is traditional for single-breasted
pockets should not have flaps
same material as jacket
single braid along outside seams to match lapel facings
cut for suspenders (braces in UK)
no cuffs (turnups in UK)
3. waist covering
waist covering is either:
· black cummerbund made from silk to match jacket facings;
best suited to shawl collar jacket; not particularly
· black low-cut evening waistcoat; best suited to peaked
either is worn with single-breasted jacket models but
not with double-breasted
fronts can be either pleated or piqué (Marcella in UK)
shirt has eyelets for studs
French cuffs (double cuffs in UK)
wing collar is considered unflattering or
inappropriate for black tie by most authorities; some
allow it but only in its traditional
black self-tie silk bow tie to match lapel facings
black shoes can be:
· patent or highly polished
oxfords (most popular)
· patent or highly polished leather pumps (most
black silk or fine fabric hose, over-the-calf length
black, gold or mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks
suspenders (braces in UK) of black or white
optional white silk or linen
handkerchief as pocket square
chesterfield coat is most conventional but any other
dark dressy coat is acceptable; rain (trench) coats are
evening dress scarf of white silk
These are the attributes that have stood the test of
time because they consistently make a man look his best. The
general cut of a tuxedo will vary from big & baggy to short & slim according to
the whims of fashion but history has proven that as long the suit
incorporates these classic features it is pretty much guaranteed to
outdo any contemporary interpretation that doesn't.
Contemporary Fashion: Amending Perfection
Change for the Worse
If you are intent on modifying black tie’s classic
standards, the first step is to ask yourself why you want to risk
foregoing their numerous benefits.
1960s, modernist attempts to reinvent black tie have typically
arisen from the perception that it needs to be more comfortable or
more contemporary. However, proponents of classic menswear argue
that its components have been perfected over many decades by the
best tailors and the best dressers and that all the necessary
compromises have already been made. Says a 2004 Wall Street
This is the power of the traditional
costume--it is at the same time aristocratic and democratic. The
very uniformity of the tuxedo makes it socially leveling. And
whereas most instruments of democratic equality tend to lower all
boats, the tuxedo levels up. Would-be improvements invariably throw
the aristocratic-democratic balance out of whack.
most part, history has validated the traditionalists’
argument. Ever since the rise of the baby boomers in the 1960s,
attempts to replace black tie’s convention, maturity and conformity
with modernity, youthfulness and individuality have almost always
failed, often spectacularly.
You should also ask yourself
why you want to risk degrading the black-tie experience for your
fellow guests. Making bad sartorial choices at high school
proms or youthful weddings doesn’t much impact anyone but yourself.
But carrying these bastardizations into grown-up black-tie galas
affects everyone in attendance by fracturing the unique sartorial
uniformity that the dress code is supposed to impart.
Change for the Better: Rules for Bending the Rules
Having said all that, history has also proven that not all change is
bad. In fact, what we define as classic black tie today would
never have come into existence if it were not for changes to the
dress code prior to the 1940s. The critical difference between
black tie’s pre-war adaptations and the ones that came later is that
the original changes were introduced by men with an impeccable sense
of style and a thorough familiarity with the purpose of formal
attire. In other words – and this can’t be emphasized enough –
the only people who can successfully bend the rules are the ones who
truly understand them.
The first step in
understanding the rules that make black tie successful is to be
aware of the merits that define this success. By closely
examing black tie's historical origins and evolution as well as its
classic sartorial details, the following primary merits emerge:
Black tie maximizes the
masculine ideal by making a man look taller, stronger and younger
than any other type of dress.
Black tie makes a man appear
more refined than any other type of dress.
Black tie's unique uniformity creates
a visual equality among men.
Black tie maximizes an occasion's formality.
Now that we have identified the traits makes black tie
successful, we can determine the rules behind those traits:
Black tie is grounded in
black. White is always secondary and color is to be
used sparsely and with great discretion.
Black tie emphasizes understated details and elegant
Black tie manifests established sartorial
Arming yourself with these rules of successful black tie
allows you to now judge the potential success of modern
variations. In addition, you can take advantage of a few secondary
guidelines to assess how best to bend those rules:
Try it on. The fact
that a new trend looks good on a professional model or popular
celebrity means nothing unless he’ll be the one wearing it for you.
Similarly, you can’t truly weigh the visceral appeal of current fads
against the subtle nuances of traditional style until you have worn
the latter as well.
Keep it low key. A
variation that is subtle and respectful of the remaining
fundamentals is only bending the rules; a transgression that
blatantly contravenes numerous principles is definitely breaking the
rules. Play it safe by leaving the dinner suit untouched and
the modern twists to its less visible accessories.
Pace yourself. Include no more than
one unorthodox variation at a time, particularly if it’s an
especially conspicuous bastardization.
Know your audience.
Remember that black-tie customs vary according to geographic region,
social strata and relative formality of the affair. You will
be much more likely to pull off a Nehru jacket and band collar
shirt at a music awards ceremony than you would at a diplomatic
Act your age. Younger
men can get away with a lot more than other guys. So can much
older men, for that matter. For all the rest of us it’s best
that we accept our limitations.
Once you’ve decided upon the details of your
tuxedo it’s time to switch from theory to practice. Before you
rent or buy anything make sure you understand that:
- a tuxedo,
for all its fancy trimmings, is still a suit, and
- a suit has to fit you properly or you’ll
look you’re wearing someone else’s clothing which pretty much
negates a tuxedo's stylistic benefits
If you‘re fortunate enough to
have your tuxedo custom made for you then a good fit should be built
right into the suit by the tailor. If you opt for a pre-made
tuxedo then the process for ensuring a proper fit is two-fold:
Proper Fit page lists all the alterable and unalterable criteria
that you need to know. Read it, print it and carry it with you
because you can’t count on salespeople to always put your best
interests above their own.
- Try on the suit and assess the fit
features that cannot be altered by a tailor. If a suit does not
meet some of these fixed criteria (and no ready-to-wear suit is
likely to meet them all) then you will have to decide how relatively
important those shortcomings are to you.
- After selecting an acceptable suit based on the fixed criteria, have
the alterable features adjusted as needed.
Style: Further Reading
Classic Black Tie:
Explores the sartorial details of each traditional component in
depth by examing their
technicalities and their aesthetic impact on the overall outfit
and, by association, the wearer. Readers can use this
information to help determine which options suit them best (such as shawl versus peaked lapels)
and to explore
that can be used for tasteful personalization (such as colored or
Contemporary Black Tie: Uses the same
garment-by-garment breakdown as Classic Black Tie to
examine popular contemporary variations in the context of the
Suit Style: A suit’s style or cut refers to features pertaining
soley to fashion aesthetics. Use this information to
determine the best match for your particular physique when choosing
between attributes such as fitted versus looser cut, single- versus
double-breasted jacket, and pleats
versus flat-front trousers.
Tying a Bow Tie: Nothing separates the men from the boys – and
the waiters – quite like a self-tied bow tie. Fortunately it is the same
tying your shoelaces as shown in these illustrated instructions and
& Care: Tips for cleaning, storing and traveling with your
formal suit, shirt and shoes.
A jacket's button stance (the point at which it
fastens) impacts the depth of the "V" shape opening.
Shawl collars can look very different depending
on how they taper towards the waist.
A rare U-shaped full-back waistcoat with straight bottom
Formal shoes should have a streamlined profile with minimal
seams and no decoration.
Following the lead of the best dressers of
the 20th century is sure to guarantee success.
Break the conventional rules without understanding them and
you risk looking like this.
The fly-front shirt is one of the only modern black-tie variations
to hold up to the classics.
Restrict color to an item that is largely surrounded
Samuel Jackson demonstrates how to skilfully bend the rules rather
than crassly breaking them.
A typical example of a young man wearing a suit
that is at least one size too large.
A well-fitting suit will contour to the body's
natural shape and should not pull or sag anywhere.