Myths and Merits
Let’s face it: we men are obstinate. If we don’t want to make the effort to dress well then we’ll accept any excuse to justify our laziness. That’s why it’s likely that the first time we were told to wear a suit we fought it tooth and nail. But we’re also vain which means the first time we saw ourselves in a suit we realized we looked good. Damned good.
A recent survey of American attitudes regarding menswear proves just how common these male traits are. Given a choice between defining their style as an “everyday Joe” who values comfort over fashion or as sleek, suave and debonair 69% of men identified with the unfashionable option. No surprise there. However, men also reported being highly aware of the shortcomings of their preference:
72% said they feel underdressed most of the time
69% thought that one of the sexiest things a guy can do is dress well
80% thought men instantly look better in a suit
Knowing that nothing will sell a man on wearing black tie better than actually wearing black tie, the following is the Guide’s earnest attempt to convince novices to drop the excuses and get in front of the mirror to see for themselves how good they look. How really damned good.
Myth: Tuxedos cost too much.
Many men cite cost as the issue for avoiding tuxedos but that is no more than a smokescreen. Men who pay hundreds of dollars for a gala ticket then show up in a $1,000 suit aren’t forgoing formal attire because they’re strapped for cash. And even those men with an income modest enough to allow them to holiday on cruise ships and attend opening night performances can certainly afford a measly tuxedo rental fee.
Myth: Tuxedos are uncomfortable.
The days of stiff formal shirts and starched collars are long gone. Unless your attire was made before 1940, it will be every bit as comfortable as a regular suit and tie (assuming, of course, that your regular dress clothes are properly fitted).
Myth: Tuxedos make me look like a waiter.
A cheap, poorly fitting tuxedo will indeed make you look like hired help. A well-tailored, smartly coordinated tuxedo will make you look like landed gentry.
Myth: Tuxedos look old-fashioned.
Only the unsophisticated would confuse “old-fashioned” with “classic”. “Old-fashioned” describes something that was a product of its time while “classic” implies something that transcends time. Think of disco versus jazz or 1970s architecture versus art deco.
Myth: Formal wear is too much work.
First off, let’s acknowledge that the excuse regarding extra “work” is really about extra time: no one is claiming that attaching cufflinks instead of buttons qualifies as strenuous manual labor. Secondly, while it is true that dressing up in formal wear takes more time than putting on in a suit and tie, the difference is minimal and diminishes with each outing; even tying a bow tie soon becomes no more time-consuming than knotting a four-in-hand.
More importantly, the additional effort actually plays an often overlooked role in making an evening special. Consider two scenarios involving a night out at the theatre. In the first, a man comes home from work on the night of the show and throws on any old dress shirt, trousers and jacket along with pair of scuffed shoes. In the second, the man takes the time in advance to have his shirt cleaned, his jacket pressed and his footwear shined. The first approach is certainly effortless but does nothing to distinguish the evening from any other function. The second approach, meanwhile, creates a feeling of anticipation before the man even leaves home. Instead of being a passive participant he is playing an active role in creating a sense of occasion.
The ritual of dressing up in formal evening wear elevates this anticipation to the level of the sublime. The satisfying feel of the onyx studs slipping into place, the familiar clasping of the buttoned suspender tabs and the skillful knotting of the silk bow tie all build to the denouement when the well-tailored jacket is slipped into place. Accompany this sensual process with a glass of good scotch and by the time a man is done dressing he’s likely to find himself with an unexplained craving for a cigarette. That’s what wearing a good tuxedo is like.
Myth: A suit’s as good as a tuxedo.
If this was true then hosts would have stopped asking guests to wear tuxedos decades ago.
There is a very good reason that black-tie affairs are specifically associated with milestone events such as the opening of a major theatrical production or the presentation of achievement awards: the formal dress code invites attire that aptly reflects the distinction and prestige of the occasion. Therefore what a person decides to wear to an event that is black tie optional – whether by invitation or tradition – cannot be viewed solely as a personal choice of wardrobe but as a contribution to the evening itself. In these situations he can either wear a suit and consequently lower the occasion’s standards or he can opt for formalwear and raise the bar instead. Keep in mind that the more that people rely on other guests to bring a sense of formality to a special occasion, the less formality there will be for everyone. Fortunately, the reverse is also true.
Myth: Black-tie events don't necessarily require a tuxedo.
If your host wanted you to show up in a black suit he or she would not have written “black tie” on the invitation. See Evening Wear Dress Codes to find out why contemporary etiquette authorities around the world continue to define this dress code almost exactly the same way it was defined when it first came into existence over seventy years ago.
Myth: Black-tie events require a tuxedo but the details aren't important.
"Black tie" and "tuxedo" may have begun as identical concepts back in the 1930s but they parted ways when colored tuxedos and Nehru dinner jackets entered the scene in the 1960s. See Black Tie vs. Tuxedo to find out why “black tie” is now best defined as tuxedos for grown-ups.
Myth: The black-tie dress code is intimidating.
Only if you don't know what you're doing.
Admittedly, formalwear’s sartorial conventions are adhered to much more stringently than those for business attire or casual wear. However, unlike the latter categories, formalwear’s standards are not an ever-changing mystery. By simply following the basic rules laid out in this very Guide any novice will meet the requirements that are second nature to experienced socialites. In fact, chances are he’ll end up better attired than the majority of other men at the average black-tie affair these days.