Red Carpet Black Tie: Celebrity Lessons

Ever since the emergence of "creative black tie" in the 1980s, celebrities can always be counted on to teach the pitfalls of opting for eye-catching fashion over timeless style.  However, many have learned from their mistakes and a select few have always known better than to follow the herd into sophomoric obscurity. 
Observe and learn.

Hall of Fame


 Sean Combs

Sean Combs' innovations are perfect examples of successfully bending the rules to enhance black tie's timeless elegance rather than degrade it.  Beneath the obvious variations such as black pocket squares and patterned fabric lies a much more subtle respect of the fundamentals: lapels are classic peaked or shawl style, ties are classic bow ties (and always self tied), shirt collars are tasteful turndowns and color is nowhere to be seen.


Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie radiate the magic of the celebrity power couple of yesteryear.  They have been dubbed "Hollywood royalty," a title they clearly live up to every time they step onto the red carpet.

2007 Cannes Film Festival

2007 Cannes Film Festival

2007 Venice Film Festival

2008 Venice Film Festival
Mr. Pitt in a made-to-measure peaked-lapel three-piece tuxedo with white piquť plastron shirt, velvet bow tie, diamond studs and cufflinks and patent leather patent shoes, all from Tom Ford. For the premiere of Ocean's 13 Mr. Pitt mastered the second version of classic black tie: the streamlined shawl collar & cummerbund look.  A smart choice for a man hoping to stand out next to Angelina Jolie. Completing the classic triumvirate, Mr. Pitt once again shows his contemporaries how it's done.  Note the black waistcoat peeking out from underneath the jacket - a unique touch. It's not easy to outclass George Clooney but Mr. Pitt's double-breasted peaked-lapel jacket is a definite step up from his co-star's business suit-like 2-button notch lapel.  (The smart pocket square helps too.)
2007 Cannes Film Festival
  This photo is a textbook example of classic versus contemporary black tie.  While all three men are quite handsome in their outfits, the actor on the right is attired like a personal assistant and the director on the left looks like he forgot his cummerbund at the hotel.  Mr. Pitt, meanwhile, is dressed like the quintessential Hollywood superstar.  


The Jonas Brothers



2008 Carousel of Hope

  2009 Golden Globe Awards
2008 Grammy Awards
Burgundy shirt notwithstanding, this young pop trio knows how to add flair to black tie without sacrificing its inherent sophistication.  They put most of their industry colleagues to shame.

 For more recent inductees into the Formalwear Hall of Fame, visit The Black Tie Blog.



Red Carpet Do's and Dont's


Style: Bow Tie vs. Long Tie


2006 Academy Awards                    2007 Academy Awards
2005 Academy Awards                    2006 Academy Awards
Peter Sarsgaard: from "dude" to gentleman
Jake Gyllenhaal: from boy to man

2006 Academy Awards                    2007 Academy Awards
  Steve Carell: from actor to star  

Style: Covered Waist vs. Exposed Waist


If you wear your tuxedo like a common suit then it will look like a common suit.


2007 Cannes Film Festival

2007 Golden Globe Awards

2004 Academy Awards
Even the most attractive men are downgraded to frat boy status when they expose their trouser waistband.  At the very least, button your jacket.

Sagging pants and bulging mid-sections are both exposed by a lack of waist covering.  (The lack of suspenders doesn't help matters either.)
2008 Academy Awards                     2009 Academy Awards
2009 Academy Awards                     2009 Academy Awards 
Not even a closed jacket will save you: a slight stretch of the arm and out pops a glaringly naked navel. Conversely, a covered navel lengthens perceived leg length and avoids cutting the body into two vertical halves.


Rule Masters


There's a reason the classic rules have lasted for over a century.


2007 Academy Awards                     2003 Academy Awards

2003 Academy Awards                    2004 Academy Awards
Proper black tie makes young men look mature . . . . . . and mature men look stunning. 


Rule Benders


Only by respecting the basic rules can one successfully modify them.


2007 Academy Awards

2004 Academy Awards

2006 Academy Awards

2007 Venice Film Festival


Rule Breakers


This is what happens when men are oblivious to the rules.


2004 Academy Awards                    2005 Academy Awards
2004 Academy Awards                    2007 Academy Awards
Some people never learn.  (In fact, they get worse.)

Unfortunately the mod undertaker look just won't die. 
2000 Academy Awards                    2000 Academy Awards
2007 Cannes Film Festival                    2003 Emmy Awards
Garth Brooks put to shame by 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment. Gangster chic?

1998 Academy Awards                    2001 Academy Awards
1995 Academy Awards                    1998 Academy Awards
Too hip for bow ties. 

Too hip for any ties.

Mixed Messages: President Obama

The American sartorial community was dismayed with the decidedly un-presidential formal attire worn by President Obama to his inaugural ball.  European counterparts were astonished by his blatant gaffes.  Despite his renowned eloquence and elegance Obama's general tastes in evening wear demonstrate a substantial ignorance of, or indifference to, the convention's timeless principles.  The Guide earnestly hopes that the presidentís formal style will eventually rise to the impeccable standards of his informal fashions so that his countrymen may be inspired to strive for the optimum instead of settling for the ordinary.

White-Tie Washouts

2006 Gridiron Club Dinner: Everything is wrong, right down to the missing waistcoat. 2008 Alfred Smith Dinner: The guy wearing the clown-sized tailcoat, pre-tied bow tie and improper shirt is a senator.  The guy dressed in an impeccably stylish statesman-like dinner suit is a blog writer.  Close-up of the ridiculously sized tailcoat and the informal shirt with everyday buttons and collar. 

Black-Tie Blunders

President as Waiter

President-elect Obama not long before the inauguration wearing a common notch lapel and four-in-hand tie.
President as Prom Date

The infamous inaugural tuxedo is a glorified black suit due to the notched lapels, center vent, flap pockets, redundant second button and exposed waistband  The white bow tie is an absolute faux pas, inexcusable for the holder of the highest office in the United States of America.
President as Gangster 

Not long after the inauguration Obama's formal style drops yet another notch.

Stepping Up

Hosting his first black-tie dinner at the White House in February 2009, the President finally begins to look like a President.  Just by opting for a proper bow tie Obama makes his pedestrian inaugural tuxedo appear almost respectable.  Dare we hope for an equivalent jacket upgrade?