DIY Formal Accessories

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I sometimes suspect that traditional dressers who discover The Black Tie Guide must feel like guests showing up at the end of a legendary party.  Upon arrival they are regaled with vivid descriptions of the evening’s festivities but when they attempt to partake for themselves they can find only leftover scraps. So it is that after becoming hooked by the Guide’s sumptuous examples of proper black tie many readers discover that a number of its essential components are today either unavailable or unaffordable.  This is particularly true of the iconic evening waistcoat which is no longer sold outside of the UK and even there typically costs a small fortune.

I will admit that I am one of those people coveting a traditional yet affordable evening waistcoat.  Thus my curiosity was piqued recently when I stumbled across a commercial sewing pattern for cummerbunds and classic waistcoats.  (Regular readers will notice I spend a lot of time online stumbling across black-tie related paraphernalia.)  So I bought the pattern and will be undertaking a sartorial experiment to find out the cost and quality of having the garment constructed by a local tailor.  I’ll report back with the results sometime in the new year.

The McCall’s package also includes a bow tie pattern ostensibly for coloured neckwear to match the custom waist covering, a vulgar novelty generally shunned by true gentlemen.  However, with a little tweaking it can instead provide a variety of shapes and widths that are perfectly correct but impossible to find in off-the-shelf models. A custom bow tie also allows for a fixed neck size which is a truly distinguished touch, particularly for those men who prefer wing collar shirts that expose the clasps and buckles of adjustable models.

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If you are seeking only a custom bow tie it is not necessary to buy a pattern.  Instead, check out the free illustrated instructions available online at sites such as Greg’s Blog, Pete’s Blog and Craftzine.com.  The latter site also includes directions for making your own hand-sewn linen pocket square, another exquisite black-tie refinement.

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Postscript

May 8, 2012

I spoke to a couple of tailors about creating a wool waistcoat based on the provided pattern and their prices ranged from $300 to $350.  That’s not exactly the bargain I was hoping for.

13 Comments

  1. A.R

    I’ve been invited to an after 7:00 black tie wedding (which should really be white tie given the time) Would a formal waistcoat and shirt be appropriate?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      A formal waistcoat is appropriate while a formal shirt is essential. You can find the complete definition of proper black-tie in the Guide.

      Reply
      1. A.R

        Oh, I suppose I shouldn’t use the older terms, it can be confusing sometimes. I meant a stiff detachable wing-collar shirt and a white formal waistcoat, in the style of white tie.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall

          Yes, a full-dress waistcoat and shirt are acceptable with black tie, particularly for very formal occasions. Ideally they would be paired with a one-button, peaked lapel jacket as that is the most formal type of tuxedo jacket.

          Reply
  2. J.D.

    Hi Peter – enjoying the new blog! Based on your recommendation (maybe in an older version of the guide), I purchased a low buttoning, “V” shaped, backless vest from Chilbert & Co. a few years ago and it fits the bill just fine at a very reasonable price – I believe it was around $50.00. I have received many compliments from other event attendees that didn’t know such a look was an option. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Thanks for the reminder J.D. You’re right, that is the only inexpensive classic wool waistcoat that I know of for sale in the U.S.
      I will still try the custom route though because I specifically need one with grosgrain lapels.

      Reply
      1. Joe Zasada

        If the pockets were functional I would jump on that one – I have a polyester one with functional pockets, which are esential for carrying a pocket watch and a challenge coin. JD – do the faux pockets have the interface needed to be modified to have real pockets added?

        Reply
  3. J.D.

    Joe – I’m not sure what the ‘interface’ would be. If you could describe that in more detail, I’d be happy to take a look at the vest and let you know.

    Reply
    1. Joe Zasada

      Basically the faux pocket needs to be of such a design that it could be opened up and a real pocket could be sewn in behind.

      Reply
      1. Tom

        I purchased the Chilbert and company waistcoat and was able to find a tailor to “fix” the pockets. The plackets on the original were sewn on along the bottom and whip stitched along the sides. Installing pockets was a relatively simple matter of removing the plackets, opening the hem, and installing the pockets in the conventional fashion. The hem is then closed. All told it cost about $30 to get it done.

        Reply
  4. Charles Henry Wolfenbloode

    I’m planning on making one out of black silk grosgrain (I’ve already had success with a DB white full-dress waistcoat.)

    Reply
  5. Harry William Reineke IV

    Sorry for being late to the party, but an evening black waistcoat would be backless just like the more formal white waistcoat of full-dress?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      It can be backless or have a full back.

      Reply

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