The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds a black-tie gala each May to celebrate the opening of their annual exhibit. The Met Gala aka Met Ball is the epitome of exclusivity with a guest list overseen by Vogue‘s all-powerful editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and a ticket price of $25,000. Known as the East Coast equivalent of Oscars night, the affair adds a twist to the usual red-carpet procession by encouraging guests to dress according to a different theme each year.
This year’s theme was White Tie and Decorations, a dress code so obscure it was reported in the general press in publications such as the New York Times and Time magazine. Ostensibly intended to complement the elegant designs of the exhibition’s featured designer Charles James, the motif presented a couple of obvious challenges. First off, few Americans in this day and age have any idea what the dress code entails. (Witness the widespread event coverage by fashion and celebrity writers who repeatedly identified tailcoats as a “tuxedo”.) Secondly, few American retailers offer the required attire. This meant that guests who wished to respect the code would essentially be forced to purchase a custom tailored tailcoat at significant cost.
Less obvious to the lay person (i.e. non Black Tie Guide fans) is the inherent contradiction in using a formal dress code as suggested party attire. The former is a strictly mandated set of rules while the latter is simply a starting point for individual interpretation. Since the hosts obviously had no intention of turning away guests unadorned in white tie, the following review evaluates the men’s outfits not as a matter of etiquette but in the context of being appropriate for the glamourous and sophisticated atmosphere that the hosts were endeavouring to create.
Full dress is such a stunning ensemble on its own that a man needs only execute it successfully in order to achieve sartorial supremacy. However, such execution does not come easily as it requires precise tailoring. Not only must the coat remain snug against the torso without being buttoned closed but the waistcoat must not ride so low so as to jut out below the coat’s front nor sit so high as to expose the trouser waist. This latter requirement alone eliminated all but a handful of men from achieving perfection.
These are gentlemen whose full-dress kit was perfect in theory but failed in the execution. Also included here are men wise enough to understand that if white tie is not an option then classic black tie is the next best thing when it comes to conveying formality, elegance and sophistication.
Among the great majority of men who chose not to wear full dress, there were some very sad attempts at fashion innovation. On one hand there was the multitude who figured that simply slapping a white bow tie on a regular tuxedo was a stroke of genius (Michael Kors, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Scott Campbell, Matt Bomer, Jason Wu, Oliver Theyskens, Sean Penn, Marc Jacobs, Paul Rudd, Darren Gallo, recording artist Miguel), and on the other hand were the masses that figured a casual white dinner jacket was an acceptable substitute for a regal tailcoat (David Beckham, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Jay Z, Frank Ocean, Jake Gyllenhall, Joshua Jackson, Edward Burns, Riccardo Tisci, Michael Sheen, Thakoon Panichgul).
These men were noble enough to attempt proper white tie but didn’t quite succeed, mostly due to inappropriate waistcoat length and/or coat sleeve length (there are simply too many names to mention). Many of them also marred the intended refinement of full-dress by decking themselves out in watch chains and medallions, most likely a result of misinterpreting the dress code’s call for “decorations”.
These are the Hall of Shame candidates: the most blatant bastardizations and sophomoric interpretations of formal convention whether due to naïve ignorance or smug self-importance. The results denigrate both the wearer and the occasion.