2014 Met Gala Red Carpet

(Livia Firth / Instagram)

(Livia Firth / Instagram)

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.  

Exceptional

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.

Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrman and his costume designer wife who ruined the formal wear in said film. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrman and his costume designer wife who ruined the formal wear in said film. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Actor and gala co-chair Bradley Cooper in Tom Ford. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Actor and gala co-chair Bradley Cooper in Tom Ford. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Colin Firth in Tom Ford.  (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Colin Firth in Tom Ford. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Tom Ford in Tom Ford.  Noticing a pattern yet? (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Tom Ford in Tom Ford. The gloves are a nice touch yet also practical as they can be tucked away in a pocket unlike the walking canes sported by some idiots.  (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Douglas Booth in Burberry.  (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Douglas Booth in Burberry. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Commendable

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.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s was technically the correct length but not constructed well enough to remain properly positioned throughout the evening.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s coat front was technically the correct length but the garment was not fitted enough to remain properly positioned throughout the evening.

Photographer Mario Testino’s tailcoat also tended to creep upwards.  Incidentally, Testiono appeared to be the only guest wearing actual decorations (the Order of the British Empire and his native Peru’s Grand Cross Order of Merit).

Photographer Mario Testino’s tailcoat also tended to creep upwards. Incidentally, Testiono appeared to be the only guest wearing actual decorations, in this case the Order of the British Empire and his native Peru’s Grand Cross Order of Merit.

English actor Hugh Dancy in his 3-piece Prada was about the only man with enough understanding of formal wear to know that classic black tie was the most acceptable substitute. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

English actor Hugh Dancy in his 3-piece Prada was about the only man who understood that classic black tie was the only real alternative. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Forgettable

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).

Designer Kenneth Cole representing the white bow tie black tuxedo crowd. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Designer Kenneth Cole representing the white bow tie & black tuxedo crowd. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

David Beckham characterizes the white dinner jacket multitude. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

David Beckham characterizes the cocktail waiter contingent. The jacket is totally inappropriate outside of subtropical climates. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Regrettable

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”.

TV personality Andy Cohen. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

TV personality Andy Cohen. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Ralph Lauren scion David Lauren. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Ralph Lauren scion David Lauren. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

English actor Eddie Redmayne (whom one would expect to know better based on his usually impeccable evening dress). (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

English actor Eddie Redmayne (whom one would expect to know better based on his usually impeccable evening dress). (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Singer John Legend in Ralph Lauren.  (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Singer John Legend in Ralph Lauren. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Johnny Depp’s spats led one fashion critic likened him to the Penguin villain from Batman.  (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Johnny Depp’s spats led one fashion critic likened him to the Penguin villain from Batman. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)

Deplorable

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.

NBA player Carmelo Anthony (in Rag and Bone) is apparently sidelining as a circus ringleader.  (AFP)

NBA player Carmelo Anthony (in Rag and Bone) is apparently sidelining as a circus ringleader. (AFP)

Neil Patrick Harris and partner David Burtka in Tom Browne may have intended to be ironic but they only succeeded in being insulting to the other guests. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

Neil Patrick Harris and partner David Burtka in Thom Browne may have intended to be ironic but they only succeeded in being insulting. (Larry Busacca / Getty)

What the hell happened to Jake Gyllenhaal?  (AP)

What the hell happened to Jake Gyllenhaal? (AP)

Designer Pier Paolo Piccioli demonstrates how nothing says formal elegance like bare shins. (Vogue)

Designer Pier Paolo Piccioli demonstrates how bare shins are an essential part of formal elegance. (Vogue)

________________________________________

For more failed attempts at formal elegance – and judging said elegance – see GQ‘s 10 Best-Dressed Men at the Met Gala and Complex magazine’s Best Dressed Dudes at the Met Gala.

24 Comments

  1. Cygnus

    While I love the reviews you do of “formal” events, the descending order causes me to finish reading thinking formal wear is doomed as the very worst examples are depicted and rightfully derided toward the end of these posts.

    Is the Peruvian Order of Merit different than most other orders, or should Testino’s riband have been worn over his waistcoat?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I had the same feeling while writing the post. I started off delighted with the proper execution of the dress code and finished convinced that we should just let it die a dignified death rather than continue to subject it to such ignoble bastardizations.

      Reply
  2. Arend

    That was a good laugh indeed. I’m wondering, if white tie its so exotic in the U.S., maybe the problem is with the tailors. I don’t think many a tailor will just say “sorry, I never made one of those, you should probably take a plane to Europe if you want a proper outfit”. They’ll just take your money and give it a shot…

    Reply
    1. Duncan Pike

      Nor will they simply direct you down the lane to Brooks Brothers, which still sells the full rig.

      Reply
      1. CharlesM

        While still not necessarily understanding, or being able to achieve, a proper fit.

        Reply
        1. Duncan Pike

          I didn’t say you shouldn’t bring it back to your tailor afterward. Also, read that ting that guy wrote on the interwebz about men’s formal wear. The Blue Shirt Direction, or something?

          Reply
    2. Hans Servando

      Three words: Savile Row Street.

      Reply
  3. CharlesM

    As always, thank you for this posting.

    With a few very welcome exceptions, nowhere has the modern realization of a wing collar ever looked so sad as with white tie. And a hairstyle that resembles an unmown field can clearly diminish even a sartorially excellent presentation. It would also appear that a couple of the female patrons could use a lesson or two in the subleties (?) of the meaning of a white tie event.

    While slightly off topic, I am appreciative of Mr Beckham for helping me to realize that a summer dinner jacket really should be double-breasted to avoid that large black vertically-pointing arrowhead in the lower portion of the coat – sort of the white coat equivalent to the white triangle on a tuxedo..

    Reply
  4. Jay

    For something as obscure as full dress, I’m actually surprised how many of these look pretty good. If your waistcoat going past your jacket is your worst offense when attempting white tie, I think you’re doing just fine.

    Can’t understand the deal with all the chains though.

    Reply
  5. Don Draper

    Didn’t know where else to post this but how angry does Jon Hamm’s white-tie with turn-down collar on the cover of Vanity Fair make you? It’s amazing how a misstep like that can even make DON FREAKIN DRAPER look like he’s going to the prom instead of a white-tie gala, not to mention his overly-thinned face and neck via photoshop. Pathetic that these people actually get paid for this (the stylists and editors, not Hamm).

    http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/jon-hamm-cover-million-dollar-arm

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Vogue‘s stylists appear to be taking their cue from Barack Obama.

      At least they got the waistcoat length right.

      Reply
  6. Me

    Here is Anna Wintour discussing the failures at the Met Gala on Late Night:
    http://youtu.be/4euJUiQWpNw?t=6m48s

    Reply
    1. Me

      It starts at 6:48

      Reply
      1. Peter Marshall

        Thanks so much for providing this. I was really curious to know if Anna Wintour was as disappointed as I was in the men’s attire and sure enough, she was.

        It’s very interesting to watch how Ms. Wintour and gala co-host Sarah Jessica Parker address the sartorial failures considering they’re being interviewed by one of the worst of those failures. Seth’s explanation for his utter disregard for the dress code was exactly what I expected of the other failures: weak. To me, it it was a thinly veiled way of saying “I couldn’t care less.” I admire how they were diplomatic yet direct in their critique of people who did, after all, pay $25,000 each to attend. I especially liked how Wintour did not let Seth off the hook.

        I also have to say that Ms. Wintour knew far more about white tie than I expected. The fact that she noted that Bradley Cooper’s studs should have been mother-of-pearl instead of onyx suggests she must have been utterly appalled at the far greater travesties that made up the majority of male outfits that evening.

        P.S. The white tie discussion actually starts at 5:27. Some very interesting comments on the panic it instilled in the male guests!

        Reply
        1. CharlesM

          Yes, thank you for this clip. It helped me understand why such panic ensued. We seem to be in a race to the bottom as regards puerile behavior, and the dress requirement was really a request to act like adults for once.

          Kudos to Ms Wintour for keeping a straight face when confronted with such a high level of boorishness.

          Reply
          1. Kate

            Charles — I am afraid we’ve already reached the bottom, and have started digging a hole! I wonder if standard will ever rise again?

        2. Gene

          The comments about decorations were hilarious. O tempora.

          Reply
        3. Kate

          I quite agree, Peter. I am not a fan of Anna Wintour, but the Christmas ornaments anecdote almost endeared her to me!

          I find it difficult to believe that adults are so clueless that they don’t know what decorations are in the context of formal evening clothes. That is truly sad and embarrassing! I am positive that my teenage daughter would not make that mistake.

          More proof that money cannot buy class or common sense! A simple Google search of the phrase “white tie and decorations” would have given them enough information to avoid such a blatant display of ignorance.

          Reply
  7. Hans Servando

    Here the review of Sven Raphael Schneider to complement this one: http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/white-tie-do-dont-dress-code-met-ball/

    Reply
  8. Gene

    With respect to Mario Testino, shouldn’t a riband be worn over the waistcoat?

    Reply
  9. Kate

    Another great blog entry, Peter. It’s always a delight to read your insightful articles. I know my comment comes late, but as I don’t pay attention to the Hollywood types, who once again proved their lack of class, I missed this so-called “white tie” gala in its entirety. After looking at some of the photos and the pathetic excuses for formal evening attire, I wish I had remained oblivious. You and previous commenters already discussed the men’s mistakes in great detail, but with the exception of Ms Female Reader, and another poster who lamented Sarah Jessica Parker’s faux pas I did not see much about the women.

    Please bear with me: I am well aware that this blog addresses black and white tie for a male audience and from a male perspective. I fully respect that, and am not trying to change your target audience at all. Furthermore, as a woman myself I realise that female fashion is much more flexible, and that the boundaries of what is acceptable are far more fluid. However, as we can see, this permissiveness when combined with a lack of knowledge and class, becomes a serious hurdle. The Internet is full of fashion advice for us females, but I have become convinced that we need style advice. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as classic style for women. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and even the Duchess of Cambridge, as a contemporary example, embody this classic style.

    A quick Google search for images of the female Met Gala attendees revealed that most of them were/are utterly clueless: short skirts, bare midriffs, slits up to the thigh, or even worse, the hip bone, skin tight trousers, any trousers really, transparent skirt fabrics without appropriate lining material, etc. are all a big no and should never make an appearance at a white tie event. Your female reader above expressed it well: ladies were indeed in short supply!

    BTW, my Google image search led me to an entry on businessinsider where a clueless writer opined that the Beckhams were one of the few couples who got it right. Apparently, this writer believes that white tie equals sticking to the colours white/off white and black! Beckham, if my memory serves me correctly, was attired in a white dinner jacket — in early May in New York at an inside event!

    Reply
    1. Kate

      Peter, I just realised that the user who calls herself “female reader” commented on another blog. My apologies for the mix up.

      Reply
      1. Peter Marshall

        Thanks for your critique of the white tie ladies’ attire. Nearly half of the Guide’s readers are women so the insight is very relevant.

        Reply
        1. Kate

          Thank you, Peter. Christian Dior was once asked if there was a key to being well-dressed, and he responded: ‘There is no key! If there were it would be too easy, rich women could buy the key and all their fashion worries would be over! But simplicity, grooming and good taste – the three fundamentals of fashion – cannot be bought.’

          I find that this is more relevant than ever. The people who attended this event certainly have plenty of money, but simplicity and good taste, and even grooming in some cases, appear to be lacking.

          Reply

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