All That Jazz: 1920s Black Tie

Speakeasy_3B

I frequently advise formalwear rookies not to fixate on assembling the ultimate black-tie wardrobe right away but instead to enjoy the pleasure of premiering a new embellishment with each new outing.  Case in point: it’s taken me years to finally obtain a much-coveted classic formal shirt and jewellery set but that delayed acquisition ensured that the 1920s-themed evening I recently attended was unlike any black-tie affair I’ve experienced prior. (Learning of the event only a week in advance proves another of my tenets: clean and mend garments soon after use so they’re ready to wear again at a moment’s notice.)

The occasion was a dinner and dance styled after Prohibition-era speakeasies.   It was held in a historic local dance hall, featured a live jazz band, and encouraged guests to dress in period costume.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to don a number of period-appropriate garments that had been patiently waiting in my closet for their debut:

Vintage MOP set by Swank.

My vintage mother-of-pearl evening jewellery set by Swank.

The result was a significantly different look than my usual dégagé Rat Pack ensemble with its streamlined shawl-collar and cummerbund worn over a soft-front turndown-collar shirt.  It was also a very different feel.  The shirt’s stiff bosom and rigid detachable collar subconsciously prompt the wearer to straighten his back and hold his head high, yielding the aristocratic posture regularly seen in Downton Abbey’s lavish dinner scenes.  The option of fastening one’s vest with custom waistcoat studs instead of generic covered buttons also adds to the air of gentility.  Even more so when those fasteners are of the same design as the shirt’s studs and cufflinks, tying together the formal kit’s two white elements with a distinctive subtlety.  As I slipped the jewellery’s old-fashion backings into place I couldn’t help but wonder if a previous owner had gone through the very same motions back at the time that inspired this evening’s theme.

Witnessing the sublime combination of two such perfectly pressed and immaculately bleached garments allowed me to truly understand why the white-on-white resplendence of full dress is unparalleled.  I would have gladly completed the full-dress triumvirate with a matching white bow tie if not for the fact that it would be a major sartorial gaffe.

As a final touch I considered a casually placed linen pocket handkerchief as was common back in the day, but left that natty touch to my husband Brandon.  He was also wearing a detachable-collar shirt and peaked-lapel jacket along with an ebony version of the classic evening waistcoat.

The wristwatch and cell phone stayed at home being modern distractions that had no place in the recreation of such a refined era.

Speakeasy_4

The Palais Royale venue, a 1920s boathouse cum dance hall on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Brandon and I thoroughly enjoyed the event and, as has become a bit of a custom, ended the evening with a nightcap at the Library Bar in the Fairmont Royal York.  This grand 1920s hotel emanates such elegance that no one even bats an eye at the random appearance of a pair of tuxedo-clad gentlemen.

The night’s newly premiered accoutrements can now join the ranks of my other tried-and-true formal acquisitions. I’m actually already looking forward to receiving the next long-awaited procurement: nifty Black Watch and Prince of Wales plaid cummerbund & bow tie sets from Brooks Brothers, currently on sale at half price.

Now all I need to find is a formal 1950s bash . . .

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For a complete rundown of the evening’s festivities and other guests’ attire, check out The Hogtown Rake, a superb menswear blog by my fellow Torontonian and sartorialist, Pedro Mendes.

12 Comments

  1. Faux Brummell

    You guys look great. Out of curiosity, where did Brandon get his waistcoat? Is it satin or wool?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      The waistcoat is a wool backless model from Chilbert & Co., the only online retailer in the U.S. that I know of that offer classic evening vests at an affordable price.

      Reply
      1. Faux Brummell

        Thanks for your response. Such a shame that proper vests are so rare. He didn’t have a problem with the vest matching the jacket? A related question if you don’t mind – any idea of when satin vests became popular/acceptable?

        Thank you again. Happy to see you’re still contributing to the blog, I always really enjoy your updates.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

          I’ve come to realize that the concern about separate vests matching jackets is largely misplaced. Thee majority of the exposed vest is actually its silk lapels and the little wool that shows will inevitably seem indistinguishable from the jacket because of the low light conditions under which they are worn. Satin waistcoats date back to the Edwardian era so they have a solid pedigree.

          And thanks, it’s nice to be back!

          Reply
      2. Hilton Conrad

        I think uniformalwarehouse.com offers a backless formal waistcoat for even less then what they do there. im pretty sure you have a choice of full satin or just a satin lapel, and a choice polyester, poly/cotton, and wool.

        Reply
  2. Adam

    Hey Peter! I’m pretty sure I saw you (and your husband) at the Library Bar in the Royal York that night. I was wondering if I should go over and say hello, but I was horrendously underdressed for the occasion.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      That’s too funny. What brought you to the Royal York that evening?

      Reply
      1. Adam

        I was spending the weekend in Toronto, and I’m usually able to get a decent rate at the Royal York. That night I was preparing for some upcoming lectures with a thick textbook and a pint (or two? who can remember) of their apiary ale.

        Reply
  3. Haberdasher Limited

    Great advice, often when rookies get the bug to dress nice they can really overdue it. This is a great resource. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  4. Hal

    Also glad to see you are still posting the occasional piece and you and your husband both look very smart.

    On the question of non-matching waistcoats, I came to fairly similar conclusion. I have a black wool waistcoat that doesn’t match any part of my dinner suit but I don’t think that it matters greatly – I’d be suprised if anyone ever noticed or if they did thought it wasn’t a deliberate effect.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    “Witnessing the sublime combination of two such perfectly pressed and immaculately bleached garments allowed me to truly understand why the white-on-white resplendence of full dress is unparalleled. I would have gladly completed the full-dress triumvirate with a matching white bow tie if not for the fact that it would be a major sartorial gaffe.”
    I would enjoy the day you don a full dress attire.

    Reply
    1. Jovan

      As would I. Though it is “The Black Tie Guide” there’s no reason to not find occasions for it’s even more refined cousin.

      Reply

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