“What are you wearing tonight?” My wife and I have this conversation, more or less, every year, about this time. She calls out to me from her closet. We’re off to see The Nutcracker, which starts in less than two hours.
There’s more than a slight tone of incredulity, but then, I can’t blame her. The egalitarian tuxedo (or dinner suit) has remained, in principle, unchanged for over a century, and although every sort of fashion has been tried on the red carpet, most likely it appeared ridiculous. Classic black tie, however, looks good on everyone, not because it defies the folly and fickleness of fashion, but rather transcends it. Which is fortunate, I think as I reach for the hanger, as it makes getting dressed for black tie events easy.
White tie may be the reigning champ of event dress, and when done correctly it is indeed a sight to behold, but I’m glad black tie casualized things somewhat. The jacket shed its tails, and the wing collar on the shirt softened into the turndown collar, except on single breasted dinner jackets with peaked lapels, where wing collars are still OK.
Vests became an option alongside cummerbunds, or both embellishments can be ditched altogether, if your waist is covered by a double breasted jacket, as mine is. It’s a bit more sporty since single breasted one-button jackets increase the elegance of an outfit, but both should have peaked lapels; notch lapels make an outfit look like a regular old suit, and what’s special about that? Peaked lapels, or swankier yet, a shawl lapel, with silk satin or grosgrain facing is appropriate for your black tie event. My outfit for the evening has the latter, which I prefer; the sheen from grosgrain is more subtle and has a bit of texture.
Trousers, of course, match the facing down the outside of the leg, making the top and bottom a complete outfit.
As I take out a pleated white shirt with covered placket, I wonder if I should get another shirt in piqué and some nice onyx studs. I prefer the sleek appearance of a “fly front” placket, and owning studs is just another thing to lose. Still, it adds a small bit of decoration suitable for special outings, and some might argue that it’s historically proper. Maybe I’ll start shopping for them.
I’ve always felt self-conscious about pumps. Having large bows on my feet not only seems a touch precious, but slip-ons seem casual to me. Fortunately, a pair of well-shined calfskin wholecuts are just fine. Perhaps later my wallet might surrender to the luster of patent leather oxfords. I like how they echo the gleam of silk from the jacket, down the trousers, and continue unto one’s feet – which are covered in fine black hosiery, of course.
The beauty of black tie is simplicity. Everything except the cotton shirt and optional silk or linen handkerchief is black. Equally acceptable is midnight blue, which caught on fervently in the 30’s, fell out of style, and presently is returning with a vengeance (although too blue is too blue, GQ).
Limiting your options is incredibly liberating and makes dressing for formal engagements a breeze – I’m fully dressed in ten minutes, and there’s not many other outfits that flatter the physique as well. The only way you’ll look like a penguin is if you’re The Penguin.
“You’re done already?”
Congratulations, you won the race. Now help your partner get ready, or you’ll miss the curtain rising and you’ll both lose.
PETER’S SHOPPING LIST FOR BLACK TIE 2017
Still have questions? Ask the Styleforum community! Join the conversation on The State of Black Tie thread, and post your black tie outfit on the What Are You Wearing Today thread.
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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
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That suit looks great on you Peter. Is it one of your Italian commissions?
Thanks Nathan, it’s actually a vintage tux from the 40’s. Classic never really goes out of style 😉
Wow, what a brilliant find!