To claim that black tie, as a phenomenon, is alive and well, would probably be the overstatement of the century. I know that I am one of an infinitely small group of people who actually owns a black tie rig, let alone who uses it with some modicum of regularity.
Then again, you could argue that the entire “coat and tie” community is pretty small. We all still operate, either by corporate necessity or by choice, in this microverse of nerdery. And we see it gaining new traction among enthusiasts around the world. Therefore I hope that at least a few of you share my happiness in experiencing the small (maybe insignificantly so, but still) rebirth of black tie.
I’m a late 70’s child myself, and most of my friends are around my age or younger (some were even born in the 90’s). This means that our parents were of the generations that happily shed everything considered to be formal and “stuffy”. My dad, for example, had to wear a school uniform as a kid, including jacket and tie, and then for the first part of his career had to wear a suit and tie to work. All of this was thrown out the window in the 70’s. A “casual revolution” overthrew dress codes almost everywhere. By the 80’s, no one but lawyers and bankers seemed to be wearing suits anymore. Therefore, all manners of dressing even more formally were all but extinct by the beginning of the 2000’s. Black (or even more uncommonly, white) tie seemed to exist merely among the upper echelons of society, or was rented by regular Joes to celebrate very special occasions. Some of these rental places’ interpretations of the black tie were… well, interesting:
Now, something has changed in our attitude towards being “dressed up” in general – and dressing in formalwear in particular. Few working places have dress codes anymore, even the banks who seemed as they would be the last bastions of suit and tie. However, a lot of people who live without imposed rules of dress now wear more formal, classic menswear by choice. A friend of mine in the clothing business tells me that he sells suits mostly to guys working in IT, a line of work where suits are often viewed with a certain skepticism. Still, these younger guys find a certain satisfaction in wearing sharp quality clothing. Less and less find any need to rebel against “conformity” of suits. Quite the opposite, wearing jacket and tie is more of a statement than wearing jeans and a sweatshirt today.
That formal wear should follow suit (pun unintended), and gain a newfound interest is therefore not completely unexpected. And it has directly led to the (admittedly slow) rebirth of black tie. Celebrating a 30th or 40th birthday is now a perfect opportunity to make more of an effort. Wearing black tie will definitely increase the feeling of doing just that. And, if you own a black tie rig you don’t need a grander occasion than having dinner with friends (or your significant other – as Styleforum member @Andy57 shows us below).
In this past year I have been invited to more black tie parties than ever before in my life, and I’d say I’m very middle class in most every sense of the word. The great thing about the rebirth of black tie is that, just like a suit at your work place, it needs no greater reason to be worn other than it makes you feel good about wearing it. Also, getting yourself a black tie setup is likely to heavily increase the opportunities you’ll find to wear it.
As a final parting though, it is still a good idea to be wary of the dress codes. If an invitation doesn’t specifically say “black tie,” you will look odd wearing it.