Why Black Tie Matters

“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.
“Black tie.” 
Again?
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.

tuxedo black tie styleforum menswear guideWhite 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.

tuxedo black tie velvet

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.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

The 2016 Tuxedo Buyer’s Guide

If you’re attending a black-tie affair this winter and you’re already panicking about what to wear – we understand. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of shoddy tuxedos, conflicting advice, and too-good-to-be-true deals. You know what? We’ve got your back. And there’s still time to find yourself the perfect black tie rig. Because whatever you do, we really don’t want you to rent an ill-fitting tuxedo.

This tuxedo buyer’s guide will go over some of Styleforum’s top picks for the winter, detailing the pros and cons of each. We’ll cover a range of budgets and a range of styles so that you can be sure you’ll look downright incredible in your tuxedo, no matter the event. You’ve got plenty of time to pick out a tux before the party season is over, so don’t worry – plus, part of the beauty of the tuxedo is that you only need the one. And you know what that means? You’ll never need to rent a tux.

All of the below will require the traditional accoutrements: a proper shirt, shoes, and accessories (tie, studs and links, and a cummerbund or waistcoat).


Black Tie on a Budget

1. Suit Supply Black Tuxedo, $569

Modern, stylish, and very sleek. There’s a reason Suitsupply is so well-regarded on Styleforum: the value proposition is hard to beat. Plus, returns and try-ons are easy and shipping is fast, so you’ve got a good chance of nailing the fit. This is an easy fire-and-forget option.

Pros: Price, obviously. You’ll look good, you’ll have some money left over for the rest of the rig, and you’re going to spend all your time partying and enjoying yourself anyway.

Cons: The Suitsupply look is not to everyone’s taste. The lapels are loud, the cuts tend towards the slim and short, and the gorge can be quite high, so you’ll have to plan and adjust your size accordingly.

2. J. Crew Ludlow Shawl Collar Tuxedo, $525

Those who would like a slightly more staid offering than Suitsupply’s admittedly in-your face tuxedo may wish to consider J. Crew’s “Ludlow” option. We’ve picked this shawl collar variation because, unlike J.Crew’s other options, it has a single button closure. Combined with the shawl collar this does, at the least, distinguish it from a business suit – though why it has patch pockets is beyond us. You’ll have to tuck those in or remove them. Otherwise, this is the cheapest tuxedo on our list, and if you can get the sizing right and you have a decent tailor you’re likely to have a good time. Just note that J. Crew staff seem predisposed to forcing customers into jackets at least one size too small and far too short.

Pros: A true budget option. While it’s not the pinnacle of style or quality, you won’t look out of place if you nail the accessories.

Cons: Less elegant than the other options on this list due to its somewhat confused pedigree, and J.Crew patterns can be hit or miss depending on the wearer. You may have to try this on in person to find your ideal fit – or at the very least, take a handful of size options to a reputable tailor.


The Trad

J. Press Peak Lapel Tuxedo, $795

For the Ivy-inclined, J.Press’ classically American take on the Tuxedo may be the perfect option. However, we admit that this tuxedo did cause the Styleforum editorial team to come into conflict. While some forumites will argue that a single-vented tuxedo jacket is an acceptably and intentionally American take on a continental garment, others firmly believe that a single vent is far too casual for evening wear, rooted in sporting garments as it is. We’ve compromised and included this tuxedo to show the range of available options.

Pros: Firmly American in style, from an old guard of the East-Coast Trad. Easy to wear, easy to obtain.

Cons: Somewhat lacking in personality, and you’ll have to tuck or remove the flap pockets.

Note that J.Press also produces a notch lapel tuxedo. Notwithstanding the contemporary prevalence of this garment, we do not feel we can endorse such a garment. Although there is modern precedent (read: 1980’s) for a notch lapel tuxedo, when compared to contemporary business suiting we feel that details are firmly required to distinguish evening-wear from office-wear.


Affordable MTM

Kent Wang Tuxedo, $840

If you’d like to be sure you’re getting every aspect of your tuxedo correct, look no further than Styleforum affiliate Kent Wang. Their tuxedo is elegant without being precious or costumey, and for the price it’s quite the deal. You’ll be able to specify color and lapel style, but note that their tuxedos are only available through their MTM service, meaning that this isn’t the ideal last-minute option.

Pros: Fantastic value, guaranteed to nail every element.

Cons: You’ll have to have the time and inclination for MTM

Kent Wang is a Styleforum affiliate. You can join their conversation here.


The Standard

Ralph Lauren Polo Tuxedo, $1,395

At this price, a Ralph Lauren tuxedo is a very easy option, particularly if you don’t have the time or inclination to search, try, return, and generally occupy your mind with the ins and outs of tuxedo-buying.  A solid workhorse of a tuxedo, this is a good option if you’re looking for something simple but very elegant. The trousers sport side tab adjusters as well as loops for braces, so you can wear them as you wish. The jacket is canvassed, the pattern will fit a wide range of body types, and this tuxedo is certainly not going to fall apart on you. While a Polo tuxedo may lack some of the character of the other options on this list, it will provide solid, accessible results for most buyers.

Pros: There’s a 90% chance you’ll look great in it. Reasonable value for your money, and they’re easy to obtain.

Cons: Flapped pockets are a no-no. You’ll have to tuck or remove the pocket flaps, but once you’ve done so the vents are no issue.


The Monaco

Sartoria Formosa Tuxedo from No Man Walks Alone, $2,350

Look at those full lapels and bountiful quarters! This stunner from Sartoria Formosa certainly isn’t cheap, but it represents some real value from the well-regarded Neapolitan sartoria. The silhouette is fantastic, and we’re huge fans of the unapolagetic peak lapels. This tuxedo is tasteful and elegant, while giving you room for some personal touches.

Pros: It’s beautiful. And, at $2,350 it’s somewhere in the attainable mid-high range of tuxedo pricing. While that takes some splashing out, this is a tuxedo that is going to last you a long, long time.

Cons: With such a full body and bombastic lapels, this tuxedo may take some panache to pull off. Side vents in the jacket mean it will take more naturally to lounging with one hand in a pocket (and will be more forgiving if you have a muscular posterior), but it lacks the absolute rigidity of some of the more precise options. Of course, that could certainly be seen as a pro as well, depending on personal preference.

No Man Walks Alone is a Styleforum affiliate. You can join their conversation here.


The Red Carpet

Tom Ford “O’Connor” Midnight Blue Evening Suit, $5,470

If you’re up for splashing out to look like a contemporary movie star, this is the tuxedo for you. A low gorge, wide shawl lapel, and glam silhouette make this a mean contender if you’re less inclined towards the classic and more inclined to look like James Bond. This tuxedo begs for some non-traditional styling, and you could certainly pair it with a black turtleneck and embrace the full Tom Ford look.

Pros: You want sexy? You got sexy. This tuxedo hits all the right notes to be a show-stopper.

Cons: Well, it costs five thousand dollars, and it’s not exactly classic.


The Roman Holiday

Brioni Tuxedo, $5,750

Gregory Peck wasn’t the only Hollywood star to wear Brioni, but he certainly did his part in popularizing the Roman house’s tailored clothing – just as he and his cohorts are still doing their part to keep black tie alive. Brioni, decades later, remains a glittering, glamorous option for the well-to-do.

Pros: Hard to argue with what you’re seeing here, really. From the strong, structured Roman shoulder to the narrowed waist, this is an unabashedly masculine take on an already masculine garment.

Cons: At almost six grand for one of Brioni’s off-the-rack options, you may start asking yourself what you’re really paying for. And if that seems like a drop in the bucket to you, perhaps you’d get more joy from a fully bespoke experience.


A note on vintage tuxedos and accessories: while the vintage route can bear beautiful black tie fruit, it does take a real eye for details. Beyond the fact that you likely wont’ be able to return a vintage tuxedo, you’ll also have to contend with the previous owner’s alterations, you’ll have to divine the fabric composition, and you’ll have to find the damn thing in the first place. Remember, just because something is “vintage” doesn’t mean it’s good. A vintage polyester tuxedo is still unacceptable, and shoddy craftsmanship on a set of studs will mean that those “heirloom” accessories aren’t really heirlooms at all. While we fully support buying vintage or pre-owned clothing, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.  

A note on white jackets: you may have dreams of telling your friends to “Play it again,” but the truth is that Humphrey Bogart’s white dinner jacket in Casablanca is an intentional nod both to Bogey’s personal style as well as to the warm climate of the locale featured in the film. Remember that black is always appropriate, and that during the winter season white will seem counterintuitive.