“Nature created men unequally. Tuxedos were invented to even the score.” – The Wall Street Journal
Whoever said a man’s best friend is a dog, is wrong, or has never tried wearing a dog to a black tie event.
Mans best friend for such an occasion is of course his dinner jacket.
It doesn’t have to be a bespoke Italian hand tailored piece of expert craftsmanship. Simply follow a few basic rules and your high street bargain can transcend you beyond your mortal self, allowing you to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the latter centuries best dressers. From the likes of style icons such as Frank Sinatra or George Clooney, to fictitious characters like superspy James Bond or party connoisseur Jay Gatsby, the tuxedo has been immortalised unlike any other attire.
Black tie as the name suggests is typically black and follows a rather rigid style and etiquette. If you already fancy yourself a bit of a Ryan Gosling on the red carpet and are comfortable venturing out of this safe zone, then power to you, all bets are off. For the rest of you, read on, this guide is tailored to you.
Little details can make all the difference, for example, the material on the lapels should ideally match the braiding on the trousers and the fabric of the buttons. This will bring the whole outfit together in harmony. Grosgrain silk would be preferred over satin, it has a more sophisticated texture, better catching the light and, more importantly, the eyes.
For the trousers a single braid is traditional for black tie, opposed to double braiding for white tie. The modern look is to wear a more slim leg, physique permitting of course. A trend that hasn’t changed however is the purposeful lack of belt loops – lose them, they look messy!
With suits in general there are three potential options to choose from with the lapel – only two of which are suitable for black tie.
A standard single-breasted suit jacket will have what is referred to as a notch lapel. This is where the top of the collar and the top of the lapel meet at a roughly 90% angle. If you only have one suit, this is the type to go with, it is versatile and works for business. It is for this reason that it has no place at a black tie occasion.
The remaining two options are the shawl or peak lapel. The former is characterised by its single smooth, oblong shape. This option has become increasing popular and is now arguably the most common seen on the red carpet. As a word of caution the proportions of such a lapel can be difficult to get right, so approach with some care.
The final option, the peak lapel, is traditionally the most formal of the lapels, typically having been common in tailcoats or morning coats. It is defined by the angles or “peaks” pointing up towards the shoulders. This type of lapel requires the most skill from a tailor and may carry the greatest cost, but in terms of looking your best for a special occasion it can be difficult to do better. The shape is also flattering as it draws the eyes up and outwards, elongating the body and accentuating the v-taper of the torso.
Not your typical day to day shirt either, these are generally referred to as a formal shirt here in England. The front panel, the part that shows while you wear the jacket, will typically come in two types, pleated or Marcela. Modern pleating is more subtle and streamline compared with the large ruffles of the seventies.
The shirt buttons should have a covered placket so that the buttons don’t disrupt or mess with the detail of the shirt. However one may choose to opt for studs. Once anchored into the slots in the shirt they act just like buttons. They come in a range of colours and options but sticking to the “simple but elegant” rule here will pay dividends. Black and silver to match the cufflinks is a fool proof combo.
Evening shoes with a silk or satin bow had their time, now however lace ups have become the norm. Avoid brogues and pick any simple sleek black leather shoe and you can’t really go wrong. For a touch of pizzazz, a shiny black calfskin model makes a strong statement, but this should be the limit.
The cummerbund is the broad sash worn across the shirt and trouser line. It’s history stems from English colonial officers in India, who found the local garment to be a stylish alternative to a waistcoat. This item has since become a staple of black tie. It has practical uses such as keeping your shirt tucked in, but mainly it helps to create a smooth, clean line across the waistband.
Braces can also be a great addition, offering a bit of personality if the jackets come off. Furthermore their practical benefits can’t be overlooked, especially since you will be beltless.
The bowtie. Learn how to tie one! There is no excuse for wearing a pre-tied bow. If in doubt, get on to YouTube, find a tutorial and practice practice practice!
Have a great evening gentlemen.