Thursday, May 30, 2013

12 tips for the black tie-challenged

As a general rule, I find men dressing better these days than even just a few years ago. Even so, very few of us wear tuxedos regularly. What prompted this particular post is an upcoming formal event celebrating a major milestone in my company's history. We're organizing a reception and dinner with our clients and have requested black tie for gentleman.

Below are a dozen tips intended to help anyone in a similar situation or who need to get up to speed with black tie. The meta-rule to rule them all is this - above all, do no harm in your interpretation of black tie. For formal occasions, rules are meant to be followed. In so doing, you might catch the eye of someone who appreciates the certain kind of elegance based on the elimination of the unessential. But mostly the pleasure is simply doing black tie right.

The other thing is this - wearing a dinner jacket well, fit for the occasion at hand, has got to be one of the fundamental rites of passage in being a man. Invest some time and do it well. The payoff is worth it. Besides, you'll have more than enough time in life to read Fuck Yeah Menswear, go all ironic and start parodying the rules.
  1. Wear a true, sized bow tie (matched to your neck size, i.e. 14.5, 15, 15.5), not one of those one-size-fits-all which has an extension adjuster. This is your neck. Find the right size for it. 
  2. Instead of patent leather shoes, wear highly polished black captoe oxfords. Perfectly acceptable and correct and functional in other contexts.
  3. Remember to show some cuff. If not, your jacket sleeve is too long and/or your shirt sleeve is too short.
  4. If you can, you really ought to wear a jacket with peaked silk lapels, preferably grosgrain though satin is fine.
  5. Learn how to fold, insert and wear a white linen pocket square in your breast pocket
  6. As a general rule, do not stray from black or white in your choice of color (with only a handful of exceptions - see #12).
  7. If you wish to wear a watch, wear a simple dress watch with a leather band not a sports watch or one that features complications.
  8. For most functions these days, better to wear a turn down, spread collar dress shirt as opposed to a wing collar shirt.
  9. Your shirt should not have buttons like a regular dress shirt. In other words, it should be able to take shirt studs.
  10. Unless you are Noel Coward or having a go-to-hell moment, please wear a dinner jacket and trousers made of natural fibers such as pure wool or a wool/mohair blend. Although polyester is a modern miracle fiber invented through human ingenuity, it shines best in rental tuxes worn at high school proms.
  11. To hold up your trousers, please avoid clip-on suspenders or, even worse, suspenders worn on belted trousers. Invest the extra time and money to wear trousers that take traditional suspenders with buttons, or alternatively trousers with sidetabs.
  12. Wear a boutonniere if you're part of the reason for the event (i.e. you are the groom in a wedding).

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2 comments:

Tom said...

What do you have against a midnight blue or a very dark green?

sleevehead said...

Not much I suppose if you have several dinner jackets. But for someone venturing into black tie for the first time you're better off sticking with black.