At a glance, it looks as though you’ve got it easy when it comes to black tie attire: all the guess work of what to wear is nonexistent, everyone expects you to turn up in the same outfit as everyone else and you get to wear it over and over again! Plus black tie attire is going to make you look ‘smoking hot’ – no matter what body shape you are.
But smoking hot can turn in to a damp squib if you don’t follow a few simple sartorial rules.
RULES FOR THE DINNER SUIT
The Dinner jacket evolved from the smoking jacket. In 1860, tailors Henry Poole & Co made a short black smoking jacket for the trend setting Prince of Wales (later to be Edward VII) to wear to semi-formal gatherings away from London as a comfortable alternative to the stuffy formal wear of the tail coat.
James Potter a rich New Yorker took the look back to the states with him where it proved so popular at the exclusive country club, the Tuxedo Park Club; it became their informal dining uniform. And you’ve guessed it – the jacket became known as a tuxedo.
In fact the name tuxedo came years before the name dinner jacket. In Britain it was still known as a smoking or lounge jacket.
What style jacket to choose?
The original style was a shawl collar and one buttoned single breasted (derived from the smoking jacket), then came along a more formal look of peaked lapels (from the tailcoat) and later and now more popular are the notched lapels (from lounge suits).
The shawl collar is softer and would suit the rounder guy and also guys with softer facial features.
The more ostentatious peaked lapels sweep wider than the shawl so will widen the chest area for the slimmer build and also the upward sweep will make shorter guys appear taller. The sharpness of the peaked lapel also suits sharper facial features.
The notched lapel is the most popular although considered less formal by traditionalists.
The first double breasted dinner jacket was ordered from Savile Row by song and dance man Jack Buchanan and was popularised by the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor) in the 1930s. This style is best for the slim to skinny guys as it adds bulk. However it does make the body appear shorter, so it is a good choice for the very tall guy but not so good for the smaller man who should stick to single breasted. The rounder guys should also avoid double breasted and go for the more slimming one buttoned single breasted style.
Most DJ’s are vent less which create the illusion of height and a slimmer silhouette – especially great for the shorter guys and the heavier guys. Some do have side vents but are less formal and don’t look as elegant, best kept for the taller and skinnier guys.
Always black or midnight blue. Both are the only acceptable formal colours, so please do not be tempted to wear any other colour. The midnight blue has more depth and is said to look more black than black in artificial light. Black can take on a greenish hue. The wearing of midnight blue was popularised by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor) in the 1920’s. However it is not as popular today and is hard to find unless you have one custom made, which can be expensive.
If you purchase just one DJ then go for black, people will notice the midnight blue more and realise you only have one formal suit. With the black you can get away with owning just one.
Hire or to buy?
It’s nice to own a dinner jacket, you don’t have to run around looking for a suit to hire, you’re ready for any short notice formals and you know no one else has worn it. But if your body shape changes and you gain a few pounds over the years then squeezing in to a tight fitting DJ is not the best look, besides being very uncomfortable.
With hiring you know it’s going to fit you every time and if you don’t go to many black tie events, it’ll work out cheaper. Also you can choose different styles and designers each time.
If you are planning on going to several black ties then in the long run buying is the cheaper option
Obviously have to be cut from the same cloth as the jacket so buy or hire together. The fabric on the seams should match the fabric on the jacket’s lapels- satin or grosgrain
The more formal have front pleats, are high waisted and held up by braces. This style hides a less than perfectly flat stomach, makes the legs look longer, and allows a looser waistband for those large meals. It may not be cutting edge fashion but we’re talking tradition and style here.
Definitely do not wear a belt.
RULES FOR THE DRESS SHIRT & CUFFLINKS
Always choose white and buy an actual dress shirt, a normal shirt will not do.
The better made formal shirts will have a bib front i.e. a double layer of fabric at the front where it is exposed by the jacket and ending just above the waist. The bib can be plain, pleated or in the traditional Marcella pique pattern.
Wearing studs instead of the top 2/3 buttons of the shirt is traditional and good quality dress shirts will have eyelets to accommodate them. However if the buttons are pearl then this is also acceptable.
What style of collar?
Before WWII, stiff shirts with winged detachable collars were common, but now the modern dress shirt for black tie events is softer with a classic turn down collar and French cuffs. Although in the US they favour the semi-stiff shirt with an attached wing collar, in the UK a wing collar is usually for white tie events only.
Collar styles for black ties are the spread (more formal) and the semi–spread, because both suit a bow tie.
Spread (wider distance between the collar points.). The spread collar suits slim men or men with long thin faces as the horizontal line of the spread balances out the vertical line of the face.
The more rounded face should go for the semi spread as the horizontal line of the collar is not as prominent. If you have a very round or wide face go for the longest collar tips you can find on a semi spread collar as these create vertical lines which will balance more with your face.
Cufflinks should be monochrome and if wearing dress studs should either match or harmonise with them. Go for stylish mother of pearl or understated onyx.
RULES FOR THE BOW TIE
Always black (after all it’s a black tie event), preferably should be silk and always match the texture with your jacket’s lapels. If your lapels are smooth satin silk then go for a satin silk bow tie but if your lapels are of grosgrain then your bowtie needs a textured finish such as grosgrain, barathea or faille.
Go for a self tie one rather than a pre-tied. How else are you going to get that sexy loose draped tie look at the end of the night?
Keep the tie proportional to your face – the ends of the bow should be in line somewhere between the edge of your face and the outer corners of your eyes. Anything smaller or larger your head will look disproportional.
The type of tie is also important:
The Butterfly tie is a large bow and should only be worn by men with a large neck size, bigger face and chin; otherwise you may end up looking more like a clown than James Bond.
The straight Batwing tie is narrow and is best for thin men with longish faces and a narrow collar size.
Diamond pointed Bow ties are not as common so are good to add a bit of individuality whilst sticking to the black tie rules.
However the Thistle or semi-butterfly is the more classic and popular tie. It is smaller than the full butterfly and thicker than the batwing tie so is a safer choice for most men.
RULES FORTHE SHOES & SOCKS
A pump with silk bows is the traditional evening shoe and dates back to the 16th C when they were worn with knee breeches and silk stockings. The name derives from pomp because of their elegance. However most men now wear either black patent-leather or well shined calf skin slip-ons or oxfords. The slip on is the most formal of the two.
For patent go high end as the cheaper patent shoes will crack over time. A good patent leather is a result of calf leather being sanded on the top surface to give a mirror finish and then a thin layer of polyurethane is applied giving a true patent finish.
Socks should be black silk, no chunky wool or bright patterns.
RULES FORTHE ACCESSORIES
Cummerbund or waistcoat?
You don’t have to wear either, however bear in mind your shirt. Waistcoats and cummerbunds are a great way to hide where the dress studs finish and the ordinary buttons start.
Originally a white pique waistcoat from the formal white tie attire was worn but later this changed to the black vest. They either have their own lapels or if not are in the same fabric as the jacket’s lapels. Waistcoats are great to keep the slim line look if you happen to unbutton your jacket. This is due to the continuation of the same colour from trouser to waistcoat.
Cummerbunds (from the Hindu word kamarband) were originally sashes worn in India and brought back by the British. The sash should be worn with the folds pointing upwards –originally so that men had somewhere to keep their opera or theatre tickets handy. Cummerbunds can accentuate a portly stomach, but can give the skinny guy much needed inches.
Whichever you choose – go for black. Keep the colours for less formal events.
However if you decide to go for colour then only choose the dark shades such as navy or burgundy. But remember your bow tie