A Guide to Black Tie
Mansel Fletcher offers his thoughts on how to approach eveningwear in time for party season
There are no rules anymore; in 2017 grown men wear what they want, when they want. However, that doesn’t mean that every available choice is of equal merit. Some black tie outfits look better than others, and it’s worth taking a moment to understand why. To help you navigate the options, we’ve come up with ten tuxedo tips. Not rules, of course, merely suggestions.
1. Keep it comfortable
The hope is that you’re going to party in this suit – to eat, drink and dance. In order to have the capacity to do these things, go for a well-fitting but traditional cut with generous lapels, and enough shape to accentuate the appearance of the waist.
2. It’s called black tie for two good reasons
It’s best to wear a black silk bow tie. Spend a little time mastering the tying rather than taking the coward’s route and buying a clip-on. Don’t worry if it isn’t absolutely perfect, but look forward to the moment when you can undo the tie and leave it hanging nonchalantly around your open collar.
3. Wear a white shirt
The default option is a white cotton shirt with a decent-sized collar, but cream cotton or silk are more distinguished alternatives. Double cuffs are a good idea as they look and feel ritzier than button cuffs, especially if you have some good cufflinks.
4. Simplicity is best
The only jewellery a man needs is a pair of the aforementioned cufflinks and an elegant watch in a matching metal – it would be hard to improve on gold oval cufflinks and a vintage gold watch.
5. Pull your socks up
For men with pale skin the contrast between their exposed hairy calves when they sit down and the black fabric of their trousers will be unhappily strong. Avoid this by wearing a pair of plain knee-high black socks.
6. Learn from the past
Historically, dinner jackets were radically simple and didn’t have pocket flaps or vents, and the trousers didn’t have turn ups and just kissed the top of the shoes. These details remain flattering, lengthening the appearance of the wearer’s legs and slimming his waist.
7. Keep it dark
What looks blacker than black in artificial light? Midnight blue, or so the story goes. What’s more certain is that the first dinner jacket, which was worn by King Edward VII when he was the Prince of Wales, was “celestial blue”, so there’s a solid precedent for wearing a very dark blue dinner jacket.
8. Cream of the crop
Maintain a consistently elegant appearance with upscale accessories; the obvious choices are a cream silk scarf and a cream silk pocket square.
9. All wrapped up
If the weather calls for a coat then an overcoat is a must (casual jackets will lower the tone). A simple dark covert coat is appropriate, but a long, double-breasted polo coat would be spectacular.
10. Dress your feet
Shoes should be in black leather, and while convention suggests they should be Oxfords with silk laces, whole-cuts are also worthy of consideration, as are tassel loafers. Whatever style you go for, avoid any metalware or logos.