My office is on Upper Brook Street, which means that throughout the year, hoards of black tie party-goers amble along Park Lane to the Grosvenor or Dorchester Hotel for one function or another. The English seem fairly ambivalent about black tie, donning it when they have to with little relish or flourish. But as far as the Scots are concerned, they passionately park their sgian dubh in their knee-high socks, and the more their sporran bounces the better. So when did black tie become infra dig?
The invention of black tie in 1865 was meant to be a relaxation of formalwear. Edward VII, before he was King, commissioned an evening jacket without tails from Savile Row heavyweight Henry Poole. It was only in the mid-war epicurean years that the next phase of expressiveness in black tie manifested. Cummerbunds, wider varieties of shirting, with Marcella, pleated and ruffled bibs all adding themselves to the offering; smoking jackets with frogging, and shoes like black tie pumps and patent oxfords widened the playing field and allowed for a bit more fun (yes fun, dressing up is fun). Now we have established that there is no shortage of choice for people to make black tie their own, perhaps this piece can inject a small amount of good humour into the process of dressing for the occasion.
No coloured bow ties
There is a temptation to march to the beat of your own drum when it comes to bow ties. The Queen party trick (supposedly) is to spot a pre-tied bow tie from a thousand yards, but this is the lesser of two evils in comparison to brightly coloured bow ties. Especially at this time of year when red comes out a fair amount, keep it simple and buy a crisp, black barathea bow tie and the only alternative is if you wear a smoking jacket, you can wear a velvet bow tie.
No one expects every man’s wardrobe to have a pair of ribboned black tie pumps, but it is recommended. Should this be a stretch, patent Oxfords are the next best option that sticks to black tie lore and failing that, shoes that are well polished will always look good. A pop of colour in the socks can look great. Pink on black for example is extremely elegant but has to be carried with confidence.
Shirts are an important factor to get right in black tie. There are more options than you think. White is most popular and should always have a bib (varieties of which have been mentioned earlier), the only legitimate exception to this is a cream silk shirt, which should be worn with velvet smoking jackets. This is quite a nice option as you can wear this shirt in a more quotidian setting. Turnbull & Asser on Jermyn Street is a must for any serious purveyor of gentleman’s shirts.
A dinner suit has three degrees of formality. The least formal is double-breasted jacket and trousers. You won’t need to accessorize with a cummerbund but should be avoided for short stocky men, this style will only accentuate. Then there is the single-breasted version. Try a cummerbund in this instance, it is meant to lengthen the silhouette of the trouser and is hyperelegant. Smartest of all is the three-piece suit. The waistcoat plays a similar role to the cummerbund, should have a horseshoe shape to reveal the bib properly and in a show of sartorial mastery, add a pocket watch between the two pockets.
By no means think that by playing strictly by the rules, that you are somehow ruling the roost. True style is not a rubric but any ensemble that makes you feel a cooler version of yourself, which is what makes it a special occasion and a standard that you set for yourself and those in the room.