Style / April 2017

The 21 Things You Need To Know About Black Tie

The Rake reveals the formalwear intelligence you need to absorb to ensure black-tie success.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting, 1973.

Known as the dinner suit in the United Kingdom, the tuxedo in the US, and le smoking in France, no get-up possesses the ability to transform a man’s appearance and self-assurance quite like black tie. “In regular clothes, I’m a nobody,” said Dean Martin. “In a tuxedo, I’m a star.” Done right, this ensemble will turn any Joe Average into a strutting Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart or Frank Sinatra — a ‘million dollar trooper’, as Irving Berlin so memorably phrased it.

21. Eveningwear has its origins in bygone times when men would spend much of their day amongst horses, and a change of clothing was essential so as not to bring the scent of their equine companions to the dining table of an evening. (This is why tuxedos should always be side-vented or ventless, as a centre vent suggests horsey pursuits.)

20. The tuxedo, as we know it, was born when wealthy tobacco heir Griswold Lorillard and several of his friends shocked polite society by sporting a ‘tail-less’ dinner jacket (something along the lines of a military dress jacket) at a ball in 1886, which took place at the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, New York — the formalwear innovation taking on that venue’s name.

19. Or perhaps not. Conflicting sources assert that the tux came about when an American named James Potter-Brown attended a soiree where he spotted the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) wearing a tail-less evening coat, shaped like a smoking jacket, which he favoured for less formal occasions at his Sandringham Estate. Potter-Brown asked after the Prince’s tailor — Henry Poole & Co. of Savile Row — where he promptly bespoke a similar garment, which he wore at the Tuxedo Club. Fellow members followed suit.

18. Yes, you do need a tuxedo. Buy one. (Never rent — “You can always tell the guys who rent from the guys who own,” says G. Bruce Boyer). It’ll be one of the greatest investments you ever make.

17. ‘Creative black tie’ is a travesty and its excesses and missteps must be avoided at all costs. When attending a black-tie, eveningwear event (which should only take place after sundown), a man is advised to adhere as closely as possible to the rules of decorum that have served us well since the late 19th century, and dress within the strictures of classic formal attire. In the words of the late, great Glenn O’Brien, “I understand the need to be fashionable, but that’s not what formality is about. It’s about deferring to your individuality and observing a traditional form. If you are not traditional, you are not formal… Formal occasions are all the more reason for the enlightened crowd to savour traditional standards of attire. Creative black tie is anything but; it’s so that people with nothing to say will have something to talk about. I say dare to conform! If every man wears exactly the same thing, guess who will stand out? That’s right. Individuals.” Also: our female companions. Having all the men at an event nearly identically attired allows the bejewelled and begowned ladies to sparkle. There could be no move more gentlemanly than that.

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.