“How am I supposed to stand out when everybody gets dressed up?” – Kanye West.
Well, here are 4 ways to stand out (in a goood way) wearing black tie formal – whether it’s a big night out or your big day.
1. The Midnight Shawl Tuxedo
Everybody has a black tuxedo – it’s been done a million times. A subtle way to stand-out from the colorless crowd – go with a very dark (almost black) midnight blue tuxedo. And don’t worry it’s not “trendy”, men have been wearing midnight tuxedos for decades. In fact, many purists (especially English purists) will tell you that it is the proper choice because it actually looks darkest and richer under evening light.
Although the fabric of the tuxedo is midnight blue, the lapels, pocket trimings, covered buttons and pant stripe are typically black satin or, in this case, black grosgrain (which gives the trimming a sharp and distinct look because of it’s subtle ribbed texture).
- Go one button, with a low stance – creating a longer, more lengthening (and thus more flattering) “V” shape.
- Cut it slim. Garments look dressier and sharper the slimmer they fit (within reason and without being “tight”). Therefore, your tuxedo should be your slimmest, most sharply tailored garment.
- For a clean and minimal look, go with a hidden placket shirt with a point collar (not spread, which is more appropriate for business). And french cuffs, of course. The fabric should be a solid white with a visible texture (like this gentle birdseye) which gives the shirt substance and makes it look more formal. Leave the poplins for the yachts.
- Leave the straight ties for the office. It’s a tux – go with a bowtie (if you’re wearing a shawl collar, it’s a must). Traditionally, the bowtie should be cut from the same cloth as the tuxedo’s lapels & trimmings (again, in this case, black grosgrain).
- Keep your cufflinks simple, elegant, and a stick to silver, black and/or white palette. I’m partial to these black onyx links for formalwear.
- A black alligator watchband is the most formal choice (as is a simple, uncolored and non-oversized 30-35 mm watch face).
- Tuxedos are minimal garments. Originally men wore these simple black & white outfits to let women in their gowns garner the deserved attention. With that said, tuxedo trousers should not have belt loops. Go with side-adjusters (preferably button adjusters over metal slides) or a plain waistband with suspenders.
- Back in the day the standard tuxedo was ventless. But that was back in the day. A double vented jacket is most flattering and looks most chic.
- Going sockless with a formal look is not a good idea. Your hosiery should be thin and tight so they keep their shape and don’t slide down the ankle. As with a suit, they should be one shade darker than your trousers
Bonus Tip: if you are only going to have one bespoke garment, make it a tuxedo. Black tie events are the one time when a man should look his absolute best.
Bonus Tip II: leave your jacket on, and keep it fastened during the ceremony or formal portion of the evening. Once the the drinks start flowing and the music gets turned up, its fair game to lose it.
Midnight blue tuxedo, white hidden-placket shirt and black grosgrain bowtie all by Michael Andrews Bespoke (custom made, my own designs). Navy velvet loafers by Scarpe di Bianco. Cufflinks by Jan Leslie. Watch and strap by Montblanc.
The irony of a tuxedo is that it’s the one garment that should always look pristine, but it’s also the one garment that is most likely to get dirty since it’s typically worn for celebratory occasions.
Last time I wore mine the next morning it had a number of stains on it – liquor, cigar ashes, lipstick, and who knows what else. Just make sure to bring it to the cleaners the next day, so that stains don’t settle and it’s ready for your next Hurrah.
2. Velvet Dinner Jacket + 3-Button Shawl Vest
Velvet, which is essentially corduroy without the ribbing, is a Fall/Winter fabric. Not only does the texture and sheen stand out from the crowd, but it is also functional in keeping you warm.
This is a slightly more “dandy” look, so I went with a pleated shirt (1/2″ pleats on the bib), shirt studs, and a formal waistcoat (which is cut in a lower “U-Shape” with a three-button front, sort of like a contemporary take on the outdated cumberbun which serves the traditional function of covering the waistband).
Aside from a shawl collar, which is strictly formal, a full peak lapel is your best (and most classic) choice. It accentuates the chest and shoulders and dramatizes the tapering at the waist.
Remember, it’s a velvet dinner jacket not a velvet tuxedo. These are the same pants from Look 1 above. I hate to say never, but don’t go full velvet.
Bonus Tip: there is a current dilema in contemporary formal wear. Men have, for all intensive purposes, stopped wearing cumberbuns (although I do like them, on tall slim guys). The problem is, when you wear a studded-front shirt (which has only 4 stud holes) without a cumberbun, the bottom one or two (depending on how tall you are) shirt buttons are visible. There are four potential solutions to this. One – keep your jacket buttoned at all times to hide the exposed shirt buttons (not practical). Two – find a set of six studs (which is nearly impossible) or buy two sets and have your shirt cut with 6 stud holes. Three – wear a vest to cover the exposed 2 buttons (as shown here). Four (recommended) – have the four stud holes cut through a hidden placket shirt.
Bonus Tip II: as I’ve said a million times, breaking the rules can make for a very stylish outfit. In this case, rather than matching the bowtie fabric to the lapels and trims, I had it cut from the same velvet as the jacket. Special thanks to Carolina Montesino for hand-making this bowtie!
Midnight velvet one-button dinner jacket, 3-button shawl collar waistcoat, pleated/studded shirt, and midnight tux trousers all by Michael Andrews (bespoke, my own designs). Shirt studs and cufflinks by Tiffany & Co. Watch and strap by Montblanc. Black seamless leather lace-up shoes by Ferragamo Tramezza.
Bonus Tip III: since velvet can get a little warm, I usually pair this jacket with a waistcoat. The beauty of a waistcoat is that once you lose the jacket (and hit the dance floor) you still look sharp and buttoned-up since the “billowing” of your shirt is hidden. It’s also a sliming garment for heavier guys who take their jackets off.
Bonus Tip IV: while a pleated shirt cannot double as a business shirt, a studded shirt can. Your tailor should provide a removable placket to replace the stud holes with regular shirt buttons.
Bonus Tip V: leave the patent leather shoes for the rental shops. Go with a seamless black leather lace-up shoe instead. Again, the more minimal the better. This is not a time to show off your cool new brogues or captoes.
3. White Diner Jacket
This one, in fact, is cut from a heavy 10-once cloth, which is certainly more appropriate for January than July.
Again, it’s a dinner jacket. Pair it with your tux pants (these ones are, once again, the same pants from look 1 above). The midnight pants give a great subtle “pop” under a white jacket.
It doesn’t get much more minimal than this jacket. One self-covered button, besom pockets (no flaps) and no breast pocket. Clean.
White dinner jacket, midnight tux trousers, white shirt and black grosgrain bowtie all by Michael Andrews Bespoke (custom made, my own designs). Silk scarf Vintage. Loafers by Bally. Watch and strap by Montblanc.
On Formal Grooming: as you probably have realized, I’m rarely clean shaven. I have no need to shave and like the way I look with light stubble. For formal occassions, however, always be clean shaven. And have your cleanly and neatly arranged (however you do it).
Bonus Tip: a subtle accesory for formalwear is a black silk scarf. I love the way it pops under a white dinner jacket (something you can’t do if you follow the “rules” and only wear the white jacket come summer).
Bonus Tip II: the midnight tux pants
Bonus Tip II: you can wear loafers. Just makes sure they are black, shined and brogue-less.
4. Semi Formal? The Bad-Ass Grey Suit Option
Go with a slim charcoal grey peak-lapel suit, white french-cuff shirt, black straight tie and formal accessories (watch, cufflinks, suspenders, shoes, etc.)
Bonus Tip: need outerwear for your formalwear look? Go with a black chesterfield (distinguished by it’s velvet collar), preferably with covered buttons, like this one. It would work over all 4 looks.
Charcoal grey suit and white shirt both by Michael Andrews Bespoke (custom made, my own designs). Chesterfield coat by Brooks Brothers Black Fleece (size 2). Tie by Ralph Lauren Black Label. Tie Bar by Tiffany & Co (2″). Formal suspenders by Trafalgar. Gloves by Saks Fifth Avenue. Shoes by Ferragamo Tramezza.
Bonus Tip II: unlined black leather gloves are not only formal and slim enough to send a text-message, but there is also something murderous about them. Maybe I’m f*cked up, but there is something I like about that.
One Last Bonus: if you invest in the right tuxedo, and have a certain level of panache, you can wear it for more casual occasions as well. See here for the jacket as separate, and here for the pants on their own.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in style,
Photography by Alex Crawford. CLICK IMAGES TO SEE FULL SIZE HI-RES.