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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Black Tie

There has been a lot of debate over the way in which black tie standards have been altered to suit the new and younger set who are trying to disband from the set standards of yesteryear. I don't believe that anyone has the right to control what is and what is not Black Tie though I am deadly against some of the creations that both designers and patrons pass off as dinner wear.

The most influential website I have read on Black Tie remains the Black Tie Guide and I would suggest that anyone wishing to make a foray into the do's and don'ts of Black Tie ought to read this website start to finish before they try and desecrate an institution which has been around for almost 300 years starting with English Protestants who believed that wearing black was more pious.

Over time the dinner suit was generally defined by White Tie in the late 19th Century which involved both tails and a white waist coat. Generally the suits of this period were heavier wools and were constrictive on those that wore them. In 1886 an American millionaire named James Brown Potter, on a summer visit to England, was invited by the Prince of Wales to dine at Sandringham. Potter did not know what to wear and the Prince advised him to see his tailors on Savile Row. Henry Poole & Co subsequently made a jacket in the style that the Prince wore when at home. When Potter returned to the United States he showed off his new jacket at his country club named Tuxedo Park. This is the origin of the word we now sometimes use for the modern dinner suit and the shape of the jacket was to pave the way for current look of dinner wear as White Tie became less and less popular after the First World War when much of the classed based system which defined French, English and American cultures was relaxed and dinner suits became more prevalent.

The dinner suit today has survived, according to the Black Tie Guide, many different stages of evolution which include: The Jazz Age, The Classic Age, The Jet Age, The Peacock Age. Throughout the 20th Century we have toyed with the standards and ideas of what should be evening wear but some basic principles remain the grounding rules for Black Tie. I am about to reproduce them from the Black Tie Guide. Whilst I don't necessarily agree with them all, they are worth perusing.

Black Tie Defined

1. dinner jacket

• black is the norm
• midnight blue is equally correct
model can be:
• single-breasted
• double-breasted
lapels can be:
• peaked lapel
• shawl collar
• notched collar is most popular but considered
inappropriate by traditionalists
and can have:
• satin facing
• grosgrain facing
sleeve buttons: covered in same fabric as lapel facings
vents: no vents is most formal
2. black-tie trousers

color and material to match jacket
single braid along seams to match lapel facings
cut for suspenders

3. black-tie waist covering

black waist covering can be either:
• cummerbund made from silk to match jacket facings
• waistcoat made from silk or same material as jacket
worn with single-breasted jacket models but not with double-breasted
some style experts claim that waist coverings are not worn much these days

4. black-tie shirt

white fabric
collar can be:
• wing collar, described by many authorities as the most formal but some insist it is the exclusive domain of white tie
• turndown collar
fronts can be either pleated or piqué
shirt has eyelets for studs and French cuffs for links; some authorities allow for fly-fronts

5. black-tie neckwear

black silk bow tie to match lapel facings

6. black-tie footwear

black shoes:
• patent leather pumps are most traditional
• patent or highly polished oxfords are acceptable

7. black-tie accessories

black silk or fine fabric hose, over-the-calf length
suspenders of black or white silk
harmonizing black, gold or mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks
white silk or linen handkerchief

However, despite these rules I have come to believe that there is scope to redefine the way we wish to dress in the evening. Black Tie is the best way to accentuate the colourful creations that women wear and the only way in which a man can look his best without having to necessarily compete against his fellow man. The dinner suit is a fantastic equalizer whilst still making each person look good.
One of the recent ideas I had was to create a smoking jacket in a black velvet to wear in the evening as an alternative to my Le Smoking YSL Dinner jacket. I felt that there was some scope to relax the normally favoured wool for velvet and to have a single vent in the rear of the jacket which allowed a more slimming fit even though it went against the more formal principles of Black Tie. I also at the same time wished to have a matching bow tie in black velvet even though the normal standard is to have the bow tie in a matching fabric to the lapels which in the case of my smoking jacket were satin. Though I was breaking the rules I did not feel I was being tasteless.
In short, I believe that the younger set today should try to rejuvenate the idea of wearing evening wear despite a worldwide cultural shift towards being more casual. The world might be evolving very quickly but the dinner suit remains a timeless garment which makes men look exceptional and compliments women by allowing them to shine with their colours and jewels. It would be a terrible loss to see Black Tie lost and whilst standards towards what is and what is not Black Tie may have changed, we should still be pushing towards lifting the standard of Evening Wear rather than seeing one of the last great institutions fall to the wayside in a world that has become all too casual.

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