Formal Wear – Black Tie dressing
The term Formal Wear can be confusing in certain situations. What does it really mean? You are correct if you are thinking that formal wear means wearing a black tuxedo coat and trouser with the proper accessories. However, there are other attires that qualify for Formal Wear and should be worn to particular events and functions. First, lets review what Black Tie means and then look at other types of formal wear.
The Black Tie Coat: Black tie and tuxedo are one and the same. Often people lump white tie – discussed below – and other formal attire into one barrel and call them tuxedos. To do so may be common but incorrect. Throughout the twentieth century the tuxedo has undergone various stylistic changes. For years, white tie and tails were the traditional mode of formal attire and the black tie, as we know it today, was cinsidered semi-formal. (Refer to other pamphlet on what semi-formal means today). Today, black tie means a black coat and trouser with either grosgrain or satin facings on a peaked, notched, or shawl lapel. The coat may be either single or double breasted.
Trouser: The trouser is black with a grosgrain or satin braid on each trouser leg. (The braid followed the military style where braids were sewn on each leg to hid the outside seam). Regardless of today’s styles, the bottomof the tux trouser should be plain (no cuff). The trouser’s waist band does not have belt loops, and it is preferred that the waist band never be exposed. It is the job of the vest or cummerbund, or the closed double breasted coat to keep it hidden.Shirt: There are two proper shirt styles from which to choose. The first is the more formal white winged collar shirt. Today, some people think the wing collar is more of a fashion statement and not as dressy. However, they are wrong! The second shirt collar is the turn down or regular collar. Both shirts should have french cuffs, (Traditionally the wing collar was worn with a button cuff). Studs in place of buttons are often in the shirts eyelets. The studs add both dress and expression to the shirt. To point out true ettiquette I must state that button cuffs should be worn during the day and stud sets during the evening. However, today stud sets are permissable during the day.
Vest and Cummerbunds: As stated previously, the tuxedo trouser’s waist band should never be exposed, therefore a formal vest or cummerbund is always worn. Ok… the big question is… should the folds of the cummerbund be worn up or down? The answer is up! If you forget, try to remember… which way will it catch bread crumbs? For a little trivia, the cummerbund was originally used to cover the waist band plus hold theater tickets. (The folds hid small pockets in the cummerbund). The three button tuxedo vest is normally shown with a shawl lapel, either single or double breasted, and has a deep V front to display the front of the formal shirt. Traditionally the vest fabric is made with the same fabric as the coat, however, for lighter and fun occasions various fabrics are used for the vest.
Neckwear: The formal tie is a bow tie. A self tied bow tie is aesthetically the most elegant. In the case where you wear a wing collar shirt, the self tied tie looks better on the back side of the neck. The number of self tied and pre-tied bows that are sold in the store.is about 50-50. The fabric should be silk, in a twill, barathea, or satin weave. The texture of the tie should relate to the facings on the lapel of the coat. Colored ties are acceptable for lighter events.
Hosiery and Shoes: The true tux sock is of black sheer silk. There are occasions where non black socks are permissable, but be careful; make sure you understand the event and know what to wear! Today, semi-sheer lisle, cotton, or fine wool is acceptable. Over the calf is definitely preferred. The shoe worn should be either a plain toe leather lace up shoe or a pump. The pump is a low cut shoe made of patent or matte finish leather with a dull ribbed silk bow in front and is considered to be more elegant by better dressers. The pump shoe is a direct descendant of the opera pump. Today the leather lace up is the more popular of the two.
Jewelry, Handkerchiefs, scarves and flowers: Stud sets and cuff links are more attractive when they are elegant and simple and not gaudy. The theme stud sets are appropriate for more relaxed occasions. I personally enjoy a handsome, not flashy, gold set. Black enamel or semi-precious stones are certainly acceptable. A properly folded white linen handkerchief (our capable staff at Norton Ditto will fold the handkerchief for you) in the breast pocket is very tasteful. During the winter a white scarf worn with the overcoat adds a touch of style. A flower can add just the right color, however, do not wear flowers pinned to your lapel. If your coat does not have a proper buttonhole in the lapel, do not wear a flower.
Perhaps this statement might be perceived as petty, nevertheless, proper dress is proper dress. Having the stem showing on your lapel is just not cool… to coin a modern phrase from my kids.