Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Quick Scribble About Formalwear

DISCLAIMER: Though the term "formal" in the men's sartorial tradition technically refers only to white-tie attire (cravate blanche, for the fustier of you), for the purposes of this entry it will also refer to semi-formalwear, also known as cravate noire, black-tie, dinner jacket and pants, or a tuxedo.

Dressing for a formal occasion isn't nearly as daunting or difficult as most men think; if you do it correctly, you don't have many options. Your jacket is black (or midnight blue, which can look blacker than black under artificial light). It's peak lapeled or shawl-collared, double-breasted or single-breasted with a one or two-button stance, side or no vents, and lapels and buttons are faced with either silk or grosgrain. Your tie-it-yourself bowtie is black. Your shirt and pocket square are white, you wear either a vest or a cummerbund (never both), and your pants have one solid strip of either silk or grosgrain running down the outseam of each leg. Your shoes are black patent leather oxfords or formal slipons, and the only exception to this rule is to wear incredibly well-polished black captoe oxfords.

That is all.

All too often, though, you can walk past any number of "formalwear" rental joints and the salesmen there will do their best to convince you that the four-button single-breasted, center-vented, notch-lapeled clown suit with coordinating teal vest and pre-tied necktie is "formal."

This is bull. The whole point of dressing formally is to adhere to a strict code of the rules of dress, and to break these rules is to dilute the formality of your outfit. This is why terms like "creative black-tie" are completely meaningless. There's nothing creative about formalwear! That's the beauty of it! You play by the rules, and you have no choice but to look dashing as hell as a result. If you break the rules but still try to pass yourself off as wearing a tux, you're actually wearing something that isn't quite a tux, but still not quite the typical business suit; you're now wearing a monkey suit. Or perhaps pajamas.

To any guys who plan to go formal on their wedding day or who are simply looking to buy a tux, please don't stray from the formula. It's worked for well over a hundred years, and you risk looking like an overdressed clown. Instead, take a cue from my main man from the Philadelphia Zoo. He's got the right idea.

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