Ball season is on us again. While for the ladies this is the best opportunity to sparkle, the gentleman needs to take a more informed approach to dressing.
From its early beginnings black tie attire has always been a style minefield. Henry Poole’s first version of the dinner jacket for the Prince of Wales is considered as the original version of the dinner suit. Unaltered, the same style would be perfectly acceptable still today. Different versions of eveningwear was developed during the 30’s and 40’s, which serves as inspiration for the various takes on the classic black tie popular nowadays. However whether it is Henry Poole or Versace or Tom Ford, all successful evening looks work within a certain set of rules.
Traditionally evening wear was made out of heavyweight wool barathea, this specific structure allows a very matte surface creating a pleasing contrast with the silk on the lapels. Nowadays the preference is for lighter weight fabrics, for comfort reasons, in the same time resistant to creasing. High twist wools or wool/mohair blends offer a great weight/crease ratio. Dinner jackets should always have silk faced lapels, either in satin for a more graphic look or ribbed facings for a more subtle combination.
Given the low-key nature of fabrics the drama needs to come from the silhouette and the styling details. So, a little bit more shape, closer fitting, think Fred Astaire. Single (rigorously one button) or double breasted. The style of lapels should be either peak or shawl, as they both accentuate the low opening of the fronts. While officially dinner jackets should not have vents on the back, often for practicality two side vents are incorporated. To avoid exposing too much shirt when sitting down, a waistcoat in a matching fabric can be a nice alternative to the more popular cummerbund. Both of these allow you to maintain an impeccable look throughout the evening.
Trousers need to be higher waisted than regular, to finish well under the waistcoat or cummerbund. They should be worn with braces, can feature side adjusters, but never a belt. Similarly never ask for turn ups, evening trousers should always have plain hemmed bottoms. While slim trousers are en vogue these days, tight is not a good look for men. They should fit, but never constrict you. The trousers need to have a decorative tape on the sides, which needs to be selected in sympathy with the silk facings on the lapels.
The evening shirt for black tie attire should always have a turn down collar – the wing collar is for white tie. The front part (the bib) should be pleated or Marcella (better known as pique, which is characterized by geometrical patterns in the weave). With pleats, be careful to not channel the Seventies ruffled look, but tight, neat pleats look great. Either a hidden button front, where a placket covers the buttons or a normal placket for studs. And of course it’s always a double-cuff. It’s worn best with some simple elegant cufflinks – silver, black or white.”
Learn to tie a bow tie. It’s not that complicated, there are many good videos on the internet to help. Give yourself some time to practice before the event you are going for; first attempts usually don’t get the best results. The knot will never be „perfect” like on a pre tied one, but it will carry a dash of character and charm.
The traditional accompaniment to a dinner suit is patent leather oxford shoes. A highly polished pair of simple black oxfords will also do. Wear plain black socks in silk or fine cotton. You can opt for a pocket square with evening wear, also in cotton or silk; make sure to coordinate it with the rest of your outfit. A simple dress watch can be a nice accessory too. Not bigger than 38 mm, no sporty details and preferably on a black leather strap. For maximum effect, find complimentary cufflinks to it, meaning that the metals and the colour combination match.
Generally you would like to avoid standing out too much. However there are a number of options you can explore to differentiate yourself from the crowd. A double breasted dinner suit can be a good idea, just make sure to always wear the jacket buttoned up. The practical reasons of wearing a waistcoat were already mentioned other than it just looks damn stylish too.
Consider midnight blue as an alternative to black. Under artificial light black can look a bit dull, sometimes a very dark blue serves better to catch the attention of you companions. One of the biggest trends in menswear lately, the midnight blue dinner suit is not the easiest to get right. For a chic, sophisticated look, we recommend to match, not contrast the colour of the silk facings with the fabric of the suit. So rather blue on blue, than black on blue. The latter can veer on costume territory.
If the dress code say ’black tie optional’ it means that most guests will opt for black tie, but a dark (preferably black) suit is also acceptable. For more seasoned dressers these types of events serve as the best opportunities to branch out more interesting combinations like velvet dinner jackets with matching velvet slippers. But never a full velvet suit, please.
The photos was taken on the wedding of Csaba, pictured the groom with Simon Skottowe. Black tie ensembles by Simon Skottowe Bespoke Tailors. Grooming by MMhair. Photography by Magistero photography (Attila Degi)
As seen in the January issue of Diplomacy and Trade.