So you’ve either received the invitation to the year-end event, or you’ve decided to finally take the plunge and get married… whatever the occasion, time calls for formal attire, meaning either black tie, white tie or morning dress, where the details of each are determined by a unique set of sartorial rules that are rarely bent.
White tie was and still is the most formal of all the formal ones, and unless your attendance is required at state banquets, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever have to bother yourself with this genre, so we’ll skip that for the purposes of this article.
Black tie on the other hand is something that all men should know and own because at one point or another you get invited to an evening function that calls for it. Morning attire is specific to formal events during the day, especially weddings but also certain historic events such as Royal Ascot where morning attire is a requirement in the Royal Enclosure.
Over time, that aforementioned ‘unique set of sartorial rules’ has bent and warped somewhat under the pressure of progress, meaning that a degree of subjective interpretation has allowed for greater creativity, although still within the broader scope of ‘formally’, but we’ll all come back to that later.
Suffice it to say that if “formal” ever had a stuffy or elite look, that has been obscured in recent years by a colorful and stylish creative license. Formal wear for men has never been in a better, more fun place with a myriad of tailors subtly reimagining the principles that have stood for so long. And if you don’t believe us, ask Daniel Craig, who wore a fuchsia pink double-breasted velvet tuxedo on the red carpet during his last appearance as James Bond.
Dinner jacket or tuxedo?
First, let’s clear up the confusion between the tuxedo jacket and tuxedo. The difference is that there is no difference, just in name. They are one and the same. Exactly why is an anecdote referring to the origin of the garment.
The story goes that in 1865 the Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co was commissioned by Edward VII to make him a formal jacket that he could dine in, as he didn’t like having to wear tails all the time. to sit. That request led to what we know today as the tuxedo or DJ.
The creation was noticed by another Poole customer, one James Potter from Tuxedo Park, New York. One or two other Poole customers, who had seen Potter’s jacket, had one made too, and before you knew it they were known as the Tuxedo Boys. The name stuck and what the British know as the tuxedo jacket, the Americans call the tuxedo.
Classic black tie
The classic and traditional black tie setup is basically midnight blue wool (or a silk blend) with silk grosgrain lapels. Although nowadays you mainly find black tuxedos. Midnight blue looks more black than black in artificial light (black tends to shed a brownish sheen), which may be why it was chosen in the first place.
If you opt for a midnight blue style, you’ll likely be one of the few at your event wearing this color – which is all the more reason if you ask us.
In terms of shape, the tuxedo jacket is all nice sharp lines to flatter the torso and give the impression of grandeur. The pants should have a single row of silk braid along each outside leg and should be naturally tapered, with a slight break in the middle of the shin. The shirt should be a classic white evening shirt with a Marcella collar, bib and double cuffs.
If you prefer to wear shirt studs, they should be black or decorative, such as mother-of-pearl, to create a nice contrast point. A midnight blue or black hand-knotted bow tie (which should be sized in proportion to the wearer and wider than the eyes but narrower than the face) is the natural accompaniment, but if you ever see ‘Hollywood Black Tie’ on a dress code, you can a simple black tie can be replaced.
Booking your outfit should be a pair of black patent leather Oxfords, or failing that, black patent leather opera pumps, both worn with black silk socks.
Cardigans are rarely worn with a black tie these days. The same goes for cummerbunds, which seem to be seen as an unnecessary show, but if you want to add a swath of color around your waist, opt for red, white, or black.
Don’t forget that important piece of tailoring, which is your breast pocket. Here a pocket square can be diligently folded or filled with great artistic flair. We don’t recommend going beyond a white square or, at the most adventurous, a polka dot style. It would be a shame to spend a lot of money and even more precious time on a sophisticated black tie ensemble and then ruin it with a clownish silk square.
Black tie with a twist
That’s the classic ring-fenced version, but as we mentioned above, black tie is certainly enjoying a looser interpretation right now, with many prominent men opting for velvet tuxedo jackets instead, which we wholeheartedly approve of.
Velvet brings tactility, texture and works beautifully under artificial light, really bringing out the tonal nuances of that rich pile – Daniel Craig’s fuchsia pink double-breasted tuxedo jacket is a prime example of this. If pink is going too far on the spectrum, you’ll find plenty of great options in navy, ocher, burgundy and race green.
The best black tie brands
Founded by British menswear designer Oliver Spencer, Favourbrook is one of the best suppliers of black tie and velvet tuxedos in London and while it’s definitely on the luxury end of the market, it won’t hurt your wallet as much as a Savile Row- broken. .
While you can find good ready-to-wear styles from the bigger Italian tailors like Zegna, Canali and Brioni, we’d steer clear of designer labels (with the exception of Tom Ford) because what you get in premium brand, you’ll losses in fabric quality and longevity.
Don’t be fooled by fashion trends like slim lapels or too close-fitting silhouettes. Formal wear is timeless, not of a moment, so why opting for a classic, traditional cut and style will save you in the long run.
Expect to find synthetic/wool blends at the lower end of the market rather than pure wool, but Suitsupply and Reiss make well-proportioned tuxedos for under £300/$300 so if you’re off the peg size and need a quick fix you could do a lot worse.
Seeing the words “morning dress” etched on an invitation strikes fear into the heart of some, but there’s really nothing to lose your mind about. The rules of morning dress are pretty straightforward, with the only real subjectivity coming from your choice of vest, tie, and pocket square (but not taken lightly).
Without delving too deeply into history, just know that the morning suit dates back to the late 1800s, where it evolved from the frock coat, which was worn by the nobility while they were on horseback. The frock coat was modified to have straight edges at the front that are cut to bend back in a piece of fabric to relieve the rider’s knees from the flapping jacket edges. The side pockets have been ditched to streamline the silhouette.
It was Edward VIII in 1936 who initiated a cross-legged change, abolishing the old frock coat as court dress and necessitating the more refined ‘morning gown’ in its place. The style survives to this day: a long, single-breasted jacket with peaked lapels and curved front edges, which run back to the tail. It is worn with formal trousers (sometimes pleated, sometimes with stripes or checks), a vest, and a white shirt (often with an open-work collar).
While black is the most common and preferred color for the dressing gown, it is not the only one. Charcoal and navy blue styles have become increasingly popular over the years, with Prince Charles being a big believer in the former. Unlike the black jacket, which is usually worn with contrasting charcoal striped trousers, charcoal and navy blue styles are always worn with matching trousers.
When it comes to trying on a robe, there are a few important considerations. Getting the right shoulder width is vital as a tailor can’t do much to fix this area once the jacket is made, so take your time getting it right.
The jacket should also hug the contours of your torso, fit snug at the waist and create a protrusion over your back. The tail should end just below the tuck of the knee, or an inch or two on each side.
The shirt and the pants
If you opt for the black dressing gown, you can choose from a number of different trouser styles. The most popular is the charcoal cashmere stripe (‘cashmere’ oddly refers to the pattern, not the fabric – most are made of extra fine wool), but you can also wear lighter gray herringbone or houndstooth pants .
A note about the shirt: When in doubt, classic white with a spread collar is perfect, but you can also go for a pastel version with contrasting white collar if you’re feeling sartorial fruity.
With a morning dress, individuality is not in the morning suit itself, but in the accessories – namely waistcoat, tie and pocket square. If your instinct is to match the colors of this trio, fight it. A subtle contrast is ideal here and adds no end to personality and character.
The waistcoat can be one or two breasts (bigger guys will find the former more flattering) and you can be extravagant, but don’t confuse that with gimmicky. If you opt for a patterned waistcoat, keep the tie and pocket square relatively plain (the same applies in reverse).
If there’s one rule that should never be broken, it’s that a shirt should never be seen under the vest. Pay particular attention to this rule when choosing a double breasted style because of the squared finish. Wool or a blend of wool and silk are perfect for winter, while linen is a great option for summer.
The best morning wear brands
On the upscale side of the market, Favorbrook is a brilliant bet for both evening wear and morning wear, but if you really want to push the boat out, Savile Row offers you many different and tempting ways to part with your cash. Anderson & Shepherd, Henry Poole, Huntsman, Ede & Ravenscroft et al are all excellent and will never let you down.
At the affordable end of the market, Charles Tyrwhitt, Oliver Brown and Hawes & Curtis all produce quality morning dresses that belie the more modest price tag.