Black Tie

Christmas is the time of year when you might just have cause to dust off the dinner jacket and channel your inner James Bond. For those who live on the other side of the Atlantic, the dinner jacket is perhaps better known as the tuxedo. Regrettably, there are decreasingly few opportunities for men to wear formal evening wear.

A regular suit is pretty much as formal as most men will get. However there are more formal levels above that. Black tie is the next level up, which is the dinner jacket, black bow tie and a formal white evening shirt, usually with either a Marcella (pique) or pleated front. NB: this shirt should not have a wingtip collar but a full fold over one.

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The wing tip collar should be reserved for white tie events which are another next step up in formality. White tie is the aforesaid wingtip collar evening shirt combined with white or ivory bow tie, white formal waistcoat and tailcoat. If you a really serious you might even top it all off with a top hat. (Did you see what I did there…..)

Traditionally, black tie was considered semi formal and white tie formal. What we now view as a formal suit would have been lounge wear, i.e. everyday wear. To say that our dress standards have slipped over the decades is an understatement.

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All of this is why if you have any opportunity to wear black tie you should probably take it, because it doesn’t come up all that often. And white tie is even less common, unless you regularly attend state dinners at the White House or Number 10. If you do, let me know.

I work in a university setting which has a very traditional and occasionally quite formal element. Most of the time British academics slop about very informally indeed. However, in some of the more traditional universities there are some formalities to be observed. Graduation and matriculation ceremonies are usually pretty formal affairs in most universities. A number of the older universities, however, also have formal dining arrangements at which certain dress codes are specified, or at the very least suggested.Black tie, and even white tie may be among the specified dress codes.

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So I do have opportunity to wear black tie a few times a year, if I choose to attend the various formals on offer. Typically, I tend to attend the Christmas formal which often is a black tie event. Unfortunately, it often clashes with my children’s Christmas orchestra concert. So off I trot in black tie to a school concert before going off to the formal. I am often the most formally dressed man in the room but not usually by that kind of margin. So there are a whole set of parents at my children’s school whom I imagine think that I take the school concert overly seriously because I turn up each year in black tie.

There is something about black tie though, perhaps because of its relative rarity, perhaps because of the stark contrast in colours, perhaps because of the James Bond connotations, perhaps because of the relative simplicity of black and white. Whatever it is, there is something about it which is pretty special.

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If your wardrobe does not yet include a dinner jacket, keep an eye out for one. You don’t need to spend a great deal. You simply need one that fits you well. Mine cost me a tenner from Primark 4 years ago. It was out of season and end of the line and so was discounted and I couldn’t let a deal like that pass. And when I tried it on, it fit so well that just sealed the deal. Best of all thee is nothing about it that would suggest that it was cheap.

Clearly deals like that are rare but I hope the point is well made that a dinner jacket need not cost a large amount of money. However, a well fitting black tie ensemble can make you feel like a million dollars…

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