The Style Column

The Black Tie Isn't Just For Parties

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The tuxedo is no longer just for evening wear, says our style columnist Jeremy Langmead.

For a decade or two, the only invites I received that requested “black tie” were for boring awards ceremonies in corporate ballrooms with patterned carpets and ancient bread rolls — or the occasional B-list film premiere where I’d be sat near Nancy Dell’Olio and someone from Strictly Come Dancing. No fun at all. The tux (as it’s known in the US) only seemed glamorous to me when featured in Hollywood movies or Kennedy clan weddings on Martha’s Vineyard.

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No, a black-tie dress code used to inspire nothing more than a moan whenever I saw it printed on the bottom of a stiffy. Especially as, for some inexplicable reason, whenever I wear black tie, someone spills a glass of red wine down me. The first dinner suit I bought was to wear to the Press Awards, celebrating “the best of British journalism”, when I worked at The Sunday Times 14 years ago. Thrilled to learn I was to be seated next to the indomitable war reporter Marie Colvin (sadly killed in Syria back in February), I invested in a tux, dress shirt and bow tie from Hackett. I turned up, shook hands nervously with all the paper’s senior executives, and politely sat down at the table. Moments later, the rather Tigger-like lady who edited the “News Review” section bounded in late, flung out her rather tubby arms in apology, and sent a glass of red wine flying down the front of my new suit and shirt. I spent the rest of the evening looking like an extra from the finale of Bonnie and Clyde.

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This sad state of affairs has been repeated — I like to think by accident — numerous times since, including a night at the British Fashion Awards; although this time the red splatter wasn’t from wine, but the airborne juice from my neighbour’s vine tomato.

Despite the dangers of this dress code, there’s no doubt that, over the last couple of years, the tuxedo has had a style renaissance with a new generation discovering the joys of dressing formally and, it has to be said, looking darned dashing while doing so. Worn correctly, or even played around with a little, a dinner suit can give you a dash of polished sophistication and old-school glamour; put one on and you immediately start channelling Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr, or, if you’re me, Stan Laurel.

It might be the Hollywood red carpet that got the whole shebang going again. After some wilderness years where young movie stars foreswore traditional black tie for shiny two-piece suits and silk ties, there’s been a definite switch back to the tux of old. Look at 2012’s most glamorous events — the Oscars, the Emmys, Nick Candy and Holly Valance’s wedding — and the dinner jacket and bow tie combo is there in all its forms.

And today there are a lot of those forms: single and double-breasted both look contemporary and flattering, the velvet jacket has slunk back into vogue looking all dapper and streamlined, navy seems to be a popular colour (which, according to Savile Row’s Richard James, flatters older skin), and an increasing number of shawl collars are appearing, too.

And while most men seem to be opting for the traditional full monty — including cummerbund, patent shoes and a self-tied bow; all very 007 — there’s another group who are dressing theirs down. At a number of events recently I’ve spied dinner jackets worn over a simple white T-shirt with a silk scarf instead of a tie: and it works very well, in a Rive Gauche kind of way. Meanwhile, hip Swedish label Acne has designed a collection of evening wear where the jacket is worn slouchy and double-breasted and the matching trousers have a drawstring waist. They, too, suggest you wear the jacket over a T-shirt rather than a dress shirt.

You can add those designers suggesting you wear evening wear as daywear and vice versa: teaming velvet dinner jackets with faded jeans (Dolce & Gabbana); adding a velvet or satin collar to a tweed suit for a day/evening hybrid (Alexander McQueen); going for a full velvet suit (Burberry Prorsum; Etro); even replacing satin with leather on jacket lapels (Yves Saint Laurent).

Dressed up or down, the tux has never seemed more modern, relevant and glamorous; just putting one on is an event in itself (great news if you don’t get invited to anything). My favourite this winter is a double-breasted wool navy tuxedo jacket with black satin lapels from the French label Ami. I find a double-breasted jacket is more effective in keeping out the cold and keeping in the stomach. And, naturally, I’ll steer clear of red liquids. Is there such a thing as mulled white wine?

Jeremy Langmead is the editor-in-chief of mrporter.com

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