“People with a great deal of personal style can appear well-dressed by virtue of the ease with which they display their clothing. Generally, a well-dressed man never looks out of place, as opposed to most people who consider themselves well-dressed when they are really over-dressed. A three-piece suit at a picnic looks out of place as does a bathing suit with black tie at the opening of the opera.”
— Alexander Julian
“If the invitation reads black-tie, and the desire is to effect a less traditional, more contemporary look, one must move to the softer and more chic side of the fashion spectrum. This means replacing the starched high contrast of black-and-white attire with something less buttoned-up and self-consciously stiff.”
— Alan Flusser
For men less comfortable with formal styling, it’s probably best to start experimenting with rule-bending in less conspicuous parts of your ensemble—your waistcoat or your pocket square, perhaps. However, with the knowledge and confidence to pull off a stylishly subtle rule-bending tuxedo, you are unquestionably the master of your personal style.
Even if you’re not ready or don’t want to step too far outside the box where your tuxedo itself is concerned, it’s still a good idea to be aware of the various options open to you. As Alan Flusser notes, when putting together a black-tie look—even a fairly classic one—you must construct your ensemble around the jacket.
Your dinner jacket is the main focal point as far as your attire goes, so it’s important to fully understand the type of jacket you’ve chosen in order to select accessories and other components that work best together.
When picking out a dinner jacket—be it classic or contemporary—there are several important considerations to keep in mind:
First, you must choose either a single-breasted or double-breasted jacket. Currently, single-breasted jackets are more popular: GQ
’s Dylan Jones advises that “A one-button, single-breasted suit with side vents is timeless and modern. It’s also exceptionally well balanced, elongating the body and giving an elegance to your silhouette.”
That said, those men who successfully wear and accessorize a double-breasted jacket are lauded for their stylishness at award shows: see, for example, Ty Burrell’s bold look from the 2013 Emmys.
In addition, the number of buttons on your jacket, the type of lapels, and the size of those lapels are important considerations that can change the overall tone of your look completely. Peaked lapels, notched lapels, and shawls collars are all acceptable choices (depending especially on size and pairing). According to today’s fashion experts, peaked lapels are probably the most common, shawl collars are the most dramatic, and notch lapels have started to look dated (though you can still wear them well by offsetting with the rest of your outfit).
The size of your lapels is just as important as their style, though lapel size should be chosen based on your own proportions rather than current trends. Generally, narrow lapels work better on slimmer men while larger lapels work best on broad-shouldered men: see, for example, the perfect proportions of Chris Pratt’s wide shawl collar lapels at the 2015 Oscars. (Note that this “rule” doesn’t hold true for everyone, though, and you shouldn’t hesitate to try on styles that aren’t generally considered “right” for your frame. It’s only by trying different options that you can choose a personal style that makes you
look your best!)
[caption id="attachment_309" align="aligncenter" width="209"]
Shawl Lapel Tux Similar to Chris Pratt's Oscars 2015 Look[/caption]
Traditionally, dinner jackets are made in worsted wools of various weights, depending on the season. This isn’t your only option, though, especially for bolder men! Alan Flusser suggests several unconventional fabric choices that retain the classiness of traditional black tie: for example, black-watch tartan, madras, or solid silk.
[caption id="attachment_313" align="aligncenter" width="281"]
Contemporary Black Velvet Tuxedo[/caption]
Another untraditional fabric choice that’s growing in popularity (based on this year’s awards shows, anyway!) is the velvet dinner jacket: a choice that harkens back to the tuxedo’s ancient smoking jacket origin. To pull off this look correctly, it’s even more important than usual that your jacket is perfectly tailored and the rest of your ensemble fits impeccably, as it’s easy for a velvet jacket-based ensemble to look sloppy if the proper care isn’t taken. Piping can also help define your jacket and keep your outfit feeling put together: see, for example, Eddie Redmayne’s perfectly cut and accessorized velvet jacket at the 2015 Golden Globes.
Wearing a dinner jacket with trousers of the same material and color help to elongate the body, drawing a single cohesive line from your lapels to the tips of your shoes. However, if executed perfectly, choosing a tuxedo jacket and trousers of different colors and/or fabrics can make a boldly elegant statement.
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Classic Two Tone Ensemble with Ivory Jacket[/caption]
The most traditional two-tone ensemble comprises traditional black or midnight blue dress trousers with an off-white or Sahara tan self-faced shawl collar dinner jacket. This combination originated in the 1930s, meant to be worn to dinner parties on cruises and in warmer climes. Now, however, it’s becoming increasingly common to see light-colored dinner jackets paired with darker trousers at all-weather formal events: See, for example, Benedict Cumberbatch at the 2015 Oscars.
If you do choose to go the two-tone route, it’s best to keep your outfit otherwise on the conservative side: classic shawl collar in the same color and fabric as the rest of the jacket, classic white shirt and black or midnight blue trousers, minimal accessorizing. (Note how how much cleaner the outfit on the left looks compared to that on the right.) After all, your choice of jacket is already making quite a statement: if perfectly tailored and worn with subtlety and confidence, then that statement is one of timeless yet personalized elegance.
With increasing confidence and experience, however, feel free to play around with different color combinations: especially at less formal events (and without too much additional decoration), you can make different color combinations work if you’re careful and comfortable in your personal style. Remember, a big part of determining your personal style—as much a matter of what you feel comfortable wearing as what looks best on you—is trial and error.
Don’t be afraid to try different things—as long as you’re very careful in your editing, and as long as you don’t decide to wear every option to an ultra-formal benefit dinner!
Quoted in Hix,
Flusser (1996), 85.
Matthew Sebra, GQ
Flusser (1996), 83.