People often ask me for “alternative” tie knots. I call this one the “If You Are The Greatest Film Comedian of Our Time.”
Tom Hanks. World Champion.
I’m even throwing my support behind the slightly louche tie. That’s called panache.
(Side note: at what point did Tom Ford get the exclusive concession on making showbusiness dudes look like anything other than goofuses at these events? It is possible to dress formally, elegantly, respectfully and still have some flair, people other than Tom Ford.)
The Black Tie Shoe That’s Good For Something Else
Kent Wang just announced a new shoe, a black plain toe balmoral (pictured to the left, above). In keeping with Kent’s commitment to basics (he started making white pocket squares and double-sided cufflinks from vintage buttons), the shoe is a simple as can be.
(The balmoral, in American usage anyway, refers to a shoe with closed lacing - you can see in the photos above that the bit of leather with the lacing holes is sewn into the body of the shoe, rather than left open, as in a blucher. This makes for a dressier aesthetic.)
Kent says he made a plain-toe bal because it’s the simplest black dress shoe there is. It’s appropriate for any formal occasion, from wearing with a suit all the way up to black tie. That’s a convincing argument, if you ask me.
Shoes are one of the biggest problems for men who want to have their own black tie rig rather than renting. Tuxedos are available at a variety of price points, especially if you’re willing to go vintage. Shoes are tougher.
Patent leather looks like a cheap rental to my eyes no matter how high-quality the shoe. Cheap rentals look fantastically awful. Evening slippers (also called opera pumps), the most elegant option, can be prohibitively expensive - the Brooks Brothers version, while handsome, costs a hefty $448, and they’re tough to find used. Five hundred bucks is a lot for most folks to spend on shoes they’ll wear once a year.
Many men simply wear black wingtips with their tuxedo, or worse, black loafers. Frankly, you might as well wear sneakers - only you don’t get any rebel points for wearing loafers. Black cap toes are marginally better, but still look out of place, particularly if they feature any broguing. They simply read as, “I was doing great until I got to the shoes, then I gave up.”
A plain-toe black shoe, with closed lacing, highly shined, is a very reasonable alternative to evening shoes with black tie. You avoid the cheap, plasticky look of patent leather, and you get a shoe that can actually be worn for more than just black tie events. That’s a very solid investment, if you ask me.
Kent’s version, which is made in Vietnam (albeit to a high standard), is $350. The Alden version, with a more American shape, is about a hundred dollars more. Crockett & Jones Wembley model, available made-to-order from Pediwear, runs at about $390, plus shipping. Brooks Brothers’ offering, made in England (quite possibly by C&J) is $448.
Many, many parties: Brooks Brothers patent pumps from 1938, in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
And their place in the collection well-earned.
I’ve written it here before, but slide on a pair of evening slippers, and you’ll know you’re ready to go out for a seriously sophisticated evening. Patent oxfords have nothing on these. If you think they look effeminate, just wait until you see them as part of the ensemble… and until the ladies start pawing at you.
I once wore black tie to a “gala” theater opening, and literally four different people asked if my wife and I had just been married. I can only dream of living in a world wherein owning “fun formal” is appropriate.
One day I’ll find a tartan dinner jacket in a thrift store in my size, and I’ll buy it, and have to find a way to wear it.
Heck, I’d throw the party myself if I knew even one person who owned a tux. Or a suit.
Vox, as always, looks tremendous.
I’ve worn both oxfords and pumps with black tie in the past, and the latter is my strong preference. Vox is correct: as part of a full black tie ensemble, they are elegant, and not feminine at all.
For those of you who are disappointed you don’t get enough chances to wear evening clothes, I’ve got great news. My friend Charlie Todd runs a wonderful organization called Improv Everywhere - they endeavor to create amazing scenes in public that give people a story to share forever.
Last year, they ran “mission” called Black Tie Beach, where they dressed in evening garb and relaxed at the beach in New York City. This year, they’ll be repeating the event, and they want to do it around the globe. It goes down August 20th - if you want to help organize a local mission, further information can be found right here.
FYI: Every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp-dressed man.