Every year, my pal Charlie Todd and his group Improv Everywhere cover a beach on Coney Island with beach-goers and swimmers in formal attire. This year was their biggest ever. FANTASTIC.
When Undergrads Wore Tailcoats to Parties
Ivy Style somehow tracked down the man you see above. In the photo, when Life Magazine shot him for a 1954 issue that featured J. Press, he was being fitted for a soft shouldered, 3/2 roll, tweed sport coat. The photo has circulated forums and blogs for many, many years now, making it a famous image that every guy interested in classic American style has seen — oh, I don’t know — maybe a 1,000 times.
Apparently, the student originally came in to be fitted for his custom tailcoat. As Ivy Style reports:
It was the fall of 1954 when a simple errand put him on a collision course with Ivy style history. “J. Press, or J. Squeeze as we called it, was the New Haven substitute for Brooks Brothers,” says Brown. “Best I can remember was that I had walked in to check on tails they were making for me.”
Many Ivy devotees have mooned over the jacket he is wearing in the photo. “I don’t think I bought that jacket,” Brown recalls. “As I remember, they wanted to feature it and it fit.”
The tailcoat he’d commissioned was another matter. It saw plenty of action during the debutante season. “There were a lot of great coming-out parties with lots of alcohol, legal then,” he recalls. “I remember rolling down the hill of John Nicholas Brown’s daughter’s coming-out in those tails, to the breakfast tent at 2 AM. That house is now Harbour Court, the New York Yacht club station in Newport.”
There was a time when some undergrads commissioned custom tailcoats to get drunk at parties! You can go over to Ivy Style to read the whole thing.
I just wanted to share this photo of our director, Ben Harrison, and his beautiful fiance Rachel on board The Atlantic Ocean Comedy & Music Festival. Ben thrifted this jacket just before setting sail, and he looks like a million dollars in the perfect context for summery, tropical black tie. And of course, Rachel always looks like a million dollars.
Dress Up Tomorrow
Being New Year’s Eve, tomorrow is a great opportunity to put on a tuxedo if you’ve ever wanted an excuse to wear one. So few men get to wear tailored clothing nowadays, but the ringing in of a new year is one of the few times almost anyone can dress in the most classic of tailored clothes - the tuxedo.
The Platonic ideal for a tuxedo involves a single- or double-breasted jacket with peak or shawl lapels. The single-breasted can be worn unbuttoned, but requires that the exposed waistband be covered up by a cummerbund or dress vest. The double-breasted model, on the other hand, doesn’t require a waist covering, but it needs to be buttoned when standing and unbuttoned when seated, so it can be a bit of a hassle. Either way, both ought to be accompanied by a white shirt, black bow tie, and pair of black shoes. The white shirt ideally should have a bib or pleated front, and be closed with studs instead of buttons; the black shoes ought to be formal black pumps, though highly polished black oxfords will also do. Of course, at this point in the game, it’s too late to acquire a tuxedo if you don’t already have one. Jesse and Kiyoshi have written extensive guides on how to wear black tie (and acquire what you need on a budget), should you want to prepare for next year.
For those who don’t have the goods or the opportunity to wear black tie, I’d suggest still dressing up. Try breaking out a dark navy suit – again, single- or double-breasted – with peak or notch lapels. Choose a more formal looking shirt, such as a white one with French cuffs, and accent it with some nice cufflinks. Put on a pair of freshly polished black captoe oxfords, place a neatly folded white linen pocket square in your breast pocket, and choose a tie that will do well at night – such as a black or silver necktie, ideally made from satin so that it’ll reflect a bit of light, or even a black bow tie.
Use New Year’s Eve as an excuse to wear your best clothes, and your best clothes as an excuse to do something fun.
Q & Answer: Where Should I Buy A Tuxedo?
Jason asks: I wanted to ask your opinion on J. Crew Ludlow tuxedos. I live in Tribeca and often walk by the Ludlow shop on Hudson and like the look of their tuxedos displayed in the store front window. I was also considering going to Brooks Brothers for a tux. Can you help?
Here’s the thing about tuxedos: they’re expensive, and unless you go to a lot of charity galas, you won’t end up wearing them a lot. Heck - I’m going to a film premiere tonight, and I’m told I should show up in a suit. So if you want the expenditure to be a reasonable one, you’ll need to buy something that you’ll feel as happy wearing ten years from now as today.
One of the J. Crew Ludlow tuxedos is the lower picture above. It’s fun. If I were a young guy from a CW show going to the Emmys, it might be the perfect thing. But in five years, the stuff that seemed fun (like the low-waisted pants, double vents and super-narrow lapels) will seem dated. The six or eight hundred bucks it’ll cost is a lot for one or two wearings.
So I’d recommend going one of two ways. The first is to go classic. Here in the States, if you’re talking about going to a store and buying off the rack, that really means Polo or Brooks Brothers. Both have great options like the one on the mannequin above that will look as classic in 2035 as they do now - if there’s still black tie at all then. Both will also be a bit more expensive than J. Crew, though I think they’re also a little better in terms of quality-to-price ratio.
The budget option is to go vintage. This takes shopping time and patience, but you can save a lot of money. As long as you’re comfortable looking distinctive, an older tux can look just as great as a new one. We’re talking pre-70s here, mostly. Show up in slim late-50s lapels and you won’t look dated, you’ll look retro, and that makes all the difference. Almost all black tie events are at least in part about enjoying yourself, so there’s no need to worry about not looking uber-conservative - there are no black-tie funerals. My own tuxedo was purchased at a Goodwill for $40, and it dates to the mid-30s. Looks as sharp now as it ever did.
When You Need It NOW! (You Shoulda Got It THEN!)
A huge portion of the emails I get at Put This On are about men who NEED IT NOW! They’ve just been invited to a black tie gala, they’re headed to a summer wedding this weekend, they have a state funeral to attend, they finally got a job interview with the firm they’ve been targeting. So they want to know: how can they save money and buy something great today?
The truth is: it’s impossible. You can go to Barney’s or Nordstrom or Brooks Brothers, beg for on-the-spot alterations, and walk out with something that works, but let me assure you: you will pay full price. And I’ll add that if you don’t live within easy access of those stores, you may well be plum out of luck.
So the solution is pretty simple: be prepared. Not for every eventuality, but for the few that you’re almost certain to encounter.
If you have black dress shoes, a solid gray suit, a white shirt and both a navy and black tie, you’re all set for almost any eventuality. A wedding, a funeral, a job interview.
These should be conservative, and fit. You can thrift them, eBay them, buy them on sale or buy them at full price. But if you’re a grown man, you will need these things. Often on short notice.
If your lifestyle means black tie is a regular occurrence - say once a year or more - then a black tie rig is worth owning as well. Give yourself the time you need to find exactly what you want at the price you want to pay, but do it now, not later.
Great-Uncles don’t die on your schedule, and once-in-a-lifetime job interviews don’t happen right when you expect them. So be prepared.
When Black Tie is Optional (and You Don’t Own a Tuxedo)
A friend of mine asked me last week for some advice on what to wear to a “black tie optional” event. He didn’t own a tuxedo and wasn’t planning on buying or renting one (plus, the event was days away).
While I believe you should always wear an appropriate black tie outfit to “black tie optional” events, it’s bound to be impractical for most people who simply don’t have a tuxedo in their wardrobe. Ownership of such an ensemble isn’t for everyone and it’s not exactly cheap to put together for something most will rarely wear.
So, what should you consider wearing instead?
I suggested to my friend going with a solid, dark charcoal suit, a white spread collar shirt and a conservative dark necktie in either black, silver-grey or navy that had some satin-like shimmer to it for the evening.
Preferably, the shirt will have a French front, no pocket and French cuffs. Footwear would be a simple black calf balmoral, either captoe or wingtip, with dark socks. Of course, a TV-folded white linen pocket square to finish the look.
The idea isn’t to replicate the tuxedo, but it is trying to mimic the simple neutral tones of black and white. The nice thing about this outfit is that you’ll hopefully have all these elements in your closet already and you can even wear this outfit to non black-tie optional events and look really great.
(Image via The Suits of James Bond)
Black Tie at the 2013 Oscars
It’s easy to lament about the state of black tie in Hollywood during award shows, but some men are worth highlighting for wearing a tuxedo well and with an adherence to tradition.
Hugh Jackman’s tuxedo from Tom Ford was my favorite, featuring a very unique double-breasted shawl-collared jacket and he was one of the few to wear a simple pocket square. The ensemble is quite masculine and reminds me of something you’d perhaps see an actor wear while browsing through old Hollywood black and white photos. And we all know he was actually able to move quite well in it.
And Bradley Cooper’s three-piece tuxedo worked equally well, I thought (also by Tom Ford) — especially when comparing how the waistcoat fit him properly in comparison to Ben Affleck’s three-piece. The broadness of the peaked lapels looked much more striking in comparison to the many other tuxedos of the night that were notched.
What I liked about Chris Pine’s simple double-breasted 6x2 tuxedo from Ermenegildo Zegna was that it has a simplicity and symmetry to it that feels uninterrupted and quite plain. Where other men were wearing Vegas-club styled black dress shirts or “creative” jackets, this tuxedo up against any of those wins hands down in terms of elegance.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning Christoph Waltz’s midnight-blue shawl-collared tuxedo from Prada. I thought it moved with him quite well when he accepted his Oscar on stage and fit him better, especially when compared to the midnight-blue tuxedo worn by Daniel Day Lewis, whose tuxedo didn’t quite fit in the shoulders and had divoting. Waltz’s jacket could be improved by removing the flap pockets and allowing for more shirt cuff to show, but I liked it quite a bit.
These four have forgone wearing black shirts, neckties, notched lapels, two-button fronts, flap pockets (excepting Waltz) and have sought to cover their waist with either a waistcoat, cummerbund or by going double-breasted. And because of this, I think they’re better-dressed for it.
Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide
Yes, men wear jewelry, too. Our next Black Tie Guide installment looks at the precious metals used to fasten your shirt’s chest and cuffs — and what maybe shouldn’t be on your wrist.
Part 7: Cufflinks, Studs and Timepieces
Rarely do men wear jewelry items and like all jewelry items the price can go as astronomically high as your wallet wants to spend. Cufflinks, shirt studs and timepieces are no exception.
The standard for black tie is gold and black onyx cufflinks and studs. It seems, however, gold is falling out of favor and silver is becoming an alternative and mother-of-pearl is sometimes used instead of black onyx. Regardless of what you pick, it’s important to also point out that your metals and stones should match.
The best cufflinks are those which are double-sided, linked in between by a chain or bar. This allows the cufflink to be seen from either side without one looking like the “back” like you see on most modern cufflinks, a.k.a.: the swivel bar.
A great place to look for cufflinks and stud sets are both eBay and Etsy. If you would rather purchase brand new, I’d suggest Kent Wang, which has a stud set for $75 and dual-sided cufflinks for $25 to $55, depending on the model.
In regards to timepieces, the tradition is to either wear a pocket watch, but to avoid wearing a wristwatch. Wearing a watch signals to the host that you’re more concerned with the time than the occasion.
Still, modern “tuxedo” watches exist as an alternative for those who want them. Typically they have a black face with no hour or minute markings and no second hand and a simple jewel at the 12-o’clock position.
Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide
Today we go over the only two elements of white on a tuxedo ensemble besides the shirt in our Black Tie Guide. And they’re right next to each other.
Part 6: Pocket Square and Boutonnière
The great expanse of black of the tuxedo can be visually jarring, so it’s good to have elements of your ensemble that break it up. This is where decorating the lapel and breast pocket comes in.
Pocket squares should be kept relatively simple in most cases. A linen handkerchief with hand-rolled edges in a simple fold will work just fine. Alternatively, you could attempt to create a “puff” instead if you prefer a look that’s not as rigid and straight-laced. The option is up to you.
Why not white silk? Frankly, there’s no hard rule about this, but linen won’t reflect light like silk will and your lapels, cummerbund and bowtie already are made of silk. It’s good to have some texture diversity.
Pocket squares can be found cheaply at The Tie Bar for $8-$10, but I think they’re a bit smaller in size (11.5” square)
and I believe their edged are machined. Update: I’ve been told by Greg at The Tie Bar that only their wool-blend and silk-woven squares are machine stitched. Their other squares — including their cotton squares — have hand-rolled edges. So, that makes them a pretty good deal.
I’ve found Kent Wang’s pocket squares ($20) to be really nice and they have hand-rolled edges. They’re also slightly larger at 12” square.
As for decorating the lapel, it’s fairly straightforward: go with a white carnation boutonnière. For this to work your boutonnière hole on the lapel must be functional and opened, which higher quality suits will have already done. If your boutonnière hole is sewn shut, you can have a tailor open it up and make it functional.
If it’s not obvious, you don’t want the kind of fake boutonnière that’s pinned to your lapel. Not only will it ruin the silk facings but it looks tacky — better to go without.