Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide

Our Black Tie Guide continues to help you find all the elements of an eveningwear ensemble. Today, we discuss finding the right shoes — at the right price.

Part 3: Formal Footwear

I don’t want to introduce hyperbole, but wearing bad shoes can take the sharp look of a tuxedo and throw it in the Dumpster. Few things are as disappointing as seeing a gentleman going to extraordinary lengths to wear a tuxedo to only see he’s slipped on a pair of cheap, sport-hybrid, corrected-grain, bicycle-toed “dress shoes”. 

Here’s some basic guidance on what to look for in formal footwear:

  • Black calf leather (patent leather optional)
  • Laced shoes should be balmorals; no blüchers
  • Plain-toe and cap-toes are acceptable; avoid brouging and wingtips
  • Opera pumps are an acceptable slip-on; avoid loafers

Some traditionalists would consider opera pumps as the only footwear choice for black tie (Jesse is a fan), but I can sympathize with those of you who have hesitation. Unless you find a way to score a pair cheaply (or you have disposable income), it’s probably not a good purchase as you can’t really wear it outside of formal events. As someone who only finds an excuse once a year to don black tie, it’s probably not practical. 

If you’re looking for a pair, Shipton & Heneage has two options for $245. And Brooks Brothers has their pair for around $450.

For most men, you probably will find the black cap-toe oxford to be the most accessible and affordable option. The cap-toe shoe will be versatile in the rest of your wardrobe for when you wear a regular suit, making it a better value purchase. 

The Allen Edmonds Park Avenue frequently turns up on eBay for prices below $150 — if not significantly cheaper. You can sometimes find them new and on sale at around $200, too. A retail budget option would be Charles Tyrwhitt, which has a full-grain cap-toe oxford for around $150. 

If you’re able to find it, the plain-toe oxford, in my mind, is a preferred option for footwear. Not so formal that it can’t be worn with a regular suit, but the cleaner, sleek look fits better with the tuxedo. You can see Fred Astaire’s pair (given as a gift to Dick Clark for his 50th birthday) above. One can only hope they dance in a tuxedo so often that their shoes look so well worn. 

The cheapest plain-toe oxford I can find is also from Charles Tyrwhitt, at around $200 in patent leather. For around $260 you can get patent leather pairs from Herring or Shipton & Heneage. My favorite though has to be from Kent Wang, whose $350 plain-toe balmorals aren’t patent leather, letting you wear them with a suit.

If you choose to go the laced shoe route, then you should consider buying a pair of black silk shoelaces, like on Astaire’s pair above. I only know of two places you can buy them: from George Cleverley (you’ll have to e-mail them) or from A Suitable Wardrobe’s online store. The cost is about $40 either way, but they definitely elevate the look of even a simple cap-toe shoe to something much more formal. 

-Kiyoshi

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide
Our series on putting together an ensemble for black tie affairs on time and on a slim budget continues. Today we discuss finding the proper shirt. Click here to read the rest of the Black Tie Guide. 
Part 2: The Evening Shirt
While you can find fairly good deals on eBay for the tuxedo, it can be tougher when it comes to the shirt, especially if you have a preference for something that fits a bit more trim in the body and sleeve. 
A few things you want to look for in a tuxedo shirt:
French cuffs
Placket should allow for studs (bib front) or use mother-of-pearl buttons (pleated front)
White cotton that’s thinner, i.e.: poplin or broadcloth — avoid heavier weights
Spread or wing collar 
Bib or pleated front (this means no pockets)
Which collar should you go with? Wing collars come from a more formal tradition — white tie — and it depends if you believe they have their place in black tie ensembles. I think their visible points compliments tuxedos with peaked lapels. If you have a shawl-collared jacket, which relates closer to the casual smoking jacket, then consider going with the less formal spread collar. 
As for bibs or pleats, it’s again worth looking to the traditions of white tie for stylistic cues. The bib front often is made with a pique fabric (also called “marcella”) that’s associated with white tie and considered a more formal choice. Still, I think you could safely pick either and just go with your personal preference. The vertical lines of a pleated front could be beneficial to those looking to elongate their torso visually. 
Unfortunately, off-the-rack options for such shirts are limited under the $100 pricepoint. Charles Tyrwhitt’s shirts start at around $80 and they offer a slim fit version. The next best deal is the bib front from Suitsupply at $99 (slim fit) and for $20 more you can get a pleated front instead (extra-slim fit). 
I’ve personally owned the Hugo Boss Black slim fit bib front with a fly placket and darts on the back and found it to be quite good for $125. Remaining south of $150, you can pick among Brooks Brothers, Polo Ralph Lauren and Kent Wang.
Of course, when you’re around $150, then you might want to consider going with made-to-measure, at which point your options really open up quite a bit. But at this point, you might be pushing your luck with receiving your shirt in time for New Year’s Eve depending on your shirtmaker and shipping time. 
Finally, remember to avoid wearing a regular white dress shirt with your tuxedo — especially one with barrel cuffs, plastic buttons and a chest pocket. 
-Kiyoshi
(Photo via Time/Life)

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide

Our series on putting together an ensemble for black tie affairs on time and on a slim budget continues. Today we discuss finding the proper shirt. Click here to read the rest of the Black Tie Guide

Part 2: The Evening Shirt

While you can find fairly good deals on eBay for the tuxedo, it can be tougher when it comes to the shirt, especially if you have a preference for something that fits a bit more trim in the body and sleeve. 

A few things you want to look for in a tuxedo shirt:

  • French cuffs
  • Placket should allow for studs (bib front) or use mother-of-pearl buttons (pleated front)
  • White cotton that’s thinner, i.e.: poplin or broadcloth — avoid heavier weights
  • Spread or wing collar 
  • Bib or pleated front (this means no pockets)

Which collar should you go with? Wing collars come from a more formal tradition — white tie — and it depends if you believe they have their place in black tie ensembles. I think their visible points compliments tuxedos with peaked lapels. If you have a shawl-collared jacket, which relates closer to the casual smoking jacket, then consider going with the less formal spread collar. 

As for bibs or pleats, it’s again worth looking to the traditions of white tie for stylistic cues. The bib front often is made with a pique fabric (also called “marcella”) that’s associated with white tie and considered a more formal choice. Still, I think you could safely pick either and just go with your personal preference. The vertical lines of a pleated front could be beneficial to those looking to elongate their torso visually. 

Unfortunately, off-the-rack options for such shirts are limited under the $100 pricepoint. Charles Tyrwhitt’s shirts start at around $80 and they offer a slim fit version. The next best deal is the bib front from Suitsupply at $99 (slim fit) and for $20 more you can get a pleated front instead (extra-slim fit). 

I’ve personally owned the Hugo Boss Black slim fit bib front with a fly placket and darts on the back and found it to be quite good for $125. Remaining south of $150, you can pick among Brooks Brothers, Polo Ralph Lauren and Kent Wang.

Of course, when you’re around $150, then you might want to consider going with made-to-measure, at which point your options really open up quite a bit. But at this point, you might be pushing your luck with receiving your shirt in time for New Year’s Eve depending on your shirtmaker and shipping time. 

Finally, remember to avoid wearing a regular white dress shirt with your tuxedo — especially one with barrel cuffs, plastic buttons and a chest pocket. 

-Kiyoshi

(Photo via Time/Life)

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide
Our new contributor Kiyoshi Martinez has expensive tastes - but not a lot of scratch. In this series, he’ll show you how to put together a black tie ensemble without breaking the bank.
Part 1: The Tuxedo
It might just be the circles I travel in, but it’s rare I have the opportunity to wear black tie. Still, I find the excuse at least once a year to don the tuxedo for New Year’s Eve. Now’s a good time to start thinking about getting the various elements of a black-tie ensemble together if you want to have everything in place for the end of the year.
Black tie items don’t often go on sale or come cheap, but I’ll still be trying to offer some of the best values that can hopefully be affordable, starting with the tuxedo itself.
First, you’ll want to avoid renting one, as most rentals are polyester monstrosities that drape like a trash-bag poncho. Here’s a few key things to look for in your tuxedo:
Peaked or shawl lapels — avoid notched lapels
Single-button fastening for single-breasted jackets
Double-breasted jackets work fine, too
Preferably jetted besom pockets (if it has flaps, tuck them in)
Unvented or double-vented backs, depending if you want to be traditional or modern
Satin or grosgrain faced lapels and piping on the trousers
Preferably midnight blue in color, but black will do
If you’re on a budget, then I suggest looking at eBay. I prefer to search eBay U.K. using the term “dinner suit” or “dinner jacket” instead of “tuxedo”, which is an American term. You can often find a vintage one for $100-$200. It’s where I found mine. 
If you want to buy off the rack, I’d take a look at Tommy Hilfiger’s slim-fit line. It comes in both shawl and peaked lapel versions, however, it also has flapped pockets and a two-button front. Still, the price is a moderately reasonable $350 and I know several friends who’ve been perfectly happy with this line of suits. 
If your budget is higher, then consider Suit Supply, whose peaked lapel, one-button tuxedo looks like one of the best deals under the $500 price point. I recommended it to a friend of mine who wore one at his wedding and it looked fantastic on him. 
Keep in mind that you’ll need time to ship it to your home and get alterations done, so there’s a bit of a time crunch. Hopefully you have a good relationship with your tailor so he or she can have it ready in time. 
When getting your tuxedo altered, be sure to bring the appropriate shoes and shirt to the fitting so the sleeves show the correct amount of cuff and the pants can be hemmed precisely. 
Finally, keep your tuxedo simple and basic as much as possible. Avoid the temptation of a white dinner jacket, which is only really suitable for warm climates or summer, and avoid straying into jackets with flashy elements, odd colors or too-trendy cuts as they’ll look dated and the tuxedo is only a value when it’s timeless in design.
- Kiyoshi

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide

Our new contributor Kiyoshi Martinez has expensive tastes - but not a lot of scratch. In this series, he’ll show you how to put together a black tie ensemble without breaking the bank.

Part 1: The Tuxedo

It might just be the circles I travel in, but it’s rare I have the opportunity to wear black tie. Still, I find the excuse at least once a year to don the tuxedo for New Year’s Eve. Now’s a good time to start thinking about getting the various elements of a black-tie ensemble together if you want to have everything in place for the end of the year.

Black tie items don’t often go on sale or come cheap, but I’ll still be trying to offer some of the best values that can hopefully be affordable, starting with the tuxedo itself.

First, you’ll want to avoid renting one, as most rentals are polyester monstrosities that drape like a trash-bag poncho. Here’s a few key things to look for in your tuxedo:

  • Peaked or shawl lapels — avoid notched lapels
  • Single-button fastening for single-breasted jackets
  • Double-breasted jackets work fine, too
  • Preferably jetted besom pockets (if it has flaps, tuck them in)
  • Unvented or double-vented backs, depending if you want to be traditional or modern
  • Satin or grosgrain faced lapels and piping on the trousers
  • Preferably midnight blue in color, but black will do

If you’re on a budget, then I suggest looking at eBay. I prefer to search eBay U.K. using the term “dinner suit” or “dinner jacket” instead of “tuxedo”, which is an American term. You can often find a vintage one for $100-$200. It’s where I found mine. 

If you want to buy off the rack, I’d take a look at Tommy Hilfiger’s slim-fit line. It comes in both shawl and peaked lapel versions, however, it also has flapped pockets and a two-button front. Still, the price is a moderately reasonable $350 and I know several friends who’ve been perfectly happy with this line of suits. 

If your budget is higher, then consider Suit Supply, whose peaked lapel, one-button tuxedo looks like one of the best deals under the $500 price point. I recommended it to a friend of mine who wore one at his wedding and it looked fantastic on him. 

Keep in mind that you’ll need time to ship it to your home and get alterations done, so there’s a bit of a time crunch. Hopefully you have a good relationship with your tailor so he or she can have it ready in time. 

When getting your tuxedo altered, be sure to bring the appropriate shoes and shirt to the fitting so the sleeves show the correct amount of cuff and the pants can be hemmed precisely. 

Finally, keep your tuxedo simple and basic as much as possible. Avoid the temptation of a white dinner jacket, which is only really suitable for warm climates or summer, and avoid straying into jackets with flashy elements, odd colors or too-trendy cuts as they’ll look dated and the tuxedo is only a value when it’s timeless in design.

- Kiyoshi