Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Tuxedo


-by Vikram Nanjappa for Stylefluid Trendz

The Tuxedo or the Dinner Jacket has made its appearance as a formal wear / black tie staple in India over the past few years. Previously one ran the risk of being mistaken for a member of the catering staff if one wore a Tuxedo in India. This is a welcome development for, as far as formal western wear is concerned, the Tuxedo is considered the epitome of formality. However we seem to have taken the Hollywood red carpet as our inspiration, which while certainly better than the Grammy red carpet, is not quite the right place to look for a classic piece of clothing. It is no surprise that we see a lot of downright howlers (Amitabh Bachchan  at Cannes) from India. A lack of understand seems to be the primary reason for these and it is time we took a good look at the Classic Black Tie look. Once we understand the classic we can contemporise it to our own individual tastes.


History 

A correct understanding of its history and background is essential. I will not start from the beginning as that is beyond the scope of this article but will instead leapfrog to the 1800’s. Dressing up after dark had been a tradition in the west for centuries and prior to the period under review it was more of a Peacock affair with extravagant clothing in vivid colours being the norm.

In the late 1700s a new look was perfected by a middle-class Englishman with social ambitions but with a limited income to achieve his aim, Beau Brummell. By this time the English aristocracy had started preferring the more comfortable clothes of the working man as they found it more practical for pursuits like horse riding and hunting which were becoming very popular with them. This gave birth to a new concept known as ‘The Country Gentleman’. King George III preferred this mode of dress and on his accession to the throne this new concept was accepted widely.

 

Beau Brummell discarded the bright colours favoured in his day and replaced them with dark coloured coats, plain light coloured waistcoats and pantaloons. He replaced frilled shirts with plain ones and lace cravats with starched linen. He also introduced an equestrian element into his wardrobe by wearing tailcoats and knee high black leather riding boots. However this was half the battle, as the most formal attire of the times were worn after dark.

Beau Brummell



Beau Brummell followed his own lead and chose for his evening dress a more subdued version of his daytime dress. This, according to his biographer, was a dark blue or black tailcoat, white waistcoat, black knee breeches with silk stockings, white cravat and thin shoes. He was successful in his endeavour and in 1801 his style of dress became the required attire at the most fashionable club in London – Almack’s. This black and white palette governs evening wear to this day.



Having established the genesis of today’s evening wear colour pallet, to which we shall touch upon later in the article, I am going to skip going over the history of formal clothing during the rest of the 1800s and fast forward to the introduction of the tuxedo. Suffice to say that dress codes became extremely precise and remain divided into morning wear and evening wear, with tailcoats dominating both.


By the 1850s English tailors introduced the short lounge jacket in response to the need for men to have more freedom of movement during the day than that allowed by the long frock coats of the time. Initially it was worn mostly outdoors during the day but over time it made its way indoors as the Smoking Jacket. The Smoking Jacket was made from the soft velvet that was used for dressing gowns and was worn after dinner, after the ladies had retired, and when the men proceeded to smoke their cigars. The velvet would absorb the cigar smell and hence the name. From there it was a short step to the dining room but made in black wool with the trimmings of a tailcoat to lend it the required dignity.
Smoking Jacket


In 1865 the Savile Row tailors Henry Poole & Co. made, with matching trousers of the same material, one for the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, who wore it for informal dinner parties at his Sandringham country estate. 

Introduction to America



In 1886 an American millionaire James Brown Potter and his wife Cora visited England and were introduced to the Prince of Wales. He extended an invitation to couple to dine with him at Sandringham. Upon receiving the invitation, Mr. Potter sought the Prince’s advice on what to wear and was directed to Henry Poole & Co to be fitted out for a short evening jacket. Upon his return to America, Mr. Potter introduced the garment to a private country club called Tuxedo Park. After sometime some of the members of the club were bold enough to wear it for dinner at Delmonico’s in New York. It was the only place in New York where gentleman dined in public and when the other diners asked what they had on they were told that it was what they wore for dinner in Tuxedo and the name stuck, at least in America. 

The Tuxedo’s place

The Tuxedo was however put in its rightful place; it could be worn only in the most casual of occasions. It was the casual alternative to the tailcoat. An excerpt from the 1896 book The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men puts it in a nutshell – ‘The dinner coat (tuxedo)  . . . is the badge of informality.  Formerly it was worn only at the club and small stag dinners and on occasions when ladies were not present.  Now it is in vogue during the summer at hotel hops, small informal parties to the play, at bowling parties, restaurant dinners, and, in fact, any occasion not formal.’ 

It goes on to add in the wearing of the Tuxedo or dinner coat in place of the ‘swallowtail’”, explained The Complete Bachelor, “and the substitution of a black silk for a white lawn tie.” In addition, “White evening waistcoats and Tuxedo coats do not agree; black is only allowable.” 

This is the essence of the modern day White Tie and Black Tie, a two – tier system in which White Tie was the Formal evening dress and Black Tie or Tuxedo was the Informal evening dress.

World War II 

By the time the world went to war for the second time the Tuxedo or Black Tie had become standard evening wear and White Tie was reserved only for very formal occasions like balls, elaborate formal dinners or the box at the opera. By the time the war ended things became more casual and formal wear rules more subjective. Rules began to be determined by geographical region and socio – economic status with significant differences.

To avoid any confusion regarding dress codes, invitations today specify the applicable dress code for the event and thus today the Tuxedo should only be worn when the dress code is specified as Black Tie. To do so otherwise is a definite faux pas.  I will discuss the various dress codes and what they mean in another article. 

Classic Black Tie 

In the 1930s the Tuxedo came into its own and its elements were standardized. Alan Flusser put its succulently : “No other era could have produced such a sartorial success, Since the culmination of the dinner jacket’s design in the late 1930s, men’s fashion has yet to improve upon the genius of its original design or the unimpeachable refinement of its accoutrements.”  

The standards set in the 1930s remain the benchmarks and is today considered as the Classic Black Tie. Let us take a close look at them. 

The Jacket 

  • Single breasted 1 button, allowing the front to be cut in a deep ‘V ‘– the original and most formal version.

Classic Single Button Tuxedo Jacket

  • Double breasted 4 button (4 - on- 1 or 4 -on - 2 style depending on the cut) – considered the informal variant in the 1930s but now equally acceptable.

    Vintage Four Button Jacket

  • Four sleeve buttons covered in the lapels facing, this goes for the jacket buttons too.

  • Peaked lapels or Shawl collar – both equally acceptable, however the Peaked collar is considered the more formal of the two as it is borrowed from the Tailcoat while the Shawl collar is from the Smoking Jacket and thus considered less formal.
    Left: Shawl Collar & Right: Peaked Lapel

  • Lapel facings of pure silk in the form of smooth satin or the dulled ribbed texture of grosgrain. The former is preferable for Shawl collars.
    Shawl Collar

  • Working buttonhole on the left lapel. This can be avoided in the case of shawl collars as they interfere with the line of the collar.

  • Pockets - double-besomed jetted (slit) hip pocket (no flaps) and a welt breast pocket to hold a pocket handkerchief. The besom welts can be of self fabric or trimmed with the lapel’s silk facing. However the British consider the latter as a sign of hired clothes.
    Lapael Fcaing Button Detail - Grosgrain

  • No vents.

  • Colour – Black or Midnight blue. Black is the norm but Midnight blue has the ability to maintain its richness under artificial light and is equally acceptable.
    Midnight Blue Tux

  • Material – Good quality Wool, worsted barathea is preferred. Experts concur that a 9-10 ounce fabric (300-340 grams/square meter) is the most practical choice. 

    The Trouser


 

  • Same material and colour as the jacket.

  • Waistband to sit high enough to remain hidden under the waist covering. Please refer to waist coverings.

  • For a trim waistline adjustable tabs can achieve the above for the not so fortunate however a trouser cut for braces (suspenders) is preferred. No belt loops.

  • Side seams of the trousers are covered with a single band of facing of the same material used for the facing of the jacket lapels.

  • Side pockets cut on the trouser’s side seam making them virtually invisible.

  • Slit hip pocket, no flaps.

  • Plain Trousers legs (no trouser cuffs).

  • Pleats are a matter of personal choice; they do not impact its formality.


Waist Coverings



Waist coverings play an important part in formal wear's refined minimalism by helping to conceal its working parts. They hide the trouser's exposed waistband and the shirt bosom's bottom edge. Waist covering are only to be worn with single breasted jackets for the simple reason that double breasted jackets cover the trouser’s waistband.

 

 
Waistcoat

  • Evening waistcoat – the evening waistcoat has a low cut design to reveal as much of the shirt front as possible. It should be tall enough to peek out beyond the lapels of the closed dinner jacket. Both single and double breasted versions are acceptable. Single breasted generally have three buttons while the double breasted have four. They can have full backs or be backless. They are made from the same material as the suit or in silk to match the Jacket lapel’s facing. The evening waistcoat has shawl-style lapels which are usually self-faced when the body is silk or match the jacket lapels when the body is wool. Two single welt pockets complete the waistcoat. The waistcoat is only worn with the Peaked Lapel single breasted tuxedo jacket.
    Cummerbund

  • Cummerbunds – the material should match the facings of the jacket lapels and the colour should be black. They are pleated and should be worn with the pleats facing up.  They should have a gentle curve along their top line. To be worn with the single breasted shawl collar jacket.

The Shirt

  • White in colour and preferably in a thin fabric that provides maximum breathability such as fine broadcloth, poplin, batiste or voile.
    Shirt

  • Turndown collars, spread or semi – spread. Wing collars are strictly for white tie, however some pundits find it acceptable to be worn with the single breasted peak lapel jacket.
    Turn Down Collars

  • Should have a bosom, which is a bib-shaped or vertically rectangular double layer of fabric unique to formal shirts. 

  • The bosom is either pleated or pique.

  • The bosom can be either unstarched or lightly starched.

  • French cuffs.

  • Closed with shirt studs (two to three depending on the height of the wearer) . For un-starched bosom pearl buttons are used.
    Pleated Tux Shirt with Pearl Button

  • No pockets.


Neckwear
  • ·         Black self- tie Bow Tie. Pre-tied versions look extremely cheap.

  • Self-Tie Bow Tie

  • Silk to match the lapel facings.

  • Bow tie style is a matter of personal preference but care should be taken to ensure that the finished bow falls between the width of your face and the outer edges of your eyes.



Footwear



  • Let’s start with socks – calf height silk socks to match the trouser (either black or midnight blue as the case may be).

  • Fine cotton and even wool can be worn but care must be taken that they should not be thick especially if you are wearing pumps.

  • Shoes, there are a few choices in this case.


-Patent leather or well polished calfskin.

-Formal pump or Court shoe decorated with a silk bow, either pinched or -flat. This is going increasingly out of use due to its effete nature.

-Formal lace up oxfords.

  • Wingtips and brogues are a strict no no. 

     

  • Plain toe oxfords are preferable to cap-toe versions. Both are acceptable.The closed laced balmorals is preferred to the open laced blucher, however both are acceptable.Wholecut models are preferred.

     


Accessories


  • Cufflinks and Shirt studs – black (usually onyx), pearl in case of unstarched bosom. Gold at a pinch.
    Cufflinks

  • Suspenders in either white silk or black silk. The colour does not really matter as suspenders are underwear and should never see the light of day. They are not strictly an accessory as they ensure that the trouser waistband does not slip below the bottom of the waistcoat, besides they also they align the trousers’ pleats with the waistcoat’s points .Should ideally be the button on variety. 

  • Sock garters to ensure that your sock do not slip and expose your shin bone.
    Sock Garter

  • Dress watch, this is considered an optional piece as clock watching is considered as insulting to the hostess. Opt for a slim unadorned piece with a black leather strap. The metal of the watch should match the metal of the cufflinks.

  • Pocket Squares – another optional piece. White handkerchief of fine linen. Stick to the formal simplicity of the square fold. 

    Square Fold
      
    Pocket Square

  • Boutonniere (optional). Stick to a deep red or white carnation. Should be inserted into the buttonhole and not pinned on top. To be avoided if wearing a pocket square unless both are white. The bloom should sit flat on the lapel.

           Boutonniere

  • Evening scarf (optional) which is worn with overcoats can be worn with the tuxedo indoor during a very formal occasion. White silk with tassels.
    Evening Scarf


Outerwear (this will rarely be required in India )




  • Overcoat – black, dark blue or oxford grey in colour, knee length or longer, both single breasted fly front and double breasted are acceptable. The Chesterfield coat is ideal. Trench coats are not to be worn.
    Overcoats

  • Evening scarf in white silk with tassels.


  • Gloves – the classic is gray chamois, buck or mocha (soft suede leathers made from sheep, deer or goat skin). Dressy black leather is also appropriate.


  • Hat – some consider it a must but the jury is still out on it. A black or midnight blue homburg is the classic choice.
    Homburg Hat



Now that one has a grasp of the rules one can step out personalize their tuxedo by skilfully bending the rules rather than breaking them randomly. 

 

(About the author: *Vikram Nanjappa is a freelance writer on men’s fashion/style and a photographer)

* Reference :  The Black Tie Guide: Tuxedo Style & Etiquette

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