Black-tie looks

Black-tie looks

Q. I am getting married this spring and must put together the correct black-tie look. What are the exact requirements?

A. Few occasions in a man’s life are so full of questions as his wedding day. “What do I wear?” is high on the list. Protocol plays a major role on this day. The bridegroom’s attire is quite specifically prescribed; it is determined by the formality of the wedding and the time of day. This is neither the time nor the place for surprises.

For a formal, black-tie wedding, the suit is always black. The shirt is always white with vertical pleats. (In summer, the jacket may be white. All else remains the same.) Most of the same basic black-tie rules apply for the bridegroom and the male guests.

When formal attire is called for, a man should strongly consider owning his own black-tie clothing rather than renting. If he has even one occasion every year or two to wear it, he is ensuring that he will look great. I’ll tell you something you may not know, but should. Like James Bond, every man looks terrific – debonair, sexy, and in command – when he is in formal attire. Ask any woman.

The outfit need not be expensive. It need only be classically cut, tailored to fit him perfectly, and ideally made of 100 percent lightweight wool. Stay with the classic basics in the suit (if there must be whimsy, save it for the accessories).

Collars. Suits are fashioned in three collar types:

  • Shawl (traditional curve cut, used only on formal wear)
  • Peaked (most dashing, usually found on double-breasteds) or
  • Notched (least formal, a daytime-business suit cut)

Lapel fabrics are either: Satin a silk-like, smooth glossy fabric, or Grosgrain (pronounced “grow’-grain”), a ribbed twill-type fabric (also known as faille (pronounced “file”)
Incidentally, on that lapel, traditionally, the flower that the groom wears as his boutonniere is one that matches any small white flower in the bride’s bouquet, as if it were plucked from it.

Closings are single- or double-breasted. Probably a double-breasted should not be your first and only evening suit, because it will come and go in style (though it is dashing).

Trousers have a ribbon that matches the lapel material – satin or grosgrain – running down the outside of the leg. They are worn with buttoned braces (suspenders), not a belt, and should be a shade longer than other pants. This is the one time when cuffs are never worn.

Formal shirts have vertical pleats in front, are closed with studs instead of buttons, have French cuffs worn with cufflinks.

Cufflinks should be of simple design, usually matching the studs: gold, silver, gold plate, opaque stones such as onyx, lapis lazuli, or mother-of-pearl, enamel. Or, they might be the newer and inexpensive handsome silk knots. These knots are available at better men’s stores and sell for about $10. It’s a crisp, chic look.

Bow ties should be black silk. They should not be clip-on or pre-tied. Spend some time and learn to tie your own.

Cummerbund or vest? The cummerbund fabric usually matches your suit’s lapels. It is worn with the pleats facing up – supposedly originally intended to catch any stray crumbs at dinner, or to act as a pocket to hold a man’s opera tickets (both stories abound). Some men, substitute a matching or natty contrasting formal waistcoat (vest).

Socks worn with evening clothes are always black and long enough so no skin shows when seated.

The correct shoe to wear with formal garb is so far from what most men – particularly young ones – can conceive of wearing, that I feel obliged to offer an alternative. The totally correct shoe is a low-cut black patent leather slip-on with a flat ribbon bow, known as a dancing pump. Since many men think of this as a dandy look, the rule can be relaxed. You may instead substitute a perfectly plain, black lace-up shoe that is either patent leather or highly polished. It is not precisely traditional, but it is pretty close.

That’s about it. You can wear a non-flashy watch, but the main piece of jewelry is the band you’re about to put on.

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