When to wear a black velvet jacket

When to wear a black velvet jacket

Q. Given that Coach Cowher, of the CBS NFL Today Team of broadcasters, was wearing a black velvet blazer at the Superbowl, seen by hundreds of millions, is that a style I can get away with? I still have a black velvet jacket that I think they used to call “a smoking jacket.” I wore it for dressy-at-home occasions, such as hosting a party. It still fits and I’d love to break it out some time.

A. As I have mentioned in the past, what you see on men in fashion magazines, music videos, award shows, and on fashion show runways are often not realistic or even intended for the average guy. While having such a jacket in your closet means that you probably are not an “average” guy, there still definitely are limitations as to when you should wear it. 

When I checked out the photo of Coach Cower to see the black velvet blazer, I noticed that there were small ribs in the fabric, and it was not really velvet at all; instead, the jacket was made of a slightly similar ribbed fabric, called wide-wale corduroy. (“Wale” refers to the width of the texture’s ribbing.) Interestingly enough, these two fabrics, velvet and corduroy, look and even feel a good bit alike, especially in their soft, slightly fuzzy texture, but they are totally different in their vibe and the attitude they project. Velvet is extremely dressy, quite elegant and formal, and usually expensive, while relatively-inexpensive corduroy is considered to be a durable, casual fabric. To further add to the confusion, velvet clothes often come in dressy black, while casual corduroy is almost never found in black clothing.     

Bill Cowher, and similarly Boomer Esiason, in the “zoot suit” he wore, were taking the quasi-business attire of NFL commentators to a level of fun . . . at least in some people’s opinion. That can work for an entertainment event, for other non-serious situations, and especially when worn by well-known celebrities who can get away with breaking some of the traditional men’s dress rules; but if an average Joe wears something that is too unusual for most events, (especially an actual business event), it certainly might call into question his good judgment.  

Even though their choices were within, and also pushing, the boundaries of appropriate men’s clothing, they were nothing compared to what I saw at Fashion Week in New York in mid-February. Fashion Week always features a lot of clothes that are pretty far “out there,” but this year’s several days of women’s shows and the one day of men’s shows did seem even more over-the-top than usual. As an extreme example, the always dramatic Thom Browne show was even more spectacular than ever. Many shows featured explosions of wild designs, including everything from goofy colors, clashing patterns, and elaborate head-dresses to some cartoonish looks that bordered on porn. When I’m sitting in the audience at New York Fashion Week, I often ask myself the question, “Where would any normal person wear such an outlandish look?” In truth, many times it is impossible to answer that question. 

Getting back to your question about the appropriateness of wearing your black velvet jacket: unless yours is a very creative workplace (and probably even then) I would certainly not wear it for business or even for most social situations. A velvet jacket is actually a variation on black-tie formal attire and, for the well-dressed, rule-following crowd, it would be considered “too much.” However, for a fun, strictly social occasion, where you have much more leeway to break a rule or two, and if you are self-assured enough to dress with flair that expresses your individualism and personality, why not?

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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