“It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned.” ~ Oscar Wilde
I had the rare and exciting opportunity to attend a “black tie” birthday party for a friend of mine last evening. Rarely do I give much thought to tuxedos, but wearing mine last evening caused me to look up the history of the tuxedo. Here is one interesting summary of its history I found on The Black Tie Guide, a gentleman’s guide to evening dress:
While white tie has remained essentially frozen in time since its inception, the history of black tie has been one of continual evolution. So how do we establish which phase in the tuxedo’s timeline can best be described as quintessential? By determining the period when black tie’s purpose converged most effectively with its attire.
As elucidated in the History section, the original purpose of black tie was to create a comfortable alternative to the tailcoat while retaining its level of stature and class. Prior to the late 1920s the heavy wool fabric and stiff shirts that accompanied the dinner jacket did not provide much relief from the discomfort of traditional full dress. Conversely, while black-tie attire did become considerably more comfortable in the following decades, by the 1950s subsequent stylistic innovations began to erode the tuxedo’s inherent formality.
This places the apex of the dinner jacket’s evolution squarely in the 1930s and ’40s. A look at the expert definition of proper black tie confirms this fact: the contemporary descriptions provided by fashion and etiquette authorities all draw from the protocols established during this specific period. “No other era could have produced such a sartorial success,” is how esteemed haberdasher Alan Flusser describes this sublime confluence of the practical and the aesthetic. “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.”
So, for those who lived in the early part of the last century, “black tie” was a relief from the more formal requirements of daily dress! Can you imagine? We now live in an era where casual attire is taken to new heights. In fact, unless you choose a morning flight primarily filled with businessmen and women on their way to morning meetings at their destination, you will have to look hard to find a suit on a man or a dress on a woman. Instead, you typically find yourself adrift in a sea of jeans, t-shirts and sweats.
My own preference is for clothing that is both functional and fashionable. One of the articles in “Elegance: A Quality Guide to Menswear” notes that: “The interesting irony of formal attire is that almost without exception, every aspect of the masculine evening costume derives from the sport of horseback riding.” An interesting thought given the ubiquitous and unavoidable dirt, sweat and dust that accompany every ride!
Your clothing choices should enhance your figure, your color and your personality, not detract or camouflage it. Whether dressing casually or formally or somewhere in between, don’t curse your figure or dread getting dressed, look instead to maximize your assets. Don’t be fooled or tricked into despair. Every single person has aesthetic attributes worth highlighting. They may be physical or simply an “air about you” but you do have starting points available to you. The trick is discovering what those are and being creative in complementing them while downplaying your less noteworthy assets.
When it comes to clothing I am of the opinion that you are better off owning a few nice things that really suit you than a closetful of things you bought just because they were on sale or kind of fit. It is generally a more economical approach and it saves a ton of heartache. Moreover, it saves a lot of agony when it comes time to decide what you are going to wear.
Make sure that you learn about and stock up on a few classics. The simple yet elegant black dress for women. A dark navy suit for men. The latest fads are fun and modern is great, but if you do not have a core of classics you’ll forever be subject to the cruel and shifting winds of trendy fashion.
There is much more to say on this topic, but I’ll spare you the details for now… Wouldn’t it be nice if this topic was touched on in school? It would save so much trouble!