Peter Marshall (aka the Black Tie Guy) is the founder and author of the web’s go-to resource for tuxedo style and etiquette, www.BlackTieGuide.com. He is a rare scholar of all things formal and aims his focus on taking a modern look at formal tradition, where it came from, what it means, and why Black Tie attire has so well stood the test of time.
Black Tie: The Grown-Up Tuxedo
A guy’s choice of tuxedo presents an interesting insight into his psyche. Ultimately his preference for colorful individuality versus black-and-white uniformity is not simply about his fashion tastes but about his progression from boyhood to manhood.
Typically, a man’s first encounter with formal wear is his prom attire which usually mirrors his corresponding teenage mindset. At this stage of development young men are focused on establishing their identity and in turn view formal clothing as a tool for standing out from their peers and standing apart from their predecessors. For them “formal” is simply another word for “fancy” and their choice of dress-up clothes is limited only by their imagination.
For those few men fortunate enough to continue attending formal functions beyond their prom and wedding, they invariably shift towards a more classic interpretation of the tuxedo that reflects a much more mature and worldly outlook. Secure in their sense of self, they prefer a formal wardrobe that quietly projects their confidence and they recognize the value of lessons passed down from previous generations. They understand that “formal” literally means to preserve a form or tradition – not to reinvent it – and that when it comes to formal attire, the black tie interpretation of the tuxedo is the Gold Standard.
The outward manifestations of a man’s preference for modern versus traditional are significantly different, particularly when it comes to his physical appearance. An aficionado of contemporary styling will choose tuxedos and accessories based primarily upon their novelty factor, resulting in an outfit that draws attention to itself rather than to the wearer.
Proponents of traditional formal attire, on the other hand, opt for timeless style by selecting a wardrobe that respects guidelines developed by some of the best dressers in the past century. To onlookers the resulting outfit is a unified whole that is unrivaled in its ability to make a man look his best.
The all-black suit conveys a sense of height through its vertical emphasis and of power through its ebony tone while the exposed deep “V” of the white shirt front provides a dramatic contrast and suggests wide shoulders and a narrow waist. At the top of it all, the black bow tie underscores the wearer’s face which should ultimately be the focal point of any good suit. It is for these reasons (among others) that traditional black tie imbues every man with an air of aristocratic sophistication, allowing an 18-year-old to hold his own with an octogenarian and a junior accountant to be indistinguishable from a CFO.
Less obvious but equally important is the way that a man’s level of sartorial maturity impacts those around him. By its very nature, a man’s unorthodox modern tuxedo ends up competing for attention with his date’s dress. In contrast, an understated conventional outfit reserves the spotlight solely for the lady on his arm echoing a romantic chivalry of days gone by. On a larger scale, the rainbow of colors and variations of styles created by a room full of contemporary tuxedos lends a youthful exuberance to an evening much like the balloons and streamers that decorate a high-school dance. The preponderance of ebony at a black-tie event, on the other hand, provides an understated elegance to an opening night at the opera or a gala fundraiser while also instilling a unique sense of uniformity and communalism that elevates the occasion to the level of the truly exceptional.
Fortunately, the unparalleled swank and sophistication of black tie is a matter of choice, not age. If you find yourself browsing tuxedos for your prom, wedding or cruise, do yourself a favor and at least try on the traditional interpretation. Its components may look unremarkable hanging on the rack, but once assembled properly they will reveal a side of yourself you have perhaps never seen before: the potential for the man you can become.
The Black Tie Guy will be writing several more articles on MyTuxedoCatalog.com, so check back regularly to learn how to dress like James Bond, tie a bow tie, and much much more. You can see all of the Black Tie Guy’s current posts Here.
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