“Blah, blah, Super 150’s, 16 micron, two and two twill, single weft, worsted spun, top dye, floating chest piece, half canvas construction, french scoop, forward fitting, full bespoke, sway figuration, blah, blah, thousands of pounds please…”. Absolute nonsense.
I’ve got an economics degree, not fashion or textiles. I struggle to thread a sewing machine and can’t cut patterns. So what do I know anyway? Well, definitely not everything but certainly enough to sniff out the manure that is too often spread around the industry to help people look clever and inflate their prices.
My career started (by accident) in a worsted mill in Bradford. After four years I moved to a tailoring factory in Leeds where I spent another five. Subsequently I have owned our men’s bespoke business and a womenswear manufacturing business for over fifteen years.
I confess to sometimes feeling a bit intimidated myself by the confidence and apparently superior knowledge of some of my well-dressed (well-condescending) colleagues in the tailoring industry. Can anyone walk into some of the stores on Savile Row and not feel their confidence drain onto the highly polished shop floor as the equally glossy sales person assesses your suitability for their establishment?
It’s not just the general mystery of tailoring methods and terminology either. Dress Code can be equally confusing. Black Tie, White Tie, Loungewear, Business Casual, Cocktail…
So this is where I am going to start on my journey through the smoke and mirrors. And not least because we have a really good dinner suit offer on at the moment and I am trying to stay on point. I’ll get to the other stuff in another Journal.
DRESS CODE NO1 – BLACK TIE
Unless you absolutely love splitting hairs, this is perfectly simple. Dinner wear, tuxedo, black tie and evening wear all mean the same. My advice is to keep it simple and respect the code.
Your suit jacket should be single breasted with one button to fasten it (SB1) and a shawl (curved, no breaks) or peak (upwards point) lapel. You could choose a double breasted jacket (DB) with a peak lapel at a push. The problem with this is that you need to keep it fastened all night because an undone DB jacket hangs down and looks awful. If you overheat easily this isn’t for you.
The lapel and buttons should be covered in satin or gros grain (a heavier fabric with raised grain, sometimes known as petersham). Your pockets should be jetted ie two thin fabric strips to make the opening. Traditionally there should be no back vent or split but to accommodate a larger backside, you could select side vents. I do.
Trousers should have flat fronts, ie no pleats and either metal side adjusters or brace buttons. Never have belt loops. There should be a narrow satin trim down the outside leg. No turn-ups though thank you.
The fabric is traditionally black wool or wool-mohair blend in the kind of plain weave which does not have an obvious twill (grain) so the dark cloth cannot shine. A silk blend is also appropriate. The two names for the most common plain weaves for dinner wear are barathea or panama. James Bond (and I) would wear midnight blue not black because it looks darker and richer in dim light. This is allowed as long as it’s very, very dark navy blue.
A dinner shirt should be white with a double or french cuff, a regular turn-down collar and either diamond weave (Marcella) or a pleated detail front. The centre front fastening is normally made with a covered placket so you can’t see the buttons. Some shirts have holes for studs instead of buttons in which case there isn’t a covered placket so you can show them off. I would recommend nice understated silver or black cuff links.
Your bow tie should be black silk and tied by you not the workers in a tie factory. If you are capable of tying your shoe laces, you can learn. Coloured ties or patterns only if you want to stand out for the wrong reasons.
A cummerbund is the wide satin band that fastens over the top of your trousers and the bottom of your shirt? Should you? Probably not.
Always watch out for the little white triangle of shirt which might become visible under the fastened button of your jacket and the top of your trousers. If your trousers are pulled up properly and your jacket fits you, then this will not be a problem. If not, get a cummerbund but make sure it is black please.
Shoes and socks? Yes, both. Socks in fine material not woolly. Shoes, black leather, preferably patent, but not shiny little slippers. Unless you are on the red carpet in Hollywood. No brogues either please.
Black Tie versus White Tie? White tie involves a longer black tailcoat with a white waistcoat and white bow tie. And what is a white tuxedo for? Waiters mainly. From 1930’s in warm climates some gentlemen began wearing a white tux jacket with black trousers (Humphrey Bogardt in Casablanca). I think it can look a bit silly in UK so better to avoid unless you work in a restaurant.
Velvet jackets deserve a special mention. Do not be confused – they break the formal Black Tie dress code and I believe in sticking to the rules. However, if you want to wear a velvet jacket as a serious attempt to conform to black tie then I guess it should be black and worn with a dinner trouser, white shirt and a bow.
Realistically though, the owner of a velvet tux had already decided to abandon formal black tie etiquette so why bother with black? Darker colours are still safest – navy, moss, claret, chocolate, deep purple but if you’re going to break the rules go for a slightly brighter almost electric blue. Tom Ford does it well. Never ever wear velvet in the day though. That’s the law.
Look, I am not trying to spoil anyone’s fun. I know I am old fashioned but I feel that if the host has invited you to follow a dress code then you should do it properly. The only difference between you and the others should be the fit and quality of the clothes not the styling or the colour or a comedy bow tie.
Above all with black tie, evening wear, tuxedo, dinner suits, whatever you are wearing – PUT SOME EFFORT IN.