QI ordered your “Dress for Excellence” book today; does that include black tie outfit? If not, do you have a separate guide for this? I recently made a purchase from Brooks Brothers and, yes, I should have been better prepared. I bought a black tie with “notched” lapels on the jacket. Nobody thought to point out the three options to me at that time, I would have chosen the “point” backhands. How well will the notched backhand look at the Metropolitan Opera this year? Thank you.
A I’m glad you were able to order my book. Although it is now out of print, it is still available online. And, yes, it does include information about black tie attire.
I agree the store clerk should have given you more comprehensive advice, but the truth is that Brooks Brothers has shifted their focus somewhat in recent years from the elegance of traditional clothing to a looser bunch of options. . Here are some guidelines for the right black tie choices that will help address your concerns.
The costume is still black. The shirt is always white with vertical pleats on the front and French cuffs. (In summer, the jacket can be white. Everything else remains the same.)
As you said, the costumes are made in one of three different collar and lapel styles: shawl, pointed or notched. The shawl is the most relaxed and the most traditionally formal. The tip is more of a fashion look and is most often found on cross cuts. The notch, which is the usual way to cut most non-formal daytime suits, is therefore the least formal. In the past, some super traditionalists didn’t accept the notched lapel as correct for evening wear, but I really think that attitude has relaxed in today’s less strained era. The lapels of the jackets are either satin, a silky, smooth and shiny fabric, or grosgrain (pronounced grow-grain), a thick, ribbed fabric resembling a twill. Grosgrain is also known as the flaw (pronounced file).
In addition to the three types of cuffs, there are two types of closures: single-breasted and double-breasted. Double-breasted jackets are always buttoned. A double breasted doesn’t have to be your first and only evening costume, as it comes and goes in style.
Naturally, the pants match the fabric of the jacket. A ribbon runs down the outside of the pant leg; it matches the material of the backing. So if the jacket has a satin lapel, the ribbon on the side of the leg is also satin, or both are grosgrain.
Another note on the pants: this is the only time the cuffs are never worn. The style of wearing cuffs over pants originated in England. They were called “turnarounds”. They were the result of a man pulling up the hem of his pants to protect him from soiling as he walked around his country estate. As a result, men wore cuffs over their tweed suits or country flannels, but not over their formal evening wear.
I can pretty much assure you that many Metropolitan Opera men will be wearing black tie suits with a notched lapel. You will not feel that you are dressed inappropriately. And, since evening wear is typically worn at social events that involve women, I’m going to tell you something that you might not know, but should know. Like James Bond, every man is gorgeous – good-natured, sexy and in control – when dressed in formal wear. Ask any woman.
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