Fashion notes: The black (tie) and white of formal menswear
Fashion etiquette. There’s a contradiction, if ever there was one. Fashion refers to trends; etiquette refers to what’s traditional. Sounds ever so simple, doesn’t it?
Yet as much as we like to disagree with the role that our clothing choices play in terms of opinion, and how much we love to boast that we’re beyond the days of dressing for dinner, it manages to cause its fair share of distress.
Most (if not all) of this is caused by our fine selves, and all of the rather unnerving terms that we use to categorise and label one another. We’re relentless in our quest to be accepted. Painfully so. And instead of taking the sensible route of mastering the art of playing to our strengths, most of us spend a huge amount of time angrily prodding ourselves with the “not-quite-good-enough” internal monologue.
You know the story. Can I wear white to a wedding? Does my cummerbund need to be black? What about hats indoors? Socks with sandals? Blue with black? I could write an entire column only made of these.
It seems that, despite all our hard work, there’s still a huge gap between trends and actual wearability. And the stubborn question that refuses to leave our shoulders is whether we pull these rather unflattering beasts off with any kind of panache.
No matter what you think, or are told, fashion is much more than an exclusive club for which you didn’t receive an invite. Fashion, for all of its inward eye-rolling, can be clever – a witty master of disguise. Learn to know the difference.
When it comes to etiquette, your outfit should command a respectful nod; anything with a standing ovation needs to be somewhat re-evaluated. The whole point of etiquette is to stick to the set rules.
This time, we’ll focus on the boys – for once, on the following subject, they have a harder time.
Black tie needs a fair amount of deliberation. Ensure that you wear a dinner-jacket shirt with vertical pleats and French cuffs, and, yes, absolutely stick to a black cummerbund; anything else will only appear rather flashy. This isn’t a good thing.
For hot-weather, “off-duty” settings, linen, cotton and silk are the best options, but where possible, stick to wool or a wool-cashmere mix.
Go for a narrow sleeve that hits the break of your wrist, and a narrow leg that falls straight to the shoe. The top button of a two-button suit should fall about a centimetre below the navel, and there should be room to fit the flat of your hand under the lapel when fully fastened.
Don’t be afraid to experiment when you have the freedom to choose, such as which colour goes with which suit and which tie matches which shirt.
Your style of tie can be a chance to explore: there are solid-coloured ties, thin ties and differing degrees of texture on the market that are worth looking at, if you like to make a mark.
Although it sounds obvious, always get fitted – your jacket’s shoulder pads are supposed to square with your shoulders, and the sleeves shouldn’t fall lower than the base of the thumb.
In terms of fabric, take the time to understand quality. Squeeze the fabric; if it bounces back into shape without wrinkling, you know you are on the right track.
With menswear and occasion dress, as long as everything is done in moderation, it won’t cause a fuss.
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Updated: November 20, 2014 04:00 AM