A black tie ball is the perfect opportunity for a man to look his most masculine and dashing. But, despite the simplicity of the dress code, it can easily be done incorrectly. For classic, timeless black tie style, Hackett is unbeaten. Their Chelsea single- and double-breasted dinner jackets are faithful to the slim, 1930s silhouette and large, grosgrain silk lapels which were characteristic of the period.
The single button is a traditional feature and contributes to the svelte shape of the jacket’s waist. The waistline itself must be covered to hide the messy meeting of shirt and trouser. Since the dinner suit’s debut in the 1880s, this has been done with waistcoats, cummerbunds and double-breasted jackets. Black formal waistcoats largely fell out of fashion after the war and, although they are readily available in vintage stores and on eBay, the classic low-cut, lapelled, design is rarely produced new.
A standard-cut waistcoat should not be worn but white evening waistcoats were a popular alternative to black before the 1950s and are still readily available from a number of retailers, including online store, Darcy Clothing. Made from white, marcella weave cotton, they are guaranteed to lend an air of classic, ‘Cary Grant’, style. More popular, however, is the cummerbund. The conservative dresser will always opt for black silk, though wine, or burgundy add a tasteful dash of muted colour.
TM Lewin is an excellent one-stop for black tie accessories. Their Prince of Wales collar pleated shirt adds a pleasing texture to the front of the outfit whilst the narrowness of the pleats avoids the creasing endemic to larger designs. ‘Wing collar’ shirts should be avoided unless one is going the whole hog and purchasing a starched, detachable collar with a stiff-fronted shirt. If this ‘historical’ look is for you, both are available from Darcy Clothing. They can be cleaned and starched at specialist launders Barker’s but, for those wishing to avoid the hassle, Darcy has produced washable versions of both.
A stiff shirt will need to take studs but TM Lewin shirts can be buttoned up or take studs. Black studs offer a fine contrast with the shirt, though mother of pearl is traditional, adding a touch of old world finery. Belts are another black tie faux-pas, with braces the preferred method of keeping the trousers up, due to their easy concealment. The traditional colours are white or black, though white is preferred, as it is much easier to hide if one is not wearing a waistcoat. Clip-on braces are to be avoided, as they can damage the fabric of the trousers, and button-on braces can be purchased from TM Lewin complete with buttons.
Last but not least is the bow tie itself. As the dress code suggests, this should always be black, without exception. Self-tie bows are recommended, as the pre-tied versions can look flat and lifeless, and the knot is easily learnt with practise. It is worth paying a little extra for a good quality silk tie and TM Lewin stock sized, as well as adjustable, ties. These are useful for wing collars as adjustable ties have a noticeable buckle. A sized bow tie should always be half an inch larger than your normal collar size. Following these few, though important, rules you will be free to sit back with your vodka martini, knowing you look the best you possibly can
This feature was originally published by Mosaic magazine.