Formal Wear Primer

Discussion in 'Suits' started by shindeco, Feb 25, 2006.

  1. shindeco

    shindeco A-List Customer

    There have been discussions in several threads about the particulars for evening wear so I thought I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d spend some time rummaging through my closet and put together a primer on evening clothes. For some of you this is all old hat but there seems to be a demand. (In any case, it gives me a chance to dig out all my evening clothes and dress up!)

    THE BASICS

    Evening wear refers to the formal clothes you wear after 6:00 p.m. This is what most people today think of as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìformal wear?¢‚Ǩ?. The basic distinction is usually referred to by the colour of the bowtie: white tie and black tie.

    White Tie

    This means you wear a tailcoat that comes down to your waist and is cut in a straight line to your hips. The tails then drop down to the middle of your knees. It should have silk or grosgrain facings on the lapel and a prominent stripe down the side of the leg (more on that later). This is correctly worn with a stiff-fronted shirt with a detachable collar, a stiff wing-tip collar, a white waistcoat and a white bowtie. The front of the coat should completely cover the bottom of the waistcoat. You don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t want a little band of white around your tummy! Shirt studs and cufflinks should be white (some small decoration is allowed but it must be very understated.) The socks are black and the shoes can be either black patent leather or very highly polished, very plain black leather (no wing tips, no punching, an undecorated toe cap is the standard)

    [​IMG]

    For an excellent, in-depth discussion of tails, see this article in the London Lounge

    http://thelondonlounge.net/gl/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5526


    Black Tie

    This means you wear what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s usually called a tuxedo jacket today (many people in the 30s and 40s disapproved of using the word ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtuxedo?¢‚Ǩ?; the correct term is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdinner jacket?¢‚Ǩ?). A single breasted jacket is considered more formal than a double breasted jacket. Peak lapels are the most formal, a shawl collar comes next and the notched lapel is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìan abomination?¢‚Ǩ? (according to some, me included!!). Lapels should again be faced and the stripe down the side of the leg is less prominent than that of tails. Midnight blue is a fully permissible option.

    The dinner jacket must be worn with a black bowtie. Beyond that, there is more flexibility. The waistcoat may be black or white. The white waistcoat is worn with the same stiff shirt and collar as the tails; the black waistcoat may be worn with either a wingtip collar or a fold-over collar. A cummerbund was considered very informal. A cummerbund should be worn with the pleats opening upwards.
    In the mid-30s, the white waistcoat was considered more formal. By the 40s, white and black waistcoats were regarded as being of equal formality. Same choice of shoes and socks as with white tie.

    [​IMG]

    White Dinner Jacket

    The white dinner jacket was designed for hot weather and tropical climates. It follows the same rules as the black dinner jacket but should not be worn in the winter in a cold climate. It is considered one step down in formality from the black dinner jacket and was considered a prime companion for the cummerbund (which is generally cooler than a waistcoat). An interesting note about white dinner jackets is that they may have self-faced lapels. This means that there is no silk on the lapels and the jacket actually looks like a regular jacket. Very rarely, black dinner jackets had self faced lapels, too. IF the jacket has self faced lapels, the trousers should have no stripe down the side.

    [​IMG]
     
    Sir RBH likes this.
  2. shindeco

    shindeco A-List Customer

    Smaller details

    Shirts

    The stiff fronted shirt (also known as a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìboiled shirt?¢‚Ǩ?) should have an inset bosom of either pique or linen that is starched to a cardboard like stiffness; SINGLE cuffs (NOT a folded, French cuff) that are also starched stiff and a band collar. If there is a little tab with a button hole at the bottom of the bosom, this is intended to be buttoned to either your trouser button or your underwear button to keep your shirt in place.

    [​IMG]

    A really good shirt will also have a loop at the back UNDER the band collar. This is to thread your tie through so it won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t ride up and be visible over the back of your collar.

    [​IMG]

    Soft shirts usually have pleats, a fold over collar and French cuffs. This is really what you want to wear with a white dinner jacket when the weather is hot; it's a much more comfortable shirt in hot weather. However, A stiff shirt is perfectly acceptable.

    Evening shirts require studs. Tails should be worn with very small, white shirt studs and white cufflinks. A dinner jacket may be worn with either black or white studs and cufflinks. Studs and cufflinks should complement each other, but don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t need to match

    [​IMG]

    A brief word on collar buttons (being brief is hard for me as I have a bit of a passion for collar buttons and could go on at great length about them). Front collar buttons are long; back collar buttons are squat. You should never see the back collar button above the collar of the jacket but this is difficult, even with the most impeccably tailored jacket. To this end, it is worth while finding a back collar button that has a mother of pearl end and wearing it backwards. See the picture. This means that if the jacket rides down for a moment, the world will not be offended by the glint of brass.


    Ties

    This segues very nicely into ties. The most ignored rule today is that the band of the bowtie should never be seen above the back collar, either! This is why the really good shirts have a loop BELOW the collar. From behind, all you should see is shirt collar (and lots of it?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùas much as you can show!)

    [​IMG]

    When worn with a wingtip collar, the ends of the bowtie should meet the ends of the wings or be just a bit shorter. The tips of the wingtip collar should go BEHIND the bowtie.

    Black bowties should match the lapel facings; white bowties should math the fabric of either the waistcoat or the shirt front (if you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re really rich and having them made to order, get shirt front, waistcoat and bowtie all in the same fabric)

    Bowties are classified as either one-enders or two-enders. Both are acceptable and the choice is based solely on your own preference (or what you can find). The shape of the bowtie changed frequently during the 30s and 40s and was strictly a whim of fashion. In the picture, I have shown examples of a white, thistle shaped two-ender; a black, bat wing two-ender, and a white, butterfly one-ender. Pre-tied bowties did exist at this time but I would never allow one in my house so I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have an example to show you, sorry.

    [​IMG]

    Waistcoat

    There are only tow ?¢‚Ǩ?ìrules?¢‚Ǩ? for waistcoats. The first is that, with tails, the front of the coat should cover the bottom of the waistcoat. The second is that ALL buttons on an evening waistcoat are to be buttoned. You don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t leave the bottom button undone!

    Beyond that, your waistcoat is also a matter of personal taste. They are usually backless but don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have to be. There can be points on the bottom; rounded points or a straight cut. They can be single or double breasted. They can have lapels or not.

    [​IMG]

    With either white or black tie, the waistcoat studs on a white waistcoat can be either white or dark. A proper white waistcoat will take studs. if you buy one that has buttons sewn on, check the inside of the right side to see if there is a little flap. People often sew buttons on, not realizing that they are designed for studs. Black waistcoats take black studs or buttons (buttons are more common on these)

    As stated earlier, the cummerbund is a less formal replacement for the waistcoat and the pleats are worn opening up. There may be a ticket pocket or there may not. They should be black! (Burgundy was a possible alternative in the late 40s)

    Double breasted jackets are worn without a waistcoat or cummerbund.

    Trousers

    Trousers have a stripe down the side (unless the jacket lapels are self-faced). With tails, the stripe is more prominent. This usually means that it is a double stripe but this is not the only option. It was also fully acceptable to have a wide single stripe (about one inch). The dinner jacket trousers have a single, narrower stripe. The stripe can be braid or grosgrain ribbon. This is a distinction that was waning by the end of the 40s. After the war, it was considered a distinction only worth maintaining if you wore your evening clothes a lot.

    Another distinction with trousers for tails is that, on really well made trousers, the side seam was angled so it followed the line of the tails as they rose from the knee. This allowed the wearer to put his hands in his pockets without disturbing the tails.

    Black trousers are, of course, the norm (or midnight blue, if everything else matches) but in the 30s, white trousers were worn with white dinner jackets and, interestingly, a black dinner jacket could be worn with white trousers as an alternative to the black trousers/white jacket look.

    Shoes

    Shoes are black (white with white trousers). Two tone shoes were never worn with evening clothes. The most formal shoe is the patent leather pump with grosgrain bows (see picture). Other acceptable options are a patent leather oxford (with no decoration) or a plain black, cap toe oxford (also in picture). To be really proper, you should use flat, silk shoelaces (if you can find them!)

    [​IMG]
     
    Sir RBH likes this.
  3. The real Henry

    The real Henry Practically Family

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Löhne, Germany
    :arated: !!!!!!! Especialy the white dinner jacket is fantastic! Wasn't it also common to put a red flower beside the lapels?

    The explanation are nice, too!
     
  4. Mr. Rover

    Mr. Rover One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,875
    Location:
    The Center of the Universe
    I think using a buttoniere to accent your dinner ensemble was and still is common.
    I tend to see roses and carnations the most, and in England, the poppy is very popular. These go into the buttonhole of your left lapel (popular on the right for a very short stint, i think). You sometimes find a little loop sewn into the reverse side of the lapel to secure the stem to keep the flower standing up straight.
    My 1920's dinner jacket, which is single breasted with peaked lapels, doesn't have a buttoniere hole. Instead, it has a slight break between the collar and lapel where you insert the flower. There is a thread between the collar and lapel and some elastic on the reverse side of the pale to hold the flower in place.


    ray
     
  5. Mr. Rover

    Mr. Rover One Too Many

    Messages:
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    Location:
    The Center of the Universe
    Buttoniere Fastening

    Front View:
    Clean, smooth silk without a buttoniere hole.
    [​IMG]

    Back View:
    Thread and elastic loop hold flower in place
    [​IMG]
     
  6. Flitcraft

    Flitcraft One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,037
    Shindeco:
    Thank you, Sir, for posting that!
    I found your explanations succinct and to the point. Also thought you did a geat job of modelling the different looks.
    Any idea on when the "Midnight Blue" tuxedo was in fashion? Been thinking of getting a dbl breasted model for my next one ( I actually have a job where I need formal wear quite bit), and I was thinking of getting something a little different, but still classic.
     
  7. Midnight Blue

    As I understand midnight blue is Edwardian or from the time of Prince Albert. Midnight blue when done correctly is supposed to be "Blacker than Black" and a great formal color.
     
  8. Open Notch

    When considering a Tux especially here in the States you should note that any Tux where the notch is open as opposed to a Peak Lapel is considered more informal. It is as an offshoot of the Business or Lounge suit and more something an Entertainer would wear. A peak Lapel is more formal. (My personal taste does not consider a shawl lapel as formal wear.)
     
  9. Now that is cool. Original you think? Or a home-done job when the dude decided he wanted to wear a flower?

    bk
     
  10.  
  11. My cufflinks are just like the ones on the far left. Victorian, i think ... Mother of pearl and some precious metal. I wear them whenever i need links.

    bk
     
  12. Mr. Rover

    Mr. Rover One Too Many

    Messages:
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    Location:
    The Center of the Universe
    It had to be original. I bought it with the tags still on the cuff!


    ray
     
  13. shindeco

    shindeco A-List Customer

    That's a major coup, Ray! Can't wait to see you wearing it. How are you accessorizing?

    Addendum on the flowers: in the 30s, carnations were the flower of choice. White was the most correct and red was a daring alternative. Early issues of Esquire and AA report (favourably) on fake red carnations made of feathers. I would LOVE to see one of those!! A gardenia was correct for the groom at a wedding.
     
  14. I seem to recall there was a miniature glass "vase" that was used to hold a Buttoniere and hold water to keep it fresh.

    Sincerely,
     
  15. shindeco

    shindeco A-List Customer

    David Suchet wears one as Poirot in the TV series; his is silver. Apparently you can still get them.
     
  16. yachtsilverswan

    yachtsilverswan Familiar Face

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Atlanta
    David Suchet as Poirot's Lapel Vase

    InspectorMorse told me that Poirot's silver lapel vase was given to the character by a lady in the episode "The Chocolate Box."

    [​IMG][/URL][/IMG]

    I was able to find another US source for these silver lapel vases in differing styles from a Buy-It-Now eBay site (since the site is Buy-It-Now, disclosing the source does not drive up eBay prices) (The long URL is to sort out only the Buy-It-Now pieces). $25 - $30. I think Poirot wears a much smaller flower in his vase than shown in my illustration - and his looks better.

    http://search.stores.ebay.com/925-Sterling-Silver-Curio-Shoppe_vase_W0QQfcdZ2QQfciZQ2d1QQfclZ4QQfromZR10QQfsnZ925Q20SterlingQ20SilverQ20CurioQ20ShoppeQQfsooZ1QQfsopZ1QQftsZ2QQsascsZ2QQsaselZ45476038QQsofpZ2
     
  17. ********
    I've looked and searched and googled and yahooed and tried variation on the vest, waistcoat, looked up formal wear and morning suit as leads, but can't find it at all.

    Anybody got a lead?
     
  18. Zach R.

    Zach R. Practically Family

    I've seen some guys sport this look, but is it a major faux pas to wear an un-matching cummerbund? Say a red cummerbund with a black tie?

    Also, what about a jacket with peak lapels and a cummerbund(black to match a black bowtie)?
     

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