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The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette 13 Articles

Introduction

Black Tie Rules | Formal Guide

The definition of men’s formal wear has devolved rather quickly over the past one-hundred years into something almost unrecognizable from its Edwardian standard. Wartime rationing of dry goods, the self-loathing and perpetuated adolescence of the Baby Boomers, and general societal malaise have brought formal dress to the precipice of extinction.

It is almost inconceivable to our 21st century ears in learning that the dinner jacket, upon introduction into mainstream society, was considered so utterly informal and grotesque that it was permissible only within the confines of one’s own home, and at events in which women would not be present. Sadly, it presently represents the pinnacle of formality, and is hardly seen outside of the utmost solemn occasions. And in the few instances when a man does don black tie, it is most likely to be that vile, rented ensemble — defying all conceivable sartorial etiquette — less flattering than one of his own day suits.

This handbook is intended to explain the lost art of black tie etiquette, and to teach the reader how to correctly assume each exquisite piece of the proper dinner jacket ensemble; from the collar studs to the shirt studs. You will undoubtedly gain a new-found appreciation for the unparalleled masculinity and debonair nature of black tie. And upon learning the rules, you will inevitably gain the knowledge of how to tastefully diversify.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
Introduction
by A. Gustav Bayer

About the Jacket

Tuxedo Jacket | Black Tie JacketUnquestionably, the jacket is the most telling element of the black tie ensemble. It is likely to be the first piece that, anyone who knows, will notice about you — so it must be impeccable. As much as your local, bargain “formal” clothier would like you to think otherwise, there are definite rules regarding each and every aspect of the jacket’s form.

Within normal context (i.e. an opera or stage opening, formal reception, etc.) a black, (or midnight blue) wool jacket is the sole option. Acceptable alternatives to color and cut are discussed forthwith at the conclusion of this handbook, but are discouraged, lest one should resemble a Jazz Age steamer ensign. The lapels are typically peaked (never notched) and a single button closure is greatly encouraged.
 
The objective of men’s formal wear is to convey simplicity and minimalism —  meaning that lines, seams, and suit construction are to be concealed at all costs. That is why pockets should be discrete: always besom, and flapless; or if flapped, always tucked in. Buttons are covered and little or no color is introduced into the ensemble. A white, linen pocket square is de rigueur, as is a black, grosgrain bow tie. These accoutrements will be further explained in pages to come.

The most formal dinner jackets are unvented, and may be worn unbuttoned, to show off the waistcoat.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
About the Jacket
by A. Gustav Bayer

About the Trousers

Tuxedo Trousers | Black Tie Trousers | Tuxedo Pants

Braided trousers should epitomize the cardinal tenet of black tie minimalism. The braiding (inspired by formal wear’s military heritage) cover the leg seams as well as make the pockets virtually invisible. Little or no attention, therefore, should be drawn to the trousers, allowing the more decorative elements to play lead.

Under no circumstances should the trousers be worn with a belt or even have belt loops. This would most definitely appear clumsy and allow the trousers to sag and waver about the hips. Braces, buttoned to the inside of the trousers, are the acceptable solution. Not only do they prevent the trousers from falling a single inch, they are easily concealed by the waistcoat, as well, catering to that imperative desire to hide the “guts” of the ensemble.

The high waist assures that the shirt never “peaks out” from betwixt the waistcoat and trousers. A superlative level of refinement is always one’s objective upon wearing black tie. Remember that formal wear is not meant to be comfortable (which it is when adorned correctly) — it is meant to be undoubtedly flattering and debonair. The entire ensemble should fit as if it was made only for you (which it should be). The objective is to resemble a daguerreotype in the flesh; the embodiment of an era in which men and manhood were not defined by how low one could sling his dungarees, or how many yellow, rubber bracelets he could affix to his tattooed forearms — but by the grace and demeanor of masculinity, coupled with a self-awareness for the beauty of human achievement.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
About the Trousers
by A. Gustav Bayer

About the Shirt

No single piece of the black tie puzzle has been more bastardized in the past 50 years than the shirt. It has gone from the most elegant and stylized element, to the most squat and unremarkable. This is unquestionably due to the two characteristics that define it: its high maintenance nature, and relative level of discomfort (by Baby Boomer standards).

Formal Shirt | Tuxedo Shirt | Shirt Studs

A true formal shirt has very few details, but each are crucial to its sartorial success.  Foremost —

• The bib, or area that is seen once the jacket is on, must be as clean, white and stiff as possible.

• The bib must be closed with studs. 

• The collar must be a tall, standing wing collar, preferably detachable. Nothing is less correct than the modern-day soft, short, attached wing collar sold at retail.

• The cuff must be a single cuff, or barrel roll (not a French of informal button cuff). 

All of these uncompromising characteristics have sadly fallen prey to the strong hand of casuality, but are most easily furnished by the astute Duchess, Clothier. Huzzah! The correct application of the studs and the shirt itself, can be a bit daunting. However, these procedures are described in detail subsequently.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
About the Shirt
by A. Gustav Bayer

About the Waistcoast

Like the “boiled-front” shirt, the proper black tie waistcoat has been out of mainstream circulation for half a century — to the chagrin and frustration of all true sartorial savants. And like the elusive shirt, the waistcoat’s modern day kin couldn’t be more erroneous.

Tuxedo Vest | Fancy Vest | Black Tie Vest | Waistcoat
The true form has specific reasons for its construct —

• The extremely low-cut front allows for a majority of the pristine bib to be visible, even with a buttoned jacket. 

• The removable studs accommodate the application of those that match the shirt studs and cuff links.

• The generously-cut armholes allow for comfort (the jacket is never removed in public, therefore, only the front of the vest would ever be visible).

It is typical and appropriate for the waistcoat to match the material of the jacket and trousers, but for the more ostentatious, brocade (a fabric with a woven, monochromatic design, often times floral) or even velvet are encouraged by the author.

Besom pockets are, again, intended to be almost invisible, but are necessary for watches, cigarette cases, et al. Try not to overdo it, however, and always match metals (gold with gold, silver with silver), or avoid wearing excessive jewelry at all.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
About the Waistcoat
by A. Gustav Bayer

About the Footwear

Selecting the proper footwear to accompany black tie is traditionally restricted to either lace-up oxfords or the more ostentatious opera pump. That is not to say they are the only options, but again, this handbook is meant to be referentially historical as well as a teaching tool.
Formal Shoes | Sock Garters

Whatever your choice may be, submit mercifully to these rules —

• The shoe must be black.

• It should appear highly polished and impeccably clean.

• Any boot at all, or any shoe with a chunky toe is antithetical to the black tie objective: to resemble a streamlined, illustratively idyllic bastion of stoic perfection.

• The hosiery must be black.

• A gentleman may not, at any time, allow his bare calf or (God help him) ankle to be seen. Sock garters are a most reasonable solution. They are one of the most fail-safe pieces of men’s toggery, and are a traditionalist’s bread and butter. 

The use of overshoes or galoshes in inclement weather is by all means encouraged. Embrace any means necessary to keep your footwear (and feet) warm, clean and dry.
 

The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
About the Footwear
by A. Gustav Bayer


About the Furnishings

Shirt Studs | Cufflinks | Collar StudsMost definitely, the common man is repelled by the intricacies and time-consuming rituals of proper black tie regalia — the very appeal to the sartorialist. Admittedly, these processes come not intuitively to even the most adamant learner. Know then that there is little shame in being guided regarding their uses, for these furnishings’ presence is an integral part of the ensemble. Remember that each has a very particular and specific use. They are not interchangeable.

Commonly, the shirt studs, cuff links and waistcoat studs match each other. However, a man with exceptional style can make the final call on the aforementioned. What is most important is that these pieces are neither plastic nor built-in. Nothing says “bargain rental” like black, plastic studs. Consequently, the author even avoids black precious stone inlays, lest they be confused with their synthetic doppelgängers. Mother-of-pearl inlay solves this problem most soundly and goodly.

The effort applied to tracking down the ideal furnishings suited to one’s taste will go neither unheralded nor leave one unfulfilled. And the initial frustration and learning curve regarding their application will be rewarded ten-fold upon that very first glance 
in the dressing mirror. It may seem insignificant at the onset, but in every sartorial instance: the Details Conquer All. 

Instructions on employing these furnishings can be found thither.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
About the Furnishings
by A. Gustav Bayer


 

Adornment

Black Tie Scarf CaneParticular occasions and discerning personalities beg for a level of adornment that is above and beyond the standard fare. Of course there are rules that one must abide by even at this level. However, there is still room for plenty of individuality to pervade.

Head wear – A plain black or beaver felt homburg is the sole option. By Edwardian standards, the bowler or derby is anachronistic and the top hat is reserved purely for white tie. Embellishment, however, is open to interpretation. Feathers, pins or flowers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Seasonal – Although they are not exclusive to cold weather, kid gloves, silk scarves and ulster overcoats are typically only worn year-round for white tie occasions. The author, however,  is by no means discouraging their use. Typically, white, light gray or even light yellow are acceptable colors – especially in regards to morning dress and white tie.

Faunæ – The only acceptable accessorized animalcule is the miniature dachshund, and it must be named Schmutzig.

FloræTo be discussed anon.

Other avenues to explore include walking sticks containing daggers or flasks, antique firearms, opera glasses, monkeys’ paws, jew’s-harps, horse tranquilizers and falsified Notary Public insigniæ.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
Adornment
by A. Gustav Bayer

 

Admissible Variance

Smoking Jacket | Shawl CollarDifferent climates and settings undoubtedly can influence the black tie protocol. Under certain circumstances, straying from the standard dress code is encouraged. One needs to take extra care, however, in matching the jacket with the appropriate context – lest he comically sticks out in a crowd.

Double-Breasted – Can be worn in place of the single-breasted in most situations. It is considered less formal, but that formality is more of an anachronism these days. It can be worn with a stiff front and wing collar, or a soft, turn-down collar. No waistcoat is ever necessary with a double-breasted jacket.
 
Shawl Lapel – The shawl lapel is the least formal of the three lapel types. The black (and especially the white or cream-colored) jackets are worn appropriately at summer outings, and in tropical climates. A soft, turn-down collar, black cummerbund and traditional black, braided trousers are staple accompaniment.

Smoking Jacket – Not for the faint of heart. It’s the hallmark of a true sartorial artisan. It’s intent is for domestic use, but to own one means that you’ve probably got the gumption to wear it out of doors. Midnight purple, emerald green and burgundy velvets are good places to start. A soft, turn-down collar is the appropriate go-with.

The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
Admissible Variances
by A. Gustav Bayer

Technique: Employing Shirt & Collar Studs

How To Shirt Studs | Collar StudsEngaging the shirt studs is arguably the most fickle task to master —

• Starting at the topmost stud eyelet, begin by placing the longer end of the stud through the front of the shirt. 

• Pull the spring-loaded end of the stud, allowing the whole of the shaft to pass through the eyelet. 

• Repeat this process with the corresponding rear eyelet until the shaft is securely through the shirt. 

This will undoubtedly require the adept use of the hands, inside and outside of the shirt. Repeat the entire process, downwards, with the remaining two studs.

The collar studs are quite a bit more manageable, and done so with the collarless shirt already on the body. 

• Starting with the rear stud, “open” the clasp and pass it through inside of the shirt, outward, followed by the collar. Promptly “close” the clasp of the stud. 

• The front stud is then engaged — first through the innermost and then the outer “tunic” of the shirt. 

• Following suit, pass the stud through the corresponding, alternating inner and outer layers of the standing collar.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
Technique: Employing Shirt & Collar Studs
by A. Gustav Bayer
 

Technique: Employing Cufflinks

How To Cufflinks | Barrel CuffThere is nothing simpler in form than the barrel-roll cuff.  It’s obvious why it would be considered the perfect compliment to the black tie ensemble. The two sides of the cuff delicately kiss one another, only to be held in a sartorial embrace by a traditional link. 


• Place either end of the link through either outer side of the cuff. It tends to be a tight fit, so be diligent, but also be careful!

• Pass that same link facing through the remaining hole. It couldn’t be more simple.
If and when you decide to wear one of the appropriate alternatives to the traditional single-breasted, black dinner jacket, a French cuff is a quite acceptable substitute to the barrel roll. The two cuff styles are nearly identical in that both pinch closed at the bottom. But instead of the single cuff feature of the barrel roll, the French cuff folds back upon itself before being linked closed.

• See to it that the cuff has been folded over the top of itself, and that the cuff link holes are aligned.

• Place either end of the link through either outer side of the cuff, likewise through the second layer of that side.

• Pass that same link facing through the remaining holes.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette:
Technique: Employing Cufflinks
by A. Gustav Bayer

Technique: Employing a Bow Tie

Tie a Bowtie | How to tie a Bow TieThe shape and size of one’s tie is open to taste, interpretation and facial proportions. The two most common tie shapes are the bat wing and the butterfly. It goes without saying that, with all of the effort invested in protocol hitherto, a self-tying tie is mandatory. 

• Insert the tie through the loop at the nape of the neck

• Place the tie around the neck, situating it insomuch as end “A” is a few inches longer than end “B”

• Adeptly cross end “A” over end “B”

• Bring end “A” up and under the loop

• Double end “B” over itself to create the front loop of the tie

• Loop end “A” over the center of the aforementioned loop

• Keeping the whole in check, double end “A” back upon itself and insert through the loop behind the tie

• Adjust the tie by deftly cajoling the ends, and pull, straightening the center knot

Traditionally, the tie is made of the same grosgrain as the lapel facing and the trouser braid. It is ideal to wear a fitted tie, meaning that the length is not adjustable. Therefore, no buckle is visible. The collar wings are always worn behind the tie.


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette
Technique: Employing a Bow Tie
by A. Gustav Bayer
 

Technique: Florally Adorning Thyself

Lapel flowersThe thought of a boutonniere conjures memories of junior proms and the like. However, nothing is more fashionable and appropriate than the right choice of flower to top-off a stellar ensemble. Some options are obviously more exciting than others. Regardless of which flower you choose, avoid the assembled “mini corsage.” Baby’s Breath et al are the true promenadian scarlet letter. 

Simply insert the stem (trimmed to about 2 inches) through the front of the buttonhole, and behind the stem loop (of your Duchess dinner jacket). And promptly get thee to a nunnery, you naughty, little tramp!


The Minutiæ of Black Tie Etiquette
Technique: Florally Adorning Thyself
by A. Gustav Bayer


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