Like ordering fine wine to perfectly pair with a meal, most people don’t know how to coordinate the elements of a tuxedo. But unlike wine, learning about how to dress in proper black tie can be pretty simple if you have the right guidelines. I emphasize “guidelines.”
But first a little history on the tuxedo for those of you (like me) that love the back story. The concept of the tuxedo first emerged in the UK in the 1860s when Edward VII, Prince of Wales opted for a tailless jacket to be worn as formal evening wear. His Savile Row tailors made the custom suit, and the style eventually made its way across the pond. By the 1880s, it was extremely popular with New Yorkers in the wealthy upstate enclave of Tuxedo Park, hence the name. The addition of the bow tie came a bit later though. Originally worn by Croatian mercenaries during the 17th century, bow ties spread around France in the 18th century. But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Pierre Lorillard III, one of the original developers of the Tuxedo Club—a country club within Tuxedo Park—matched a black bow tie with his tuxedo jacket for a formal event. The look caught on, and the concept of “black tie” was born. Of course, I love this story since it is about a king that broke the rules.
It is pretty incredible when you think of how long this look has remained the same. Sure, there are a few variations, but the overall look of the tuxedo remains the standard attire for formal affairs, so it is good to know the basics.
For starters, I don’t follow trends, but I definitely have my own style. I grew up looking to icons like Frank Sinatra, and you see even today their style was on point. Stay traditional. Black is the obvious color choice, but midnight blue is an excellent way to stand out without calling too much attention to yourself. The midnight blue is still elegant but has a little more personality, and I love it paired with my custom John Lobb velvet slippers. It is one of my favorite looks. Recently, I was at the Tom Ford store on Rodeo Drive and was getting one of my cocktail jackets altered (as shown in the pictures). While the incredible satin pattern is different than the typical black or navy I wear, the cut is traditional and the tailoring impeccable. Like I said, keep it appropriate, but it is okay to make a statement.
As with my suits and shirts, there is no substitute for a well-tailored bespoke tux. In fact, this is one garment you should always have custom made for you, if you can. For those that don’t have the option of hitting Savile Row, I suggest going to Tom Ford or Brioni, who make an incredible made-to-measure tuxedo. The classic look for the tuxedo will have larger lapels and should be a shawl collar or peak lapel, preferably in a one-button or double-breasted option. No one understands the importance of that better than Tom Ford, whose attention to detail is amazing. “I probably do have an obsessive personality, but striving for perfection has served me well,” the designer has said.
For me, living in Beverly Hills, I have always been fond of the Tom Ford store on Rodeo Drive. (If you’re heading there, be sure to ask for Jason.) They won’t fail you for an immediate off-the-rack option. They can get you fitted right away and have your garment tailored properly quickly.
Finally, put it all together. A proper tuxedo is about more than just a jacket and bowtie. These are a few of my guidelines and points I have learned along the way. Try incorporating a few and see if it works for you.
Jacket: I do not consider a notch lapel to be formal attire. I see trendy red carpet looks in notch lapel or a grey tuxedo. In my opinion, you should always go for a shawl or peaked lapel. The jacket should be a one or two button, or I also prefer a double-breasted jacket, which is a little more formal and is an exceptional fit for a slimmer man.
Pants: These should match the jacket. Whether you choose a grosgrain-trimmed lapel or all satin, the stripe down the side of the pants should coordinate. You should also pay attention to the pant length. They should be a little shorter and not have a break as suit pants would. And they should never have a cuff; they should be flat front and not have pleats.
Shirt: My favorite is a custom, crisp white Brioni. However, I do own a light blue one to pair with a midnight navy tux when I want to be more expressive. I also love monograms on my custom shirts. Of course, monograms for my suit shirts are done on the front panel of the shirt below the chest, but on a tuxedo shirt I have it done on the sleeve, so the cummerbund doesn’t cover it. Also, I always suggest showing a little more cuff on your tuxedo.
Bow tie: Learn to tie a proper one. And please don’t wear a clip-on tie, unless you are under the age of 16. Always make sure the material matches your lapel and trim on the side of the pants. I also love wearing a satin scarf if I choose not to wear a bowtie. Don’t dress down your tux with a satin necktie instead of a bow tie. The whole point of a tux is to dress formally.
Shoes: I love velvet slippers. But the main guideline here is that your shoes should match either the fabric of the satin or grosgrain.
Those are the basics and of course, just my guidelines. Take them or leave them. You can take it from there. Just like everything I do in life, I learned everything I know from the experts. Follow the guidelines, but make it yours. Even if you don’t have a reason to wear a tux now, you never know when the occasion will show up, and you want to make sure you are communicating the right statement.