The Nights Are Fair Drawin’ In - Black Tie for Ayrshire Magazine
As I sit here writing this, I find it difficult to ignore my surroundings. Horizontal rain is attacking the windows, wind is howling in the chimney and I’ve just noticed it’s the first time this year that I’ve kept my jumper on indoors. Winter truly is here.
This is my favourite time of year. The nights are fair drawing in and as we approach the C word we enter dinner party season. You’ve probably already received some invites, and you know there are more in the post. Nights from September to December are filled with Charity dinners, end of year celebrations and hospitality events. Hotels and function suits across the land are packed with big businesses thanking their staff and clients for hard work and custom throughout the year; with Balmoral chicken and frivolity hosted by the likes of Des Clark or Fred Macaulay.
The black tie dinner party is an inevitable occasion in the gentleman’s calendar, one that is fraught with rules and to the untrained, can be a sartorial minefield. Gentlemen seem to have a real aversion to asking for help, so preparing for a black tie event can be an anxiety inducing joyless mess, of confusion and social embarrassment. However, rules are there to be bent, some are there to be broken, but before attempting Brummell-esque contravene, you must know these rules and understand the reasoning behind them.
- Rule #1 – Jacket styling
The variations in jacket styles can be overwhelming, but break it down, and it’s simple. A black tie event is a formal occasion, a chance for everyone to dress up and to look their best; in menswear, that means looking for that classic V shape silhouette. Your jacket should give the illusion of broad shoulders and narrow waist; a peaked lapel will do this, drawing the eye across the shoulders and down the body. Keep notched lapels reserved for lounge suits and daywear. If you are of athletic build, a shawl lapel can look excellent and adds a bit of vintage charm.
Worsted wool, mohair, cashmere or velvet are all appropriate, in colours of black, midnight-blue, burgundy or bottle green. Patterns and tartans are on trend at the moment, but tread carefully, you’re not Andy Stewart. Lapels should be a contrasting black silk as should buttons, pocket jets and trouser braiding.
In the UK a white jacket is absolutely unacceptable at black tie. Unless you’re part of the jazz quartet; a white jacket should only be worn at certain formal events in the US (during the summer) in tropical climates or at sea.
Traditionally dinner jackets don’t have vents at the back; this goes back to when sports coats were for riding and evening wear had to be distinctly different. Times have changed and unless you’re the Lone Ranger I don’t image you would be riding to your event, all the same, side vents make the jacket shape more flattering and comfortable and totally acceptable in evening wear. A single back vent should be avoided. (I would gladly applaud anyone who arrived at my party on horseback! HI-HO Silver!)
- Rule #2 – Shirts
Shirts are simple as there are really only two options – Marcella (woven diamond texture) or Pleated (vertical lines). These shirts have holes on both sides for dress studs that are sort of screw in buttons. Black studs will break up the white and lead the eye down the centre of the body creating a nice line and helping that silhouette. It’s my opinion that winged collars are reserved for white tie events so should be avoided at black tie. It goes without saying the shirt cuff should be double and cufflinks should be simple and elegant.
- Rule #3 – Shoes
Three options here – black patent, black leather or black velvet. Keep them sleek and simple, I’d avoid laces and go for slippers or loafers (or at least have very short laces) The only hard and fast rule here is absolutely no brogues.
- Rule #4 – Accessories
This is where you can have a bit of fun and show some real sartorial flair. Let’s start at the top and move down.
- Hats – Never! Don’t even think about it – you won’t look like Fred Astaire if you wear a top hat.
- Pocket Square – I like this to be plain, but equally acceptable is a subtle pattern – polka dots or paisley for example- try to keep it white or ivory and always silk
- Tie – Always a bow-tie, a black neck-tie should only ever be worn at funerals. You have to tie it yourself, if you don’t know how to do it, learn. (there are few things more gentlemanly then undoing a bow tie at the end of the night with nonchalance) The material should match the lapels of your jacket ie silk. You can have a bit of fun with shape and size, but remember proportions; if you have a large head a small a tie will make it look larger, and too big a tie will make you look like the Dark Knight’s nemesis (which you are not).
- Don’t wear a belt. Wear braces to hold your trousers up and if you’re not wearing a waistcoat, a cummerbund should be worn to cover your waistband, this will elongate your legs and pull in your waist at the same time. (Cummerbund should be worn with pleat edges facing upwards)
- Watch – Some would say that a wristwatch is inappropriate at a dinner party. You should be so enthralled in your company that you don’t need to know what time it is. I agree with the sentiment, however, an elegant wristwatch will always have a place in a gentleman’s outfit – keep it simple, avoid the bling.
- Rule #5 – Etiquette
Dinner party etiquette could have an article of its own, but on this occasion I’ll keep it short. A black tie event is a sophisticated evening of elegance and gentry, you have been invited because people enjoy your company and want to share their time with you, be the best version of yourself. Keep the conversations flowing, be polite, courteous and charming, take it easy on the drams, thank the host and most importantly of all; enjoy the night.