Black tie

Your most pressing style questions answered

Question
How come actors wear long black ties with their dinner jackets? Will we all be doing it in a few years?
Answer
You sometimes wonder if they don't know how to tie a bow. However, it does work if you want to give a modern twist to the evening. In a good tuxedo, however, every man can pretend he's James Bond, and the bow tie is a necessary part of the dinner-jacket ensemble - without it there's not enough to separate it from any other black suit. Crucially, a bow tie can be undone and worn loose around an open collar in a dégagé fashion that a necktie can't touch.
Question
Do you have to wear a winged collar with a dinner jacket?
Answer
Attention, class - it is time for a very brief lesson. A century ago gentlemen used to eat their evening meals in a dinner jacket every day. The point of this piece of sartorial history is to show that the dinner jacket was designed to be comfortable; it's a suit made for dining and dancing in, so it is only a success if you're at ease in it. Few of us will find it easy to relax in a wing collar. Go for an immaculate white marcella shirt, with a piqué front and a soft collar, and relax.
Question
What is a cummerbund for, and do people still wear them?
Answer
The reason the cummerbund has been largely abandoned is because it is now pointless. Originally worn under a dinner jacket as a lighter alternative to a waistcoat (this was in the days when an exposed waistband was considered bad form) it has been rendered redundant now that we're unperturbed by the sight of a waistband. However, if you do want to hark back, go the whole hog and get a horseshoe-shaped double-breasted waistcoat, which is far more stylish.
Question
What is the right way to wear a dinner jacket (tuxedo)?
Answer
If you are asked to wear a tuxedo, make the most of it. They look best with peak lapels, whether they're single-breasted or double-breasted. And, though double-breasted is invariably warmer than single, it is often more elegant. Unfortunately for mavericks the dinner jacket allows very little leeway, mainly because it is an unbeatable formula, so stick to the script with a black bow tie in the same kind of silk that you have on your lapels (grosgrain is best), a white shirt with either a fly front or with holes for shirt studs, a white pocket square in silk or linen, black socks and highly polished black oxford shoes. That leaves room for displays of individuality only with your choice of cufflinks, watch and shirt studs.
Question
What to wear to a wedding in the UK?
Answer
Assuming the wedding isn't a stiff affair that calls for a morning suit, then guests have pretty free rein. If you are going for a regular (lounge) suit, which is usually appropriate unless something else is specified, then the key is not to look as though you are dressed for the office. That means injecting a little élan into the outfit, which will also help lift your mood. A fresh-looking pale- or mid-grey suit is a good foundation, and will look good over a pale blue or a white shirt. Minimalists might go for a black knitted tie, but a textured navy tie (make sure it's not shiny) would be even better. Add a white pocket square, navy socks and black shoes and you're done. Alternatively if you start with a blue suit then choose one in a shade lighter than navy, add a white, pale-blue or pink shirt, a pale-blue, gold or navy tie (depending on what shirt colour you go for), a white pocket square, navy socks and black or brown shoes. Every item should look clean, polished or pressed.