Nine Ways To Master Black Tie

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Nine Ways To Master Black Tie

Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher

12 November 2015

Mr Dennis Hopper in a limousine outside his LA home, 1993. Photograph by Thomas Hoepker/ Magnum Photos

Avoid looking like a penguin or a maître d’ this party season and steal a few moves from these men in the know.

A man never looks better than when he’s wearing a tux – it’s flattering, glamorous, sophisticated and elegant, and designed to be worn only when a man is partying.

Although black tie is a uniform, it can be subtly altered to make it more comfortable, personal or eye-catching – which is why we’ve turned to icons such as Sir Roger Moore and Mr David Beckham, whose efforts we applaud.

When a tux feels right, you might even want to wear it more often. I once found myself inadvertently wearing a dinner jacket in an upmarket pizzeria in London’s well-heeled Chelsea, and was struck by the warm welcome and attentive service I received.

The details to look for: the shape and fabric of the lapels, whether the jacket is double- or single-breasted, and if the pockets have flaps or not. Read on to learn how to nail the tux this season.

Mr Greg Chait

Stands out in a white jacket

Mr Greg Chait arriving at the CFDA Awards, New York, 2014. Photograph by Tommy Ton/ Trunk Archive

Although Mr Greg Chait works in the fashion industry, it’s not immediately obvious that, as the founder of The Elder Statesman, an artisanal cashmere brand that produces sophisticated knitwear for global nomads, he’d know his way around a tuxedo. It turns out that he does, as this shot by street-style photographer Mr Tommy Ton amply demonstrates. Mr Chait’s ivory-coloured dinner jacket is simple, correct and eye-catching. The details are spot-on in terms of the shawl collar and the jetted pockets (dinner jackets look most sleek without flaps over the pockets), and the shape is lean, short and modern. Meanwhile, the fly-fronted white shirt and black bow tie are entirely traditional, which means they allow all the attention to fall on the jacket. It’s a masterful ensemble, with a hint of playfulness, thanks to the jacket’s turn-back cuffs.



Allows his personality to shine through

It may not be an exaggeration to say that Mr David Beckham changed the way a nation dressed. His style matured at the exact moment British men woke up from the sartorial torpor of the 1990s and early 2000s and rediscovered dressing up. One of the hallmarks of the truly stylish is that, whatever they’re wearing, they retain the essence of their character. Take Mr Gary Cooper, who looked utterly Mr Cooperish, whether out hunting in jeans or dressed up in white tie. And so it is with Mr Beckham, whether he’s in a shawl-collar dinner jacket, pleated shirt and bow tie, or jeans and a Belstaff jacket.


Mr Bryan Ferry

Shows the elegance of a classic, double-breasted dinner jacket

The British singer is almost as famous for the way he wears his clothes (many of which are from London tailor Anderson & Sheppard) as he is for the music he’s made (first with Roxy Music and latterly as a solo artist). Mr Bryan Ferry’s sound has changed over the years and his dress sense has matured, too, but he has always understood the allure of a tuxedo. There’s a great photograph of him performing at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1972, in which he’s wearing a wide-lapelled single-breasted tuxedo. The shot, above, captures the singer in a beautifully executed double-breasted dinner jacket. We note that while he looks relaxed and comfortable, the shine on his shoes reveals that his elegance is far from effortless.


Mr George Clooney

Mixes classic clothes with 21st-century accessories and grooming

Mr George Clooney at the 66th Venice International Film Festival, 2009. Photograph by Luca Ghidoni/ Getty Images

Mr George Clooney has long achieved the tricky balance of seeming entirely modern, yet possessing a charm and elegance that recall Hollywood’s golden era. His style is a case in point. While Mr Clooney’s tuxedo is a classic single-breasted number with satin-faced peak lapels, and his shirt has old-fashioned studs instead of buttons, his look isn’t simply a throwback. There’s a subtle update in the form of the jacket’s soft shoulders, Mr Clooney’s steel sports watch (traditionally, watches weren’t worn at all with dinner jackets but, given that the actor is an ambassador for the watch brand Omega, an exception can clearly be made) and his salt-and-pepper stubble. Mr Clooney clearly believes that a man in a tuxedo should look comfortable, rather than stiffly ceremonial.


Mr Paul Newman

Tells us that a dinner jacket should be an investment

Grace is a hard quality to define, but it’s something that Mr Paul Newman had in spades. And, like Mr David Beckham, he had the uncanny ability to always look just like himself, whether he was dressed in prison blues (as in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke), or in a three-piece suit (as in 1973’s The Sting). This remarkable shot was taken in Venice in 1963, when the actor visited the Film Festival to promote Hud. It’s said that, between his looks and his demeanour, he dazzled Venice, and we suspect that he probably won quite a few fans when out swimming and revealing his enviable washboard abs. Here, formally dressed, Mr Newman looks relaxed and sophisticated in a dinner jacket with peak lapels, a horseshoe-shaped waistcoat and a pleated shirt.


Messers Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin

Remind us to have a good time

Amid all this high-minded talk of grace, elegance and panache, it’s easy to forget that the tux is the only garment designed exclusively for celebrations. Here, three giants of the mid-20th-century show-business scene, comedians Mr Milton Berle and Mr Jerry Lewis, and singer and Rat Pack member Mr Dean Martin, are demonstrably having a good time in their dinner jackets at the Friars Club Testimonial Dinner in 1955. The details are a little hard to discern, but all three men wear single-breasted jackets (Mr Berle clearly in a shawl-collar version) and studs in their shirts. Not that they look too worried about such sartorial concerns, being rather more occupied by having a party (while Ms Marilyn Monroe and Mr Eddie Fisher look on in the background).



Has got it and is happy to flaunt it

How do you walk in the shadow of the late Mr Gianni Agnelli, one of the best-dressed men of the 20th century? If you’re Mr Lapo Elkann, Mr Agnelli’s grandson, the answer is easy. The industrialist and creative entrepreneur has a fearless approach to style, as shown when he wore a brown velvet, double-breasted dinner jacket to the Vanity Fair Oscars party in 2013. Not only is the material unusual, but Mr Elkann’s tailor pulled out all the stops with broad-peak lapels and turn-back cuffs. The effect is crowned with the over-sized bow tie and a pair of sunglasses (presumably by Mr Elkann’s brand Italia Independent). This is a masterclass in how to make a big impression.



Proves that even rebels look good in a tux

Neither the Venice Beach district of LA nor the late actor Mr Dennis Hopper is easily associated with tuxedos. Yet here the actor is in formal attire, rising out of a limousine parked outside his Mr Frank Gehry-designed home. The property’s interior, which featured chopper motorcycles in the living room (a nod to one of his most famous roles), was strikingly modern. However, when it was time to dress up, the actor respected the classic codes. He’s seen in a shawl-collar jacket, a fly-front shirt with double cuffs, and a hand-tied bow tie. What would the countercultural characters he played in Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now have made of such elitist garb?


Mr Daniel Craig

Shows that a dinner jacket is unbeatable

James Bond has, thanks to Mr Daniel Craig and Spectre, never seemed so relevant, and so Mr Ian Fleming’s fictional spy remains the best possible advert for dinner jackets (as well as Omega watches, Aston Martin and Bollinger champagne). The ivory-coloured Tom Ford dinner jacket that Bond wore on the Moroccan train both to drink martinis with Ms Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, and to knock ten bells out of Mr Dave Bautista’s Hinx, is a masterpiece of modern sophistication. The peak lapels and structured shoulders make quite an impact, while the restrained details – such as the grosgrain lapels and cloth-covered buttons – keep the mood elegant.