It's that time of year. Dinners, parties, events, various Christmas
engagements… some to get excited about, others you'd rather avoid like
the plague. But regardless, evening wear is an attire that instantly elevates
a man from run-of-the-mill to dashing gent.
Black tie or white tie attire isn't hard to get right, but there are a few cornerstones.
Once you understand them, you'll be at ease. How to look sharp? Read on…
How to spot a quality dinner jacket from a rented one
The important point about black tie is you only wear it a handful of times a year but it
will last for a decade or more. So if you invest in something that is well made and fits
you properly you'll always look good. With a dinner jacket, it's the small details that
make the difference: the facing material on the lapels should match the braiding on
the trousers and ideally the button fabric. Grosgrain silk, rather than satin, looks
more considered and elegant. The fabric is important because it's got to last; traditionally
it'll be wool barathea. Ideally, the jacket should have a closed back with no vents at all.
That makes for a clean silhouette. However, it's not very practical, so if you're going to
have vents, choose side vents. A centre vent will blow open and expose your shirt,
which can look untidy.
Choosing the right lapel
A peak lapel is easier to wear if you're an evening wear novice. A shawl lapel can
look great if you do it right but can look awful if you get the proportions wrong.
A notch lapel is not ideal for black tie. If you buy or hire a cheap dinner jacket it might
well have a notch lapel because many factories churn them out using the same block
for business suits and dinner suits. A peak lapel elevates your look and if you're not
the most naturally athletic person, it will draw the eyes out to the shoulders and accentuate
that V-shape that comes from a well-fitting suit.
Velvet: a contemporary option
A velvet dinner jacket can prove to be a point of difference - the trick is wearing something
that fits really well. Velvet has a smoking jacket, somewhat vintage feel. If you do choose
to wear one, you should wear smart black trousers - don't go down the road of wearing a
whole velvet suit.
Embrace double-breasted and three-piece
If you wear adouble-breasted dinner suit, be prepared to have it done-up all evening,
because if you undo a double-breasted jacket, it will hang awkwardly and look dreadful.
Wearing a waistcoat can look distinctive and is a good alternative to the cummerbund.
A black tie waistcoat is also a different shape: scooped, like a horseshoe, to show off the
Marcela front or the pleats of your shirt.
Wear midnight blue
Midnight blue is undeniably a trend, albeit one that has been bubbling under for years,
so it's not the option with the greatest potential for longevity. But, in low light, it gives
a richness that black doesn't. It's not for everyone - you have to be comfortable with it
because in anything other than low light it will appear quite blue. But in the right
conditions it will look distinctive and set you apart.
For black tie, always choose a turn down collar - a wing collar is for white tie.
The front (the bib) should be pleated or Marcela. When choosing pleats, be careful to not
veer towards the seventies ruffled look, but tight, neat pleats look great. Your formal shirt
is worn best with some simple elegant cufflinks - silver, black or white.
Learn how to tie a bow tie
There's no excuse. It's not difficult - it is just like tying your shoelaces. There are plenty
of online tutorials available to help you practice. In terms of the bow tie itself, you can
match it with the facing of the suit - satin with satin, grosgrain silk with grosgrain silk -
but it can also be an opportunity to something different. A different texture or feel can look
great but avoid different colours or prints. You don't want to be 'that guy with the novelty
Formal trousers should have plain hemmed bottoms - no turn-ups. You can have them
pleated if you wish but increasingly people like a flat front. The current style is slightly
slimmer and always has a single braid down the side. Traditionally for black tie you
have a single braid, whereas for while tie or tails have a double braid. The side pockets
should be in line with the braid - this looks neater - and no belt loops!
Accessories are key
You can wear a cummerbund, but waist coats are proving popular at the moment.
Braces are great - they ensure the trousers stay put throughout the evening. The traditional
accompaniment to a dinner suit are evening shoes - pumps with a satin or silk bow on the top.
They're not the easiest item to pull off, but some well-shined patent leather shoes - very simple
no broguing - are ideal. Wear black socks - nothing too woolly, preferably silk or cashmere.
You can wear a pocket square with evening wear but it should be silk and coordinate with the
rest of the outfit. A silk scarf can also look fantastic and will stand out. White is great,
but why not silk with white polka dots or something along those lines?