13 September 2011

Clean and Simple...and Casual?

It's not often that I write about evening wear, given it's near total lack of relevance to my own life. But in the past few weeks I've been using this photo, recently taken for the AAW Shop, for various purposes, and it's got me thinking.
To begin with, the tuxedo is a vintage one dating from the early 1960s, year round wool with satin faced shawl collar, two button cuffs and single pleated pants. It's by After Six, a name by now so synonymous with cheap rental monkey suits as to make one gag. Funny thing is, this suit reminds me that After Six might not have been so bad in the old days. I sometimes find old Joseph A. Bank stuff from the 60s that throws me for a similar loop. Sooner than we think, we'll likely be saying the same things about Brooks Brothers.

The tie is vintage 1960s Brooks Brothers. I'm not generally one to advocate anything other than a black bow with evening clothes, but I like the look of the tiny white pin dots here. It turns the formality down a half a notch, in a good way. But it's the shirt, a plain white pinpoint with with a spread collar, crisp and clean, but certainly not a formal shirt, that has me thinking.

My mannequin, Bill, always wears a white shirt, because it makes it easy to photograph any type of jacket or suit. His tie changes from time to time, but not his shirt. So when I had a tux to photograph, I was set. I chose this tie over my own black satin evening bow because it was narrow, more in keeping with the cut of the lapels. Though the shirt and tie may not be technically formal, I have to admit I like this look.

It reminds me of a time when evening clothes were worn frequently...in the evening, to dinner, or shows, or just house parties. It reminds of a time when men were comfortable in these clothes. It reminds of a time when these clothes were known as "semi-formal". It brings the tuxedo one step closer to any other suit and tie combination, while still maintaining all the aspects that make it a special outfit. It's black and white, clean and simple, a bit shiny here and there, and quiet counterpoint to showcase the ladies clothes. The shirt may not be pleated or closed with studs, but as long as it has French cuffs I think its fine. Polished, matte finish black oxfords, rather than patent pumps, would finish the job. This may seem like blasphemy, but think of all the photos you've seen of guys in tuxes with plaid pants or tartan jackets. Same idea, but I like this better. Save the tartan stuff strictly for Christmas and Bobby Burns parties.

In a tux like this, not-quite-all-the-way-formal, a guy could actually ride around town in a taxi, hitting bars, shows, restaurants and parties, in comfort and style. Just by softening up the details a bit, a tux actually becomes...wearable? It could be something a guy has and wears with some frequency, rather than some stiff ugly thing worn only to functions he'd rather not attend only to be returned the next morning.

Bring back the barely formal, regularly worn tuxedo. Who's with me?


Anonymous said...

Count me in.

A couple months ago, I agreed to deliver a speech at an event and recently discovered that an annual charity black-tie dinner I have attended in previous years will be held on the same night. I was bummed. I can't get out of the speech, but part of me wants to, simply so I can play dress up. Adding to the pain is a pair of patent leather formal pumps I acquired a couple months ago--it will be at least a year now, I suspect, before I'll be able to debut them.

Young Fogey said...

To quote Emeril,

Oh yeah, baby.

I would love love love to wear black tie like some men did back in the good ol' days. How much more couth that world was than our own!

NCJack said...

In the 1960s After Six was a respectable brand, though I think they had the rental-level line even then as well.

Roger v.d. Velde said...

It's doubtless the case that the idea of "correct" formal clothing has been falsely codified by several self-styled "authorities".

The differences in evening-wear from a reality point-of-view can be seen by looking at personal old photos, television and film of different past periods. And it's not all the usual top hat and tails or collars with studs.

I've been watching episodes of The Saint from the early sixties and the range of semi-formal wear is quite broad. More like people dressing to an approximation of an idea than dressing to an exact blueprint. It offers room for interpretations.

My father,a young man in the early 1960s, mostly shunned old formality, but still wore a dinner jacket on occasion; his was dark blue with a black shawl collar and it hangs in my wardrobe (in fairly bad shape). Photos show him among people dressed in various interpretations of 'evening wear' and all looking pretty comfortable.

J. said...

Awesome idea! Though, Bastian got there already: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-nKprjREdwZI/TnA266FVhXI/AAAAAAAABUQ/t92HgsozVWM/s1600/00420fullscreen.jpeg;-)

On the more serious note, I'd like to see this idea expanded -- care to do a blog post with photos of some "not-so-formal regular tuxedo" propositions? Men needs their inspiration.

Gents Outfitters said...

Recently thrifted a stunning Rogers Peet Tuxedo and Drake's tuxedo shirt. So far worn only in my apartment and seen only by my girlfriend (reader, she lost the plot!)

The quality and fit are so good that it really looks quite natural and very flattering. I'm going to some classical concerts at Carnegie Hall soon. It will be worn, overdressed or not!

Sean said...

Ever since Stephen Colbert wore a tux to sing "Friday" with Jimmy Fallon, I've wanted to wear my tux every Friday. Thanks to your blog, I think I will....

WSTKS-FM Worldwide said...

You know, I have thought often the last several years about looking for something like this jacket, or even a cream-colored dinner jacket, for the occasional dinner/evening out with my wife. And hey, at almost 45 years of age, who cares if others think I'm a little overdressed?

Best Regards,


Main Line Sportsman said...

I am very much with you...indeed I wore an off-white dinner jacket last Thursday for my anniversary dinner at the Ritz in Cancun. Hotel staff smiled and were impressed...sneaker wearing fellow hotel guests in the lobby did notm know what to think....other than secretly wishing they had the polish and balls to sport evening wear on a weeknoght for a dinner for 4(our best friends who were in our wedding joined us)

Great post and well reasoned argument...maybe with this prose...and the Mad Men thing...we can get back to an era wear men dress like adults and appropriate to the occassion.....nah...probably not...to many flip-floppers out there

Young Fogey said...


Yes and no. There are right and wrong ways to wear clothes according to the standards of the time. People like Emily Post wrote about it; many people found such writings of great help. Restaurants and bars and clubs had dress codes, too.

Yes, there was acceptable variation within "the code," and ways to make one's own interpretation of black tie more or less formal within what was considered correct.

So if there were things that were correct, there were also those that were incorrect. An uncovered waist is always incorrect. A black tie with tails is also incorrect. Excluding the "mad for plaid" craze (which is over), a tie in any color other than black* is also incorrect.

So yes, there is variation within the parameters, but if you want to look good, you really ought to stay within those parameters.

*With the exception of maroon; see this for details.

Anonymous said...

I'm in, too.

Great looking tux jacket with the narrow lapels.
And the bow tie is a great casual touch.

Anonymous said...

After Six was founded in my hometown, Philadelphia, in 1903. I remember their headquarters and manufacturing was an 8 story building at 21st & Market Streets where maybe 1,000 were employed working 3 shifts 6 days a week. In the early 1980's they got involved with Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert. Bankrupt in 10 years.

Claude said...

I picked up a 1967 brooks 346 "special cutting" shawl collar tux for a friends wedding, although they decided the wedding party would be renting :( This post is appreciated. I do have some hopes of wearing my tux much in the manner described, for playing some dinner-music type gigs with my wife, although I might then be tempted to find some black watch trousers to next-level the whole casual affair.

There seems to be a personal line between knowing the rules and not giving a darn. Typically one side of the equation is likely easier for any interested party.

More Black Watch!

Philip said...

I'm with you, Giuseppe. Bringing back the black tie night on the town sounds awesome. Let me first get my old Britches shawl-collar alltered. This is exactly why the shawl was so popular in the fifties and sixties.

Anonymous said...

The whole problem with dressing down a tux is, just that--making a tuxedo more like a business suit. There's no reason any man should be uncomfortable in dress clothes. We should be elevating dress clothes...or perhaps "re-elevating" them. Making them look less formal is the wrong direction...the problem is the attitude of the man...not the attitude of the clothes.

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