Lately I've been taking a bit of a stab at the nitpickers, and a reader told me to cut it out. Point taken. So even though this post yet again deals with our notions of the meaning and practice of arcane sartorial law, I will do my best to refrain from attacks on the overly uptight. Instead, lets take a step back and see whether these actually were as relevant to the storied and glorious past as we like to think the were.
Recently, this bit of formal wear joined the ranks of the Affordable Wardrobe. Look closely and you'll find a lot of the big rules have been thrown under the bus here. For one, there's the lapels. Though the may be faced in grosgrain silk, they are notch cut, a style commonly held to be anathema to evening dress. Furthermore, the pockets have flaps. Again, anathema. But all that aside, it's a well made tuxedo in the classic American soft shouldered, undarted cut.
It's a beautifully constructed garment. The lapel facing really is something, that old fashioned thickly corded grosgrain silk. The stripe down the side of the trousers is the same. The bulk of the suit is of a mid weight true black hopsack material, perfect for Summer formal when you don't want a white jacket.
Four button surgeon cuffs, the Dracula red lining is a bonus. And just look at the hand work on the button holes, lining, all of it. And yet, the buttons are not covered in satin or silk. Hmmm?
The overall quality is no real surprise, given its provenance at the Holy Church of the Andover Shop. What is in a way surprising, besides its flagrant disregard for so many of the rules of formal dress, is it's age.
This tux was made in 1961, in the very heyday of the cocktail party and formal wear scene, in the very meat of this monolithic Ivy League past we let intimidate us. It hails not only from a time used as the very reference point for all of this, but from a small shop known as one of the hot spots of the real thing. The Andover Shop in its day not only outfitted the Ivy League elite, but also the best of jazz musicians. One and all they were men who knew their way around evening clothes. How then can such an "abomination" as a notch lapel, flap pocket tuxedo have come from such a place, and at such a time?
The answer to me is simple. Clearly, the "rules" were not as stiffly enforced back then as we like to think they were. True, people may generally have carried themselves with an overall greater deal of comportment back then, but can it be that they were actually comfortable enough about it not to care too much about the minutia? Lest we forget, back then they even tried to sell us the button down collar formal shirt.
Then theres the lost of art of the truly "semi formal". The man who owned this tux likely wore dinner clothes frequently. He likely had more than one set of dinner clothes. He might have worn "formal" white tie to the opera,and he may have had a more proper peak lapelled tux for more serious occasions, but I bet he wore this to "semi formal" house parties on the weekend where both black tie and casual nonchalance were required. Other guys at the same party likely wore madras jackets with satin faced shawl collars, and still others wore dark suits with neckties. I've written about casual black tie before
, and I still believe we need to bring it back. Very Playboy Club, you know?
This suit is in my size, and I'm keeping it. At $29.99 in a thrift store, it's price sits well above my normal outlay, especially for clothing as truly un-neccesary as this. But you have to love the idea of being formal and laid back all at once, without resorting to a long tie or weird black shirt like some Hollywood slob. There's nothing like being the most formal guy in the room and the most comfortable all at once, is there? A suit like this, worn with a plain black bow, plain white shirt with French cuffs (no pleats), no cummerbund and black lace up shoes would do the trick nicely. Have me over for drinks some Sunday at 7:00 p.m. so I can prove it to you.
p.s. the Shop is more stocked than ever, especially if you have a shoe fetish or happen to be a 46 regular. Check it out.