by Alan Flusser.

The notion of a man "dressing up" after the sun goes down, whether it be in top had and tails or simply in his best finery, has been with us for centuries. In fact, in the great European opera houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the "dress circle" meant just that, with no one allowed in unless he or she was properly attired.

However, the idea of wearing black for evening wear was, according to the English clothing historian James Laver, first introduced by the nineteenth-century British writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who utilized it "as a romantic gesture to show that he was a `blighted being' and very, very melancholy."

And it was Bulwer-Lytton who gave further impetus to this notion of black as the color for formal wear by writing, in 1828, that "people must be very distinguished to look well in black." Naturally, the moment this statement was noted by would-be dandies, the style became decidedly de rigueur, and it wasn't long before black became popular for daytime wear as well.

Although for years white tie and tails were the traditional mode of formal attire, the introduction of the dinner jacket added another viable alternative from which the well-dressed gentleman could choose.

The original dinner jacket was simply an adaptation of the "Cowes" jacket - a sort of compromise between a mess jacket, a smoking jacket, and a dress coat - invented for or by King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales, and worn by him first at dinner aboard his yacht at Cowes and then later at other semi-formal evening gatherings away from London. The original single- breasted model was simply a tailcoat without a tail, worn with white piqu‚ vest and later with a matching black vest of the same fabric as the jacket and trousers.

The dinner jacket made its debut in the United States in 1896, when a celebrated dandy named Griswold Lorillard wore it to a white-tie-and-tails ball at an exclusive country club in Tuxedo Park, New York. Tuxedo Park, founded in the 1880s by a group of prominent and wealthy New Yorkers as a residential club colony, was an "informally formal" community. Apparently, society had had enough of tails, which had traditionally been worn for formal evening wear, because Lorillard's "invention" was immediately accepted in even the stuffiest of circles. The use of the term "tuxedo," sometimes lamentably abbreviated to "tuck," or, even worse, to "tux," is pretty much confined to the United States. The garment is known abroad, and generally in this country as well, by its correct name of "dinner jacket," or (frequently in the New York area) "dinner coat." It is probably seldom, if ever, called a "tuxedo" in Tuxedo Park.

The dinner jacket remained just as its inventor intended until the 1920s, when the next Prince of Wales - later to become the Duke of Windsor - ordered a new dinner jacket (by this time, Lorillard's tuxedo had taken the name of its American birthplace), and specifically requested that the fabric be not black, but blue - midnight blue, to be precise. Under artificial light, midnight blue appears black - blacker than black, in fact - whereas black, under the same artificial conditions, tends to take on a greenish cast. The new color caught on, and is now counted among the great sartorial inspirations of that bygone era.

In the 1930s, the prince once again tinkered with tradition, appearing in a double-breasted dinner jacket. Although the double-breasted dinner jacket was first ordered from a Savile Row tailor by the English song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan (who also wrote extensively on fashion), it was most certainly the prince who popularized this style. Worn with a soft-front pleated evening shirt, this innovation brought a new level of informality to the traditional dinner jacket - but with no lowering of the standards that separated those who dressed correctly from those who simply dressed up.

Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, the tuxedo has undergone various stylistic changes, including the excesses characteristic of the decade of the sixties. And yet, fashion aside, the proper tuxedo, whether it be single-or double- breasted, still endures as the most elegant attire for any man.

For a man, no other form of dress is as steeped in such a ritualistic sense of propriety as formal wear. Thee is something so elegant about the simplicity of black and white, with its stark contrast and lack of pattern, that when the elements are properly put together, they present a man at his most debonair.

After dark or 6 p.m. - whichever arrives first - there are two ensembles that can properly be called formal: white tie, which means tails, or black tie, better known as the tuxedo. The more formal of these ensembles is white tie, which includes a tailcoat with matching trousers trimmed by two lines of braid on the outside of each trouser leg, white piqu‚ tie, white piqu‚ single-or double-breasted waistcoat, and wing-collar shirt with stiff piqu‚ front.

However, with the exception of a man's wedding day, or occasions of state, a man will probably never be called upon to wear white tie. Nevertheless, anyone residing in a city, large or small, will probably find himself attending affairs requiring black tie at least several times a year, as more and more people today are reexperiencing the pleasures of dressing up. Thus, a properly styled tuxedo is one of the smartest and potentially most enduring investments a man can make for his wardrobe. Unfortunately, though, like most solid investments, a fine tuxedo is not easy to find.

There are four proper styles for the tuxedo: the single-or double-breasted with a peaked lapel with grosgrain facing on the lapel, or the single-or double-breasted shawl collar with either satin or grosgrain on the lapel facings. These are the only proper choices.

Yet American manufacturers, in order to save on costs and increase profits, have taken to producing a notched lapel - the same style manufactured for their normal daytime suits - and facing them in satin. This unfortunate trend began in the sixties, when men were experimenting with alternative styles of dress. Once manufacturers realized it was less costly to produce this model, they persisted. Today the man seeking a proper dinner jacket, with either peaked lapels or shawl collar, has his work cut out for him. One might try searching the better men's specialty stores, but even the venerated Brooks Brothers sells the notched style. The more adventuresome man can explore the second-hand shops. Or, finally, he can have his formal wear custom-made.

The most versatile jacket style is the single-breasted, peaked-lapel model. It was the original black-tie model, the direct descendant of the tailcoat, and its angular lapels look best with a wind collar, the tailcoat's original complement. It can be worn with a vest or cummerbund, and even with a turndown collar. Peaked lapels look equally elegant on the double- breasted version of this coat. The double-breasted model offers the advantage of allowing the wearer to dispense with a vest or cummerbund.

The shawl collar model, either single-breasted or double- breasted, has a more subtle look than the peaked-lapel models. Because of its Old World image and the fact that it is a jacket style worn only for evening wear, it is especially factored by the most sophisticated dressers. However, if one's build is on the portly or rotund side, one might want to avoid the shawl collar, as it tends to accentuate the roundness.

Both single-and double-breasted jackets are at their best either without vents or with moderate side vents. Whichever style one chooses, the pockets should never be in the flap style, which is traditionally associated with day wear.

The color should be black or, if one is lucky enough to unearth one in this color, midnight blue, in a finished or unfinished worsted. In summer or at a resort, a white or midnight-blue dinner jacket in a tropical-weight worsted is always correct.


Tuxedo trousers follow rules identical with those applying to day wear. Made of the same fabric as the jacket, they should have a natural taper, following the shape of one's leg. The bottoms should be plain-never cuffed-and break just on top of the shoe. On each trouser leg, there should be a satin braid, a remnant of detail first introduced on military uniforms to cover the exposed outside seam.

White plain-front trousers are more common, pleated trousers add a touch of elegance. If one chooses pleats, be certain that their folds open toward the center for proper fullness. In either case, the waistband must never be exposed. It is the job of the vest, the pleated cummerbund, or the closed double- breasted jacket to keep it hidden. And the recent invention of an all-in-one waistband-cum-cummerbund is simply no substitute for the real thing.

The Shirt

There are two proper shirt styles from which to chose. The more formal is a white winged-collar shirt with stiff piqu‚ bosom and single cuffs (see the illustration on page 126). The second choice, less formal but decidedly more comfortable, is the turndown collar shirt with soft-pleated front and double French cuffs-yet another sartorial contribution of the Duke of Windsor. (See the illustration on the facing page.)

Wing-collar shirts look fine on a person who has a long neck, setting off the tie and framing the face, but they should be avoided by those with shorter necks. Though winged collars attached to shirts can now be purchased, the classic and still preferable alternatives, because of their stiffness, are the detachable-collar shirts. These detachable-collar shirts are sold all over London and, in this country, at Brooks Brothers.

Pleated-bosom shirts should be bought in fine cotton or, for the ultimate in luxury, a dull, eggshell-color, lustrous silk. For piqu‚-front shirts, the customary body fabrics are batiste, voile, or a light cambric. The finer the bead of the piqu‚, the finer and more elegant the shirt front.

A couple of fine points to remember: the pleated bosom or stiff front of the shirt should never extend below the waistband of the trousers, or the shirt will bow when you sit down or bend over. It is also a good idea to have a tab with a buttonhole sewn in the front of the shirt that can then be attached by a button to the waistband of your trousers. This will further prevent your shirt from billowing out over the cummerbund or vest.

Ideally, your shirt should have eyelets for studs, since buttons are properly worn for day wear. Piqu‚-front shirts take one or two eyelets, while soft fronts require two or three.

Vests and Cummerbunds

As already stated, formal dressing demands that the waistband of the trousers never be exposed. For this reason, a formal vest or cummerbund is always worn.

The formal vest, though also a descendant of the nineteenth- century English-postboy riding vest, differs considerably from the traditional business vest. It is cut with shawl lapels, either single-or double-breasted, and has a deep V front so as to display the special front of the formal shirt. The vest is normally made with three buttons, which can be replaced by studs. The traditional vest is in the same fabric as the dinner jacket.

The pleated cummerbund, which usually matches the facings of the front of the coat, was originally a sash worn in India (from the Hindu kamarband) and was brought to the West by the British. The folds of the cummerbund should always point up because, traditionally, the cummerbund had a small pocket between the folds fashioned to hold opera or theater tickets.

The Necktie

The formal tie is, of course, a bow tie. It should never be of the clip-on, pre-tied variety, since, as a practical matter, if one is wearing a wing collar, the clip will be well within view. Aesthetically, a hand-tied bow tie is always more elegant. The color should be black or midnight blue; the style, no larger than the medium-size butterfly (see the illustration on page 126) or the more narrow bat wing shape (see the illustration on page 128); the fabric should always be silk, in a twill, barathea, or satin weave. The texture of the tie should always relate to the facings on the lapels: satin for satin lapels, twill or barathea for grosgrain.


Formal wear requires a formal shoe. Again, there are two choices: The patent-leather oxford or the pump. The pump is a low-cut slip-on made of patent or matte-finish leather with a dull ribbed silk bow in front. The oxford is a plain-toe lace-up shoe made with thin soles and a small toe. The more elegant is the pump. While the oxford is clearly the more popular model today, because the pump is considered by many men to be effeminate, it is nevertheless the calf pump that is the choice of the more sophisticated dressers. A direct descendant of the opera pump, it can double as a stylish shoe for entertaining at home.


The choice of hose depends upon the color of one's trousers. This means black or dark blue, with shell white or colored clocks, if available. Traditionally, the hose would be of sheer silk. Today semi-sheer lisle, cotton, or fine wool is acceptable.


Simplicity should govern the choice of jewelry for formal wear. Studs and matching cufflinks can be made of plain gold, black enamel, or semi-precious stone. Mother-of-pearl, also handsome, is perhaps more appropriate for white tie. Fine sets of studs and matching cufflinks can be found in antique shops that specialize in old jewelry (the most interesting examples are those made between 1890 and 1930). You might also look for a gold pocket watch and chain. If you choose to wear a wristwatch, remember that the thinner the watch, the more tasteful it is. Black bands are recommended.

Handkerchiefs, Scarves, and Flowers

A properly folded (points showing) white hand-rolled linen handkerchief in the breast pocket is de rigueur. Silk is not quite so elegant because it lacks the body of linen and thus the points go limp when folded. A white or colored silk scarf worn with the outercoat adds yet another touch of style, and a flower provides a dot of color. Never, but never, pin a flower to a lapel. If your jacket does not have a proper buttonhole for a flower, do not wear one.

The Outercoat

It is hardly mandatory in order to be considered well- dressed to have an outercoat specifically designed to be worn with formal or semi-formal wear, but if you decide to make the investment, the single-breasted, fly-front black or dark blue Chesterfield style with velvet collar is the proper complement to the rest of the outfit.

Interesting Options

The greatest modern dressers have always expressed their individuality by bending-though not breaking-the rules. This has been true even in formal wear. If your evening clothes are grounded in the classics, there is no reason you can't add your own particular stamp.

If the whim strikes you, here are some possible interesting options you might try.

For a winter alternative to the tuxedo jacket, thee is the single-breasted shawl-collar velvet smoking jacket in garnet, navy, or green. For summer, there is the classic Bogart Casablanca white shawl-collar or the colonial tan shawl-collar in silk shantung, both correct in either the single-or double- breasted models. As for bottoms, there are burgundy or white wool trousers.

For a different formal shirt, one might try a pleated front in ivory, blue, pink, or yellow in cotton or silk. The alternative vest choices include black silk, brocade, or a more dressy look in white piqu‚. For an alternative to the staid black cummerbund, there is solid maroon silk or a fancy brocade.

Like the trousers and vest, the bow tie also lends itself well to expressions of personal creativity. As an accent to the black-and-white motif of the tuxedo, the colors of burgundy, deep red, and purple are the most traditional and most elegant. A small black-and-white pattern is also smart. If you choose a pattern, make certain that the bow tie is woven, not printed, as the latter is not formal enough.

For hosiery, the options are more limited. Choose either burgundy to match the tie or cummerbund, or a medium gray cotton lisle.

As for footwear, monogrammed or motif-embroidered velvet slippers are elegant possibilities.