How To Wear Black Tie

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I’ve had a lot of formal things to go to over the last few weeks and and it seems to me that no one does black tie anymore, its all lounge suits and regular ties. Black tie is a dying thing. But if you ever thought of bringing it back here are few things that you should remember

  1. Black tie means black (with one or two exceptions). Black is elegant and chic and on most (not all) people is pretty slimming and whilst there has been a fashion for navy blue lately this really doesn’t work well in daylight, or environments where there is going to be a lot of light
  2. The Bow Tie and Lapel material should always match (as should a cummerbund). The only exception to this rule is if you are going for a velvet bow tie (which you should only really consider if you’re wearing a velvet jacket).
  3. Cummerbund vs Waistcoat: This debate has raged for decades, and while either is fine you should bear in mind a few things, waistcoats are hot, but cummerbunds are a little impractical if you have a little bit (or a lot of) a stomach.
  4. If your shirt has buttons on the cuff it is not a dress shirt, dress shirts require cufflinks and the buttons are either hidden or are replaced with studs, the point of black tie is to hide all practical points of clothing, buttons are either missing or covered.
  5. Wing collars, fashions change so don’t feel that you have to have a wing collar, but they do look good.
  6. Shoes should be black leather, whether they are patent leather or not is a personal choice, but it does add to look if they are.

I hope this has helped in some way or another, and you rock up to your next formal dressed to kill

What The Hell Is A Cummerbund Actually For?

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Men’s fashion is an ever changing thing. Actually that’s not true. Its very rare that you see something new in menswear, it is a very cyclical thing, for example skinny fit jeans were a thing in the 80’s and unfortunately have been back in style for the last few years. Another example is double breasted jackets, they come and they go and then suddenly a few years later they’re back.

One of the few unchanging things throughout the last hundred years has been black tie. Since it became popular in the 1920’s as a slightly less formal alternative to white tie, very little has changed except fastening (double or single breasted), lapel size, and material the only real change we saw was from waistcoats to cummerbunds, and this is one of those things that goes round and round and round, one year waistcoats are in fashion for black tie, and the next its cummerbunds.

Now as a gentleman with a fairly substantial gut I have been put off wearing a cummerbund as it seems like tying something around my waist would only extenuate this fact, but two weeks ago I gave in, faced my fear and bought my first cummerbund. Admittedly I only got it because I wanted the bow tie that it came with, it was a vintage (that is to say secondhand so therefore cheap) maroon velvet number from the 1970’s that came with a matching bow tie.

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It did however make me think, what the hell is point of a cummerbund, they don’t offer any practicality like a waistcoat, but then neither do most of the fundamentals of black tie and men’s formal wear in general, in fact they’re designed to mask practicality. For example buttons on jackets and waistcoats will have a satin facing, shirt buttons are replaced by cuff links and shirt studs, and even trouser lining is covered with a satin stripe. So in that vain a cummerbund is designed to conceal the point where your trousers meet your shirt.

This is where cummerbunds differ from a lot of black tie, because it actually serves a purpose, the garment dates back to the British occupation of India, where the officers needed a cooler (temperature wise, not fashion wise) alternative to the waistcoat. Due to the massive temperature difference from the UK you could see why waistcoats wouldn’t work out too well, and the higher ranking Indian officials used to wear sashes at their waists so the British officers adopted them, and so by the end of the British Occupation of India in the 1950’s the trend has spread around the world.

As well as being a cooler alternative to the formal vest the cummerbund serves to hide the bunching that often occurs where you tuck your shirt in at the waist. And thanks to its pleated design acts as a crumb catcher when eating, thus avoiding any crumbs winding up on your trouser leg, and this is why the correct way to wear a cummerbund is with the pleats facing upward.

Possibly the most important feature, at least from my point of view, is that it makes men look a lot thinner, aesthetically it makes men look thinner and taller, but from my own experience I had it cinched so tight it was like some sort of velvet man girdle.

Now I don’t see them making a comeback for at least a few years, as waistcoats are most definitely “in” at the moment, but I have a few formal things coming over the summer months (a couple of weddings and most likely a few civic things as well) so I think I will be going with a cummerbund, at least until the summer is over.