At our recent event with Stilstrategie at Nelles Home in Bonn we talked about male dress codes and how to choose the right outfit for a gala dinner, a night at the opera or the office Christmas party, so I decided to elaborate on an interesting part here on our site. There are plenty of very good black tie guides out there and formal wear inspiration for all kinds of festive occasions, so let us postpone the topic and rather talk about something that is not addressed as often : What to wear in between a black tie and a business dress code.
One might argue that a subtly elegant suit in today’s menswear world is the new tuxedo or dinner suit. In the same way that accepted formal wear for the evening shifted from white to black tie at the beginning of the 20th century, nowadays occasions for a black tie tuxedo ensemble are rare and a suit and tie are considered formal. (Simply an observance, doesn’t mean I particularly embrace the shift towards a more casual interpretation of dress codes.)
So what choice does a man have when it comes to more elegant suits? We consider the small sartorial details, such as fabrics and cuts but start with the basic question of color. Clothing can be artificial, rules are rules and sometimes unreasonable, whether a tuxedo or dinner jacket is black or midnight blue does not make a difference to the guests at an evening reception and the same goes for the black suit versus the blue or charcoal one. However, there is, traditionally, only one occasion for a man to wear a black suit and it is not a festive one, which is why the recommended colors would be navy blue or charcoal grey (a bit lighter or darker works as well depending on season & location). Much more interesting and underrated are fabrics. Large stores or uninspired retailers might offer a shiny, polyester blended model of a suit but not much else aside from the usual range of wool. Luckily there are plenty of made-to-measure, fully bespoke tailors and offers with interesting alternatives, silk for example is the obvious choice as it gives a wool suit an elegant surface. Another might be a higher fineness of the fabric, but keep in mind that these fabrics are less durable and in today’s retail world used as a marketing element (Just because you are looking at a ‘Super130’ model, with no mention of the fabrics origin, doesn’t mean it’s better than a ‘Super100’ made in a respected factory.) Two materials commonly found in well made fabrics are Mohair and Cashmere, both offering respective advantages when it comes to comfort and they also give the suit a nicer appearance. You are looking for something that communicates respect and taste, something that is different from what you would see in an everyday office, but you are not looking for a cheap costume or luxury symbol. Articles of Style understands the idea of creating a sophisticated suit without compromising it’s wearability,
Italian factories are absolutely masterful at creating texture and some ready-to-wear collections of traditional brands such as Pal Zileri or LBM also help in achieving this effortless, subtle elegance we are going for in an evening look. The next example also shows aspects worth considering: Details in form. A nice peaked lapel, less side vents, slanted and jetted pockets plus nice mother of pearl buttons will elevate the business suit to a more formal variant without reaching into the realm of the tuxedo (Also consider this great insight by HSS, LINK). In general, look for a longer jacket & fuller, high-waisted trousers, they appear more timeless. Some among the public (at least that is my experience in Germany) would consider the peak lapel as only a formal option for wedding celebrations, however looking at for example the double-breasted suit or suits before 1950, it is very much a choice to think about. It creates a dynamic, strong line along the upper body but is not exclusive to formal wear (such as the silk faced lapel).
Clean lines, interesting details and a colour scheme that allows for accessory combinations in grey or burgundy make for a perfect evening suit. Also consider adding a waistcoat (obviously not a problem with tailor orders), it not only adds a touch of elegance, but flexibility as well. In the same way that the suit jacket can be different, the waistcoat can feature two rows of buttons, a lapel and varying height, just make sure it is long enough to cover the belt area or the side adjusters of your trousers. We have not yet talked about the possibility of a double-breasted suit itself, but of course it is very much appropriate if done correctly. Especially if the event is mostly spend standing, a double breasted jacket helps with posture and is visually interesting.
What not to look for in your elegant, evening outfit:
- Elements of a black tie tuxedo such as a silk lapel or silk stripes, velvet buttons or a shawl collar (These could work for a black tie creative dress code or if you are the host of your own party however)
- Bright colors (Keep it simple and classic, add a touch of purple, orange or green to your tie & pocket square, not your suit)
- Very seasonal fabrics such as tweeds or linen (Unless you spent 85 percent of your evenings in a very seasonal environment)
- A reason to anger your host (If possible, learn about the occasion & the audience and do not try to show off how much more wealthy or educated about menswear you are)
A perfect elegant suit is one that can also be worn during the day, for business and with more colorful combinations as well, that is what sets it apart from the tuxedo or morning coat for example. To me that makes it much more interesting, in the end you are not buying just a look for that one evening but a wardrobe to combine.
So what about the shirt, the shoes, the ties and all the other fascinating parts of an outfit? This was primarily a focus on the suit and its details and hopefully only the beginning of a continuing look at dress codes, if you wish to know more about a certain element, please leave a comment or message.