The ultimate sartorial embodiment of the “less is more” maxim, male eveningwear reached its perfected form in the 1930s, when the classically refined formal white tie and tailcoat coexisted with the more louchely modern semi-formal black tie tuxedo. While occasions for the former are now vanishingly few, the latter will always hold a place in the wardrobes of men who, from time to time, wish to look their debonair best.
While the aesthetic effect of the basic tuxedo is the soul of simplicity, its proper details are exacting: a single or double-breasted jacket in black or midnight wool barathea, cut with peaked or shawl lapels faced in silk grosgrain or satin, over matching trousers with a similarly faced single stripe down each leg. Popping against this richly dark field is a crisp white single or double link-cuffed shirt, with fine pique or soft pleats down the front, topped with a turn-down or wing collar displaying a hand-tied black or midnight bow. Finishing off the ensemble is either a waistcoat or cummerbund to cover and smooth the waistline, black patent or polished calf shoes, and a rare opportunity for male jewelry in the form of shirt studs, cufflinks, and even a pocketwatch chain.
Once these rudiments are mastered, more adventurous dressers may wish to inject more individualized elements of cloth, color, and pattern into the mix. The most well-established variation on the tuxedo theme is a separate dinner jacket. A white or ivory model is a perennial warm-weather favorite, while plush renderings in velvet, tartan, or corduroy conjure the cozy elegance of Victorian smoking jackets and are perfectly complemented by velvet slippers. The key to experimentation is to respect the basic architecture of the eveningwear ensemble; leave the “creative black-tie” of band collars and long ties to Hollywood’s red carpets.