Sunday Lifestyle

Dress code: Black tie requested

PURPLE SHADES - Letty Jacinto-Lopez -
When an invitation reads "black tie requested," it can only mean… the tux.

Back during school proms, we loved to giggle and scrutinize every heavily pomaded boy who came valiantly dressed like an arctic penguin. Some even wobbled like one. But remembering what one fashionista said, "If you’re single, the tuxedo proclaims, ‘I’m safe, stylish and solvent,’" makes the sizing up even more upbeat.

At the sight of those neat, evenly stitched pin tucks on the white Egyptian cotton shirt, those subtle black satin bands running down the finely lined trousers, and the inimitable black bowtie, they do something to the senses, leaving us limp as a glove while throwing kisses to the likes of Fred Astaire, Omar Sharif and our men-for-all-seasons, Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan.

Never mind if you’re stuck with a blind date, the bookish friend of a nerdy cousin, who might as well have been the last man on earth (meaning he’s short, dowdy-looking, and cursed with a face that only a mother – his mother – could love), you’d still gasp in disbelief at his sudden makeover. He seemed to have grown two inches taller (elevator shoes notwithstanding), and his acne-infested face had miraculously smoothened into a warm, reddish sheen. His horn-rimmed glasses suddenly made him look illustrious, and he could pass for one of those airbrushed handsome models straight out of Giorgio Armani’s atelier.

That is the "magic potion" of the tux.

The tuxedo was the masterstroke idea of Griswold P. Lorillard, circa 1880s, a habitué of the Tuxedo Club of Tuxedo Park, New York. He designed a style of smoking jacket worn by the Prince of Wales for semi-formal occasions. It turned out to be a hit with the female population and was soon elevated to the only appropriate attire to wear for formal occasions, including the most serious of state occasions: royal coronations.

The tux only confirmed what every follower of Eve knows. For formal occasion, we can choose from a variety of styles and material: French silk chiffon, organza, crepe, satin, Swiss lace, Indian sari, Thai silk, Chinese shantung, the Philippine jusi or piña; each one is sure to turn heads and make one look like a knockout, a goddess-of-beauty walking.

In contrast, our gentleman-escort is limited to only two choices: the tux, and the exquisitely embroidered barong. For this limitation in men’s fashion, we ought to show more kindness towards the opposite sex.

As the refreshing scent of Vetiver de Carvin or witch hazel surrounds his physique, compliment him for looking suave. Straighten his bowtie and whisper, "You look good," meaning he is scrumptious enough to sweep any woman off her feet, but like a true-blue gentleman, he chose to stay close and faithful to you. Watch him open the door for you, allow him to help you with your stole, let him lead you to the dance floor as violins fill the night with strings and flirtation. In a tuxedo, he’s a star, and you are the object of his desire.

On heads of state, presidents, royal princes, and even on that shy boy-next-door, the tux empowers them, enlarges them. There is nothing they could not do or say when formally "draped." One style guru even says that it is the hubris of fabric, the golden mean of apparel. He grows ebullient in this ensemble.

You know what? Forget the president or the CEO. The tuxedo is a great equalizer. It allows any man of any station to look and feel like a million bucks, in today’s bank exchange calculation, make that "Euronnaires." He becomes a thing of brilliance.

Frank Sinatra went further by saying, "It’s jazzy, snazzy, and razmatazzy."

What are the details that should not be overlooked when dressing in a black tie?

Shirt cuffs must be extended half an inch from the jacket sleeves. Trousers should break just above the shoe. Don’t sit down because it wrinkles the pants. If you have to sit down, don’t cross your legs. Have a crisp, white linen or pure cotton handkerchief on the inside pocket. And of course, use a money clip that holds denominations big and new. Don’t tuck all the credit cards like an accordion. Bring only one or two with the gold or platinum limit.

Don’t be a walking pawnshop. Wear a signet ring or a simple band with your birthstone, not both. If born in April, your birthstone is diamond, but stay away from the domino design – if you don’t want to look like a vice squad target: contraband smuggler. Wear a good watch and cuff links in genuine white or yellow gold. And don’t forget the little sugar-free mints.

You want more tips? Steam wrinkles from dinner jackets in the shower. Have your custom-made shirts buttoned beneath the crotch to keep them from sliding up. Wear the pants last. Don’t forget the shiny and gleaming party heels, which in the debonair’s dictionary refer to the patent-leather Mary Janes with crisp grosgrain bows. Give them a final buff by rubbing them against the shoe polisher in your dressing room.

Suspenders or braces are acceptable. You might opt for a vest or waistcoat. It should be silk, and you can incorporate a little color, but always the tone should be subdued.

And since wearing a tuxedo connotes that your man is a stickler for order – everything in its rightful place – let this extend to his closets and drawers. Be guided by what one proponent of living-in-style said: "Having a messy closet and drawers is like putting on clean clothes over dirty underwear!" His tuxedo becomes a way of life: elegant, neat and precise. And since you share the same passion for things, you may have, unwittingly, put order in his life.

For the woman who is just as fastidious and demanding, the moon may not shine, wine may not flow, there may not be candlelight nor music nor magic at play, but if he steals a kiss and eventually steals your heart, make sure he is dressed like a penguin.

To the hostess with the mostest, make sure you mean what you say when you specify the dress code for the evening. There is nothing more unnerving than for one’s escort to come in tux, wing-collar shirt, studs and the little bowtie, only to walk into a room full of men wearing shirt and tie and T-shirts with the fake, silk-screened, trompe l’oeil tuxedo front.

As an invited guest, don’t feel embarrassed. Enjoy all the stares and wagging tongues. Remember that you stand above the rest because you were the only one who cared enough to read the invitation and arrive properly attired.

Among my personal picks who could rival the penguin in their inborn sense of style, there was the late Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy Jr., and Gregory Peck; with Pierce Brosnan, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Oscar de la Renta, the cricket legend Imran Khan, and United Nation’s Secretary General Koffi Annan following suit. The list could go on, but let me sum it up to include every member of Adam’s fold who has not forgotten to put romance into the way they dress at night, next to an elegantly dressed lady.

Yes, sir, in a tux, you are the canvas and the frame. She is the painting.

And you’re in luck. For this particular evening, she sees the world only in black and white.
* * *
What They Say About The Tuxedo
From author and wit Fran Lebowitz, he agrees, "The most flattering garment ever designed. Even waiters look good in it."

These days, tuxes are also available in a range of colors, mostly pastels. And, of course, the white dinner jacket has been around since Humphrey Bogart made it unforgettably famous in the film Casablanca (1942).

On-line clothier Billy Bragman believes: "Stick with the basics, the classic. A notched or peaked lapel, single-breasted, with one or two buttons, will never go out of style. Get it in a year round-weight. Any place you might wear your tux will be climate-controlled, so there’s no need for a cooler or warmer version. Worsted wool is the traditional material. But you can also go for crepe. It travels well, and the wrinkles will fall out if you hang it in a steamy bathroom for a while."

Richard Sterling, author of The Eclectic Gourmet Guide to San Francisco (Menasha) and an article entitled "Seeing Life in Black and White… The Tuxedo and Why to Wear It," says, "The bow tie should be black and should not be the clip-on variety. Get a real one and learn to tie it. There is just no substitute. None."

Where should you wear a tux? Restaurants that are frightfully expensive, opening nights at the opera or theater, and galas and balls. In Las Vegas, almost any place where you can dance a waltz and definitely any place where you can dance a tango.

There are five sure occasions in a year when a man can take out the grosgrain and look his best: New Year’s Eve, a St. Valentine’s dinner, a wife’s or sweetheart’s birthday, your anniversary, and any dress-up Saturday night.–Extracts from The Look by Richard Sterling











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