Creativity in dressing requires a basic familiarity with tradition against which to improvise. In contemporary evening dress, men today generally lack that core knowledge but feel free nonetheless to pursue creative variations of black tie. “Pursue” is the operative word as it seems the achievement of true creativity in black tie events for men is a bit of an oxymoron.

Creative black tie is inherently paradoxical for men because it upends what traditional black tie was all about – a set of rules of dressing after 6pm. But perhaps taking their cues from women, men are experimenting with black tie these days in a big way. Lots of long black four-in-hand ties with a black silk or wool suit. It seems this is the contemporary interpretation of a dinner jacket or tuxedo. Or a black tuxedo with a plain white shirt without a bowtie or other neckwear. Or even more casual, a daytime sportscoat with an uncollared shirt (i.e. a t-shirt).

At the recent Marie Claire 2008 Prix awards, we see all of the above – a mix of personal styles ranging from “creative” to traditional black tie for men. Below are my votes in the following categories:

In black tie (“creative” or traditional), men should seek to bend the rules at the margins, namely, the accessories. The statement to make is understatement. To my mind, creative black tie would be a set of vintage Cartier ruby shirt studs and cufflinks. Or it would be a carefully chosen boutonniere like a white carnation of precisely the right size. Or a black and white houndstooth silk pocket square folded in a puff. It might even be a dress shirt with a distinctive bib front material or different shirt color (perhaps ivory/cream, periwinkle blue or royal blue instead of white). The royal blue is inspired by Styleforum member LabelKing’s blue shirt worn with a dinner jacket.

I think there is a real difference between the rote application of rules and traditions and the highly selective bending or extension of such rules. The former is called dressing well while the latter takes a standard of dress into the territory of personal style.

Related links
Black Tie Guide
Styleforum thread on black tie

4 thoughts on “Creative black tie: How to do it?”

  1. Historical fashion plates, photos or drawings can be excellent resources to learn from and react to.

    The white tie rig on the left looks good to me. The peak lapel DJ in the middle is decent though I would not put pocket flaps on the jacket.

    I am not too keen on the notch lapel jacket on the right. I would stick to a peak lapel or shawl collar for black tie. In addition, the combination of a wing collar – which is very formal – with a notch collar jacket seems a bit off to me.

    But a notch lapel with turndown collar could conceivably work in certain limited circumstances – perhaps if you’re hosting a dinner event at your own home.

  2. Ah, that’s interesting – I hadn’t noticed the dark grey. I may have missed the forest from the trees, which is funny since I just wrote about it in a recent post.

    Dark grey – a shade or two lighter than Oxford grey – would be interesting. Do you have any surrounding text or caption for the picture to confirm that? Perhaps the artist meant the fabric cloth to look black but shaded it lighter to contrast with the satin black lapels.

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