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:
- Best bowtie (self-tied, not pre-tied): Pic 1, pic 2
- Best wing collar shirt (Suggestion: the sportswatch should be replaced by a dress watch)
- Best complete black tie (Note use of just 2 shirt studs, peak lapels, pocket square and spread collar instead of a more traditional point collar)
- Runner-up complete black tie (Clean shirt placket sans studs)
- Best sleeveless evening dresses: Pic 1 (Wins best smile award too!), pic 2
- Most colorful evening dress
- Best complete women’s outfits: Pic 1, pic 2, pic 3, pic 4
- Best dressed couple: Pic 1, pic 2
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.