There are many decisions to be made on the journey from man to gentleman. Morally. Emotionally. Sartorially. Do I ask my boss for that raise? Do I stoically accept that small patch of thinning hair or enquire about that hair transplant? Do I know what to wear to a black-tie event? Although these pressing matters require delicate thought, we at Richard James feel we can at least unburden you of one of them. In this article we give some informal advice on what to look out for when purchasing formal evening wear attire.
For such an eponymous subject matter as evening wear, it really only makes sense to start at the very beginning. The tuxedo (the American term for this particular style of attire) was coined after a Mr James Brown Potter, a member of the Tuxedo Club in New York, was invited to dine with the Prince of Wales at his Sandringham residence. The invitation came at the behest of the PoW after an initial meeting between himself, Mr Potter, and his notoriously striking wife Cora in New York in 1886. In the years prior to this initial meeting, the PoW had requested his tailor and our Savile Row neighbour Henry Poole to cut a shorter garment in the style of the then traditional tailcoat to be worn for more informal dinner occasions. Hence the term dinner jacket. Upon visiting Sandringham, and unaware of the Royal dress code for such an occasion, Mr Potter called upon the knowledge of his tailor, who also happened to be Henry Poole. Mr Poole cut Mr Potter a short evening coat in a dark indigo blue, similar to that of the jacket he had previously cut for the PoW. After a successful dinner with the PoW, Mr Potter returned to New York and his Tuxedo Club members with his new evening jacket in tow, and so the tuxedo was born.
The purpose of evening wear is to achieve the highest level of elegance and sophistication via clean lines, correct cloth choice, and a lapel that complements the wearer’s body shape. Below, with a perfect demonstration of this, is Colman Domingo wearing Richard James for Avenue magazine.
Traditionally, as forementioned, the first incarnations of the dinner jacket were a dark shade of indigo blue, commonly referred to now as midnight. This, as it was 150 years ago, is still a completely plausible choice and can be a great option for a gentleman attempting to stand out amongst a uniform party of guests wearing black. If not midnight, then black or in some instances an off-white or cream jacket can be worn. These colours can work in warmer climates or, again, in the instance that the wearer wishes to make a more personal statement. Richer, brighter colours (as above) can also work well in the appropriate circumstances.
It is very common for evening wear to have at least an element of mohair within the yarn of a wool fabric. Mohair makes for an extremely versatile cloth, its main benefit being its dryness and stiffness, which means the cloth maintains its shape extremely well and is very crease-resistant. It also has a prominent lustre and sheen, which is why only a small percentage is usually used within the entire composition. Too much mohair will result in an overly shiny and slightly rough-to-touch jacket.
A 100% wool tuxedo is the other option. Wool is the most versatile fabric of them all, which is why almost all suits have an element of it within them. Its natural fibres mean it does not irritate the skin, and it has a soft feel to the touch. It is also extremely breathable and can be worn all year round. There are many cloth blends available but wool and mohair are the most commonly used.
With regards to lapel choice, peak and shawl are the two standard options and there are no real concrete rules with regards to choosing one or the other. However, each option has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the customer’s body shape.
A peak lapel peaks at the point where the lapel meets the collar of the jacket. Its pointed edge directs the eye line straight to the individual’s shoulders, consequently making the wearer appear broader. This can work heavily in favour of gentlemen who may need that area of the torso accentuated. If the individual is naturally broad in the shoulders, sometimes a peak lapel can over emphasise them. And, when combined with the jacket’s slimming waist, the silhouette is in danger of becoming slightly caricatured and overly hour-glassed.
In the above picture, Tom Cruise can be seen wearing a Richard James peak lapel evening jacket to the 1997 Academy Awards. A peak lapel perfectly complements Mr Cruise’s body shape in that it accentuates his shoulders. The classic Richard James Hyde cut also aids Mr Cruise in the height department as the jacket’s arm holes are cut higher, so it appears as though the waist begins at a higher point than it does. Paired with the slightly longer jacket, which skirts over the hips, and a high rise trouser, the result is the illusion of extra height. INSERT TOM CRUISE PIC
A shawl lapel is a single piece of fabric that is rounded and curves softly over the chest. Technically, it could be referred to as a collar as there is no notch or peak dividing it from the actual collar. A shawl lapel is a great choice for a gentleman who already has a broad frame or shoulders as its curving nature softens the silhouette and gives balance. One great example of this can be seen by looking at Sean Connery in the early James Bond films.
Prior to becoming the world’s most elusive secret agent, Sean Connery was a keen body builder and competed in multiple Mr Universe competitions. As a result of his intense training routine, Connery had an extremely broad frame but a very small waist. Prior to the first days of shooting, the director of Dr No (the first Connery Bond picture), Terence Young, introduced Connery to his own tailor Anthony Sinclair, who was based just off Savile Row on Conduit Street. Soon, the store’s address gave its name to the signature cut that Sinclair created. The eponymous Conduit cut consisted of a generous chest (that allowed drape for ease of movement, as well as room for a Walther PPK), roped shoulders, and a close waist with a longer skirted jacket. This elegant and subtle garment enabled Connery’s rather unproportioned figure to appear tall, slender and balanced. Above is the first ever image of Sean Connery as Bond ever seen on screen. As he draws a cigarette from his case and carefully balances it between his lips, the camera slowly pans up to reveal the exquisite Anthony Sinclair bespoke shawl lapel dinner jacket. As you can see here, the characteristics of Connery’s suit strongly resemble those of our Hyde cut ready-to-wear shawl-lapel dinner jacket.
The trousers worn with your dinner jacket should follow the same principals regarding fit as any other pair of suit trousers. There are only slight aesthetic changes on a pair of dinner trousers, the first being a silk satin strip, which runs down the outside leg seam. This hides the visible seam on the outside of the trouser and will also match the lapels of your jacket. As mentioned previously, the practical elements of a day-to-day suit such as back pockets are also absent on dinner trousers. The desired fit should be that of a high-rise waist to enable more daylight through the legs, to give the illusion of extra height. Keep the width of the trousers classic, not too slim and not overly wide, and the hems with one break of fabric on top of the shoe. Trends may come and go in other areas of men’s tailoring, but evening wear has scarcely changed in 150 years, and I would place a large bet that it will not change in the next 150 either. The majority of us rarely receive invitations to black tie events on a weekly basis (sad but true) so we usually purchase evening wear for a one-off event. With this in mind, when purchasing what will most likely be your one and only evening wear suit, you should keep the detail classic to avoid having to re-purchase in the future. We all remember the days of the super-skinny, super-short trousers (and long may they never return), and those that acquired a dinner suit during this period are now left with something a little recherché…
Evening wear shoes should be of patent black leather. Whether they are Oxfords, Derbies or loafers is up to the individual, but black patent is a must. Pair them with fine black dress socks.
When choosing an evening shirt there are certain rules that must be adhered to, and there are some choices that are down to the individual. You can either choose a fly-front shirt which conceals the buttons, or one with studs in place of buttons. These options both achieve an elegant evening wear aesthetic. Collars can be classic semi-spread or wing. Fabric can vary, but a cotton or cotton blend is favoured. Some evening shirts also feature a bibbed Marcella front design, an elegant and luxurious option which contrasts beautifully with a black bow tie and silk satin lapels. Double or French cuffs and cufflinks are a must. Ties should be black or midnight blue and, of course, of the bow variety. And extra marks if you can tie your own. White tie is also acceptable, and is even more formal than its black counterpart.
Dipping a sartorial toe into the world of evening wear for the first time can feel overwhelming. We would advise visiting us in-store where a member of our team can take you through the whole process, show you our ready-to-wear collection, talk over the finer details and, most importantly, suggest a few garments to try on. If the ready-to-wear collection doesn’t quite meet your desires, we can introduce you to a member of our made-to-measure or bespoke team. M2M and bespoke options allows a greater level of customisation with regards to fit, cloth and aesthetic detail.
Below, I have collated some pictures of history’s most iconic and unique evening wear pieces and wearers. Take inspiration. The night is yours. We look forward to seeing you in-store soon.
By Liam Farren
From top to bottom: David Bowie, Cary Grant, Muhammad Ali and Serge Gainsbourg (with the late Jane Birkin).