Let’s be honest, when the opportunity arises to attend a party you want to make an impression. You want to set yourself out from the crowd. You long to be lavish and extravagant, announcing your presence, a black hole to draw the attention of the room. Sure, that can come from sheer gravitas, but dressing the part helps, too.
When it comes to dressing for a party there tends to be a lot of rules. You can wear this but not with that, black tie means nothing but black tie, etc, etc. There’s always a grey area and that’s where you want to be – dressing on the edge. You can’t stand out without at least bending the rules.
Before I delve further, I must clear the air: traditionally, a tuxedo is simply a dinner jacket you wore at fancy occasions. Nothing more, nothing less. Nowadays it pretty much just means the full suit, but I interpret that as some black dress trousers and any dinner jacket you damn well please. Well, provided they match, obviously.
You want to aim for refinement rather than ridiculousness, to tell people that you know the rules enough to get away with what you’re wearing. Try a patterned shirt paired with an elegant jacket, where the jacket will break up the colours and pattern and frame it nicely. Or you can go for the opposite, with a killer patterned jacket and a crisp white shirt underneath. Without that balanced dichotomy you end up looking either dull or disastrous.
It’s a theory that you don’t just need to apply to your top half. Generally, it’s safest to opt for plain black trousers, but you could instead mix things up a bit, and match a nice, restrained top half with some cool patterned trousers. If you want to push the boat out, go for a jacquard or damask finish. It may be less noticeable than a dinner jacket, but can still turn heads.
There are some rules you don’t want to break, of course. You know, the ones there for a good reason, such as matching the bow tie with the facing of the lapel. Match satin with satin or velvet with velvet, otherwise the balance will look off. Colour matters less, but the material is vital.
One word of advice though: practice tying bow ties because a self-tied bow tie is so much nicer, as you can achieve a fuller and more realist knot. Pre-tied ones can seem flat and don’t carry any character. Plus, people can tell…
Out of all the evening options around, my favourite is the velvet smoking jacket. You can find these in numerous styles and colours with various trims ranging from pure black to Hugh Hefner. As the name suggests, they were traditionally worn while gentlemen would have their cigars. They would actually be worn instead of or over their dinner jacket so as not to smoke it out. We’ve moved on from that now, so consider it just a mildly eccentric evening alternative.
Oh, and that general rule of unbuttoning your suit jacket when you sit down? Yeah, go ahead and ignore that here. Dinner jackets are built with a little extra give for just that reason.
Cufflinks and dress studs should match, so ensure you have the same metals. Codis Maya do a lovely offering in various metals and semi-precious gems, so you can choose a combination that works for your outfit. You should really match your watch, too; even Vacheron Constantin do steel now, so if you’ve opted for silver cufflinks there’s really no excuse. Don’t be afraid to tone your watch down either; dress watches are nice, but you can even match with a skeletonised complication.
Those wanting to go all-out with a traditional outfit and wear a cummerbund, again, make sure that’s matching your bowtie and lapel. I do love the cummerbund and its pleats – historically adopted from the ancient Persian era – which in more recent times was worn by gentleman attending the opera or theatre, who would use the pleats in the cummerbund to keep their tickets. It’s a bit old-school for some, but so much so that its sheer traditionalism has become a bit of a twist. Think of it as the sartorial equivalent of a pipe.
It’s not all about elegant eveningwear though. Some poor souls don’t even like dressing up that much. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook though; if anything, you need to be a bit more considered; you can’t just throw on a dinner jacket. More contemporary party wear interpretations could include jeans or hybrid tailored trousers.
Denim’s a brave option but can be done. To pull it off, go with a raw denim in a slim fit to give a tailored look. London-based Blackhorse Lane have just launched their own made-to-measure service where you can make a pair of jeans to your own individual preference. Levi’s Lot No 1, on the other hand, have been offering the same for a couple of years now. Make sure you keep your look sharp with a tailored jacket and complementary pocket square. Try Drake’s for that last one. Finish with a roll neck for a comfortable, casual yet immaculate look.
So, the next time an invite comes through your door for a Christmas party, don’t worry about what to wear. Consider it a challenge. Learn to bend the rules, get some key pieces in your wardrobe and have fun with the whole thing. After all, confidence comes easy when you look this good. A few glasses of Champagne helps, too.