Black Tie remains the gold standard in formal dressing. Huntsman’s Creative Director Campbell Carey explains how to stand out in your dinner suit for all the right reasons.
Over the course of 2018, Country Life is releasing a series of style guides, in conjunction with Huntsman, detailing the proper way to dress for a modern gentleman. This is the first part: Black Tie.
Why is it called ‘Black Tie’?
Because, literally, you wear a black bow tie – and traditionally a black coat. Some people now take it to mean a normal black tie, but I’d always stick with a bow tie.
As for the alternative, name ‘tuxedo’? That’s believed to have started in the late 19th century when an American, James Potter-Brown, attended a soiree in the where he spotted the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). The Prince was wearing a tail-less evening coat, shaped like a smoking jacket, which he favoured for less formal occasions at Sandringham. Potter-Brown asked after the Prince’s tailor – Henry Poole – and had a similar garment made, which he wore when back home at his local haunt, the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park. It caught on from there.
The lapels and buttons for your dinner jacket
A traditional dinner jacket has either peak lapels or shawl lapels, though more modern cuts might now use notch lapels. Whatever the shape, they are finished in silk and colour-matched to the coat, with the buttons having the same silk covering. That finish can be shiny or matt; I think that matt looks particularly effective.
One last lapel-related matter: the buttonhole must be a real hole, in order to accommodate a flower.
Single or double-breasted?
Both styles of coat are perfectly acceptable, but since waistcoats aren’t generally worn with a double-breasted jacket we consider them slightly less formal.
Getting the right shirt
Your shirt, to paraphrase Henry Ford, can be any colour you like, so long as its white – save your flourishes of colour for your silk scarf or pocket square. (Then again, all rules are made to be broken. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.)
In terms of the material, though, always go for a Marcella cotton, whose natural texture will really add to the contrast between black and white.
When Black Tie goes blue
Black is best, in almost all cases. But a very dark midnight blue can work as well, and in some lights can actually appear just as black (and sometimes blacker) than a ‘true’ black. If you’re feeling brave, you might just pull off the James Bond look – white coat, black trousers – particularly in warmer climates. But avoid all-white at all costs.
The cloth weight
Go for a relatively lightweight cloth – 250g, or 9oz – as even in winter the venue will probably be both heated and full of your fellow revellers.
Brace tops, without turn-ups, and the seam finish on the trousers should always be the same silk used on the lapels.
Living a gentlemanly existence is second nature to Huntsman’s customers, so who better to work with Country Life on a
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