Saturday, October 06, 2007

Not dead yet.

Dear Internet,

Uncle Joke has been busy. Very, very busy dear Internet. Why just last weekend I had to attend a white tie fete with the extremely lovely and wildly gracious Poppy. The fact that in early 21st Century America gentlemen will array themselves in white tie finery for public consumption is a heartening sign that civilization ain't dead yet.

Mind you, traipsing from our hotel (The Affinia, definitely worth a stay as long as you specify a non-renovation room.) three blocks to Chez Poppy whence we'd cab it to the Lyric Opera's Opening Night while in full dress regalia in broad daylight (we had to be there with some spare time) is an unusual experience.

Therefore, since this absolutely stellar look is starting to murmur back to life beyond the wedding party, I thought I'd issue the definitive guide thereon. This is based on my own ensemble, natch.

Before I get going on this, I must own up to the fact I hadn't worn mine since a consular ball a few years back and when doing a dry-run to make sure all was well, I discovered the fit was a mite...uh...constricting. This precipitated a crash regimen of starvation and exercise, until things fit again properly. No, you oughtn't do this. In fact, now that I am back in the Fringe of Paradise, I aim to get back to the proper shape the right way.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Anyway, here is what I have opted for in the world of Gentlemen's Full Dress:

As you can see in the picture from the Oct. 1936 issue of Esquire, the broader shoulder and lapel really helps to accentuate the "v" thing inherent in the white tie & tails look. To my mind, the lapel ought be of a width that the breast pocket still has about half its length visible...so that the pocket square is likewise visible. (There is a semi-rule about never wearing both a boutonniere and a pocket square. I've never siccessfully ascertained if this is a For Real Rule, or just a hint or what. To be safe, I opt for just a pocket square. It's crisper, it contrasts better with the black of the jacket.)

Now, when I got this outfit run up, I specified the lapels as noted above. The shoulders really work with mine (which are a bit outsize for my height, a perennial complication with off the peg/rack raiments) and that works well. Naturally, the thing to do is to also specify a flower loop, and working sleeve buttonholes. I also opted for the fabric (midweight barathea wool) in midnight instead of black. Black wool, in my experience, tends to take on a yellow/green cast under artificial light; midnight looks "blacker than black." If I had to do it again, I would have opted for a particularly Savile Row touch: secret pockets at the top of the tails. As it was I had to deal with only a slim pocket inset into the inside of the left breast. (Not that one ought carry a huge wallet and cellphone with white tie.) Finally, I'd suggest the lapels be matte ribbed silk with the "grain" of the ribbing running parallel to the lapel's buttonhole.

The trousers in my case were plain front. This is one case where forward pleated trousers might not have been so flattering. If I had to do it over, I'd think long and hard on it. The pleated ones would probably be more comfortable for all the sitting done during a 3 hour opera and 3 hour gala to follow, but might also look a touch too full. Basically, either is fine. At the side of the trousers, you have the option of a satin striping or braiding. Just so long as it matches the lapel, you'll be fine. Mine is the braiding, since my lapels are the matte ribbed silk. Oh, and white tie calls for double-track satin stripes, because black tie goes with one stripe. Li'l trivia bit there.

The shirt is a bit tricky. Ideally, you'd have the pique' front with detachable wing collar number which is pretty much only available from Brooks Brothers (you may have to order it) in the USA and a few Ye Olde Guarde places along Jermyn Street in London. If you're REALLY hidebound and reactionary, you'll also opt for a shirt with detachable cuffs. All this means that you'd single-handedly keep the studs industry in business for years.

But that's not all that likely and also, these tend to have a rather high neckband which may be very unflattering to you. Another option is the all-pique' (also called "marcella") shirt -- for white tie, pleats are so very, very wrong -- available from Charles Tyrwhitt, Joseph A. Bank's, Paul Stuart and Ralph Lauren, among others. Just make sure whatever shirt you get has a "button loop" to keep the shirt front anchored and taut.

In my case, I had a Giorgio Armani shirt with the "tunnel" to hide the tie at the back of the neck, but I was not very impressed with how the wing collar sat. Nobody said anything, but I knew, dammit, I knew. But I was stuck wearing it because...

Oh. Important tip. Make sure the number of studholes on the shirt front matches the number of studs (more on this anon) you own. This could wreck your plans. AMHIK.

The vest and tie also ought be white pique'. The vest could be either a double breasted sort of waistcoat or single breasted. Whatever flatters you best. The tie, if at all possible should be the single size (i.e., non-adjustable) tie-it-yourself butterfly.

Studs and cufflinks. Easy to go wrong. You have three basic choices. Sterling -- or if you feel flush, platinum -- either in a plain design (round, oval, octagonal, etc.) or mother-of-pearl, or white silk knots. The latter, happily, will only set you back MAYBE $30 at a froufrou place like Paul Stuart. Whatever you choose, make sure you avoid those abominable swivel-back cufflinks. Keep in mind that if you go for a shirt with detachable cuffs/collar you WILL need a ton more studs. Alrighty.

Now, shoes. This is where many a strong man stands up, looks me square in the eye and says "check, please." You really need the "opera pump." I really prefer it in matte kidskin which ties in with the whole matte silk thing; patent leather AND those grosgrain bows at the front are a bit too much. (Mine are from Alan Flusser's, from when I had my tuxedo run up.) Yes, I suppose you could go off and use the patent leather oxfords, but why stumble so close to the finish line? Finally, get the thinnest, lightest black socks ("hose") you can manage.

Voila.

-J.

P.S. Photos to ensue as soon as I manage to find the wire thingy.

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