Category Archives: Tom Talks

Shall We Dress for Dinner?

Formally Speaking: This is no time to relax your Standards

“Shall we dress for dinner?” asked the always stylish and cool Nick Charles (Leading Man in the 1934 Film “The Thin Man”) of his equally charming wife, Nora. In other words, “Shall I wear my tuxedo for dinner tonight, or will the standard suit and tie get the job done?” More often than not, Nora would reply with “Oh, why not?” (Or she just gave Nick ‘the look’ that said in no uncertain terms ‘but of course.’ She probably had a new cocktail dress to break out.)

A common question of a man to his wife for most of the 20th Century, the relative question for today might be (much to the chagrin of modern ‘Nora’) “Should I wear a sport jacket to the restaurant tonight or can I get away without it?” A less frequent but timely question, due to the season, revolves around what to wear when the invitation reads “Black Tie” or “Black Tie Optional.”

Traditionally the response to an invitation reading “Black Tie” was simple. For men it meant a proper dinner jacket and trouser, typically black, of fine worsted wool, with a satin or grosgrain lapel and trouser braid, pleated front shirt with a point or wing collar, black bow tie and cummerbund, and plain toe dress brogue or slip-on shoes, preferably of patent leather.

But as Ray A. Smith recently wrote in The Tux and the Suit Duke It Out, WSJ, October 5, 2011, “With more relaxed dress codes at parties and on the red carpet in recent years, many men have eased into a looser definition of ‘black tie.’ (Beware of ‘looser’ definitions.) The penguin suit with bow tie moved to the back of the closet, and the black suit with straight black tie hit the dance floor.”

While even I, Tom,…, gave in to the trend and have worn a black suit (Duopioni silk, no less) with a regular, albeit dressy, necktie to a formal event during the past few years (Bless me, Father, for I have sinned!), I am happy to report that my shawl collar, mohair blend tuxedo is ready to go and that tuxedo sales are rising sharply this season.

The sartorial tide has turned in favor of the tuxedo and the more classic accoutrements, including a black bow tie that you tie yourself (as if I needed to tell you that). Affirming this trend, entertainers and actors like Brad Pitt and Justin Timberlake, who have tended toward edgier dress in past years for formal occasions, have been spotted wearing classic tuxedos and bow ties this year.

Though the notch lapel dinner jacket dominates the formal offerings at most stores, I prefer the classic panache of a peak lapel or the graceful line of a shawl collar.

Stay tuned for the next post when I elaborate on the ‘Rules’ of formal dress. And in case you need some tips on formal dress, like How to Tie a Bowtie, check out The Virtual Tailor.

What to Wear

Once again, one of Tom’s most trusted female friends is here to offer some advice, this time on what to wear to that holiday party.

“What to wear?” Isn’t that always the question in the rush of planning your outfit for a holiday party? No? Well, if it isn’t, it should be. Women are probably the most stressed yet the best prepared for what to wear; men tend to….wait, put off or procrastinate in the face of such decisions. Whether well-planned, or at the last minute, both face the challenge of trying to be neither underdressed nor overdressed. We girls often use our peer groups as sounding boards for ideas, “no no’s” and critiques.

The professionals of Tom James agree that it’s far better to be overdressed than underdressed. “People tend to dress up during the holidays and you should, too.” Consider the quiet confidence (not to mention the sublime luxury) of a cashmere sport coat and scarf, plaid or houndstooth slacks, winter white and anything black, timeless and classic. TJ women love winter white suits, Holland and Sherry cashmere scarves and plaid slacks or black skirts. Faux fur has made its way back into our wardrobes – on jacket lapels, as vests, and shawls.

Ladies, it’s time to pull out your tights and knee high boots to wear with your skirts and faux fur jackets!! Gentlemen, if you are in a pinch, black cashmere jackets are a safe staple piece. You can remove your jacket if you are overdressed or insert a pocket square if you need a little extra holiday pizzazz. If it says business casual, this means a sport coat or blazer but a tie is not necessary. When the invitation says semiformal, translate: suit and tie.

Still, your outfit is not complete without shoes and accessories. Plan this carefully. And please tell me that this part of the outfit does not include ties that sing Christmas songs and light up like the tree in Time Square, obnoxious Christmas jewelry, or a tacky holiday sweater…. unless it is ENTIRELY clear and noted in the invitation that you are to somehow emulate the look of Clark W. Griswold in Christmas Vacation. Let’s stay clear of that and join the other well dressed attendees so that we are not the entertainment of the party.

Does RSVP still mean what it means?

Today, Tom has asked one of his most trusted female friends to offer advice on interpreting invitations.

RSVP. Precisely what does this mean? In the 21st Century we too often mistake this acronym as “respond only if you are coming.” The long version of RSVP is répondez s’il vous plaît which translates as “Reply Please” or “Please Respond.” Could it be that a lack of response may be felt as an insult to the efforts of the host? He or she deserves the courtesy of, at a minimum, knowing how many and who to expect. “Common courtesy is to give a response within 48 hours after receiving an invitation.” Receiving a less formal invite via social media, i.e. Evite, Facebook, still requires a response.

A second all-too-common social faux-pas is improper arrival time etiquette. For example, a “dinner party” may be mistaken for a relaxed social gathering, allowing you come and go as you please. However, if the party planner specifies a time to be seated, your dinner will be cold and the party planner might be slightly annoyed if you show up late. For other gatherings, it is important to know the nature of the event because showing up too early may cause the host or hostess inconvenience or added stress. Not only does he or she have to continue to prepare but will also feel obliged to entertain the early arrivers. Who really wants to be an annoyance during the holiday season?

Lastly, is it appropriate to show up empty handed? The invitation will likely allude as to whether you should bring a bottle of wine or some other food item. You should act accordingly. Remembering what most of us learned in our youth or college years, to repeatedly mooch is a sure path to “no more invitations “. Consideration and contribution are always appreciated and properly rewarded. That lovely law of reciprocity is for real. “So long as you endeavor to treat others as you would be treated, you already have the most important part down.”

Good advice to be sure. Whether as a host or guest…

Enjoy the season,

Warm and Dry

I was standing on the commuter train platform this morning with 8 minutes until the next train. A blanket of fog draped the landscape. Only the very top of a nearby mountain range was visible. I saw a man standing there without a coat of any kind. He looked uncomfortable. I noticed that at least a couple of people were wearing gloves. I was certainly glad to be wearing my Loro Piana storm system coat. I’m ordering a new set of gloves today. I left my umbrella in the car, but I always have one in the car and another at my office this time of year, just in case.
Are you prepared to stay warm and dry during the next few months?
Maybe not as ready as you would like?
Here are a few outerwear options that will help you stay warm and dry this winter…..

Charcoal Gray – Hipster 3-in-1 Car Coat available in Olive or Black

The 3-in-1 Coat is the most versatile coat we have ever offered, fitting into the strongest trend in outerwear this season – that of maximum versatility and functionality. The second layer is actually a ‘removable’ windbreaker that can be worn separately.

Loro Piana Storm System available in Charcoal (or navy) Micro-blend, Raglan sleeve Raincoat available in Taupe or Black
Cashmere-Lined Suede or Calfskin Gloves Patterned Scarves

In addition to these items, there is still time to have a top coat, tweed jacket, and new flannels made for most of the true winter season. There are still plenty of cashmere and wool sweaters on the shelves. Be well. Warm and dry.
Enjoy the Season!