Category Archives: Tom Talks

Finding Your Form

Respecting the Requirements of Formal… Your Way

Like it or not….it’s that time of year when opportunities to dress formally are likely to find their way onto your calendar. I’ve always suspected that most guys try to avoid formal events because:

  1. They don’t want to shell out two Benjamins to rent an outfit that was just worn by a high school senior or a fully-inebriated groomsmen last weekend, or
  2. They don’t know how to tie their own bow tie and know that they should, or
  3. It’s probably a charity event and they know it’s going to cost them a lot more than the simple price of admission.

With regard to point (c), get over it already. Our greatest joys come from giving to others from our well-earned abundance, right? Besides, is it really that hard to stand around with a cocktail in hand, casually observing the fairer sex in cocktail dresses and ball gowns? As far as point (b), your Tom James Clothier can help. Or, check out this video. As a bonus, tying your own bow tie will give you new bragging rights. Point (a) is easily resolved by making an investment in your own formal wear, an outfit that will pay dividends and actually save you $$$ if you attend two or more formal events per year anyway.

Now that we have taken care of all of your excuses…

“The whole point of formality is form,” reminds GQ’s Glenn O’Brien. If you lose all semblance of form (respect for custom, etiquette, manners, etc.) in your appearance, then what you are left with may cause women to swoon and men to salute you, but it is no longer formal.

If you have been a devoted follower of tomtalks, then you know that we have a deep respect for both time-honored classic elements and individual expression in how one chooses to dress. That is to say, we respect ‘form’, but also embrace breaking or bending the rules in ways that still respect good taste and don’t completely ignore good form – especially when the occasion is, well, formal.

Dougal Munro, of Holland & Sherry, has consistently offered the sage advice that “How we dress for any occasion is a reflection of the esteem in which we hold the occasion, and those in attendance.” Furthermore, the degree to which we deviate from classic form is a reflection of our desire to draw attention to ourselves rather than focus on others. A gentleman’s primary purpose at such events is to accent and enhance the lady on his arm.

A summary of the points of form for formal dress:

  • The basic color is black, with midnight navy being an acceptable and sometimes superior alternative. The jacket should have a peak or shawl lapel, either of which being made of satin or grosgrain. The braid on the out seam of the trouser should also be of satin or grosgrain, whichever matches the jacket lapel.
  • Some will ask, but what about a notch lapel? Isn’t that ok? To which I would answer, not if you really care about form, but yes, it is acceptable in that the style has been widely available and worn by many for a generation now. Anyway, this little diatribe is about form. How to bend the rules comes later.
  • Your formal shirts should have either a wing, point or spread collar (not banded), and be made of a fine broadcloth or pique. A wing collar best complements a peak lapel, both in form and architecture, and either a point (preferred) or spread collar is best if your jacket has a shawl lapel. A traditional formal shirt has vertical pleats on the front and is worn with studs instead of buttons (usually four studs, and typically made of black onyx trimmed in gold or silver.) Classic sterling or gold knots work nicely, too. This is one place where you can express your individuality. A nice touch is to wear studs that were a gift from, or were inherited from, someone special.
  • A formal shirt is always worn with cuff links, matching the studs if studs are being worn. The cuff may be French (double-fold) or Link (single layer but requiring a link.) A link shirt should only, and must be, worn with a full dress outfit (morning coat or tail coat.) So for the most part, wear double cuffs only – otherwise, stay home! For best results, pair the spread or point collar with a shawl lapel, and a wing collar with peak lapel.
  • Formal dress might include a waistcoat (vest) cummerbund, or neither. A waistcoat is properly worn with the most formal of attire, the morning coat or tail coat. A cummerbund (pleats UP) is standard issue with a classic tuxedo. Wearing neither is the most casual of formal options. Did I just use the word casual and formal in the same sentence? Indeed I did. And it makes perfect sense.
  • Shoes should be black in color and plain in style, made of patent leather, highly polished calfskin, or, in some cases, very fine velvet.

OK, so I didn’t give you much in the way of bending the rules. We will get to that during the balance of the month. In the meantime, what would you suggest to push the envelope when dressing formally? Do you have a picture of a great formal look you’d like to share? Please send it to

Always in good form,


What’s This Receipt For a Ring All About?

A Real Groom Speaks Up

Liz suddenly appeared at the front room door and asked, “What’s this receipt for a ring all about?” The cat was out of the bag! It had been raining that day and Greg had emptied his suit coat pockets on the kitchen table, forgetting that the receipt for the ring was among the contents. At that moment, Greg realized that whatever plans he still had for a surprise wedding proposal had been dashed. True love undeterred, Liz still said yes, and Greg made it “official” by proposing a second time a few days later, complete with amazing views of London and a bottle of fine champagne.

It rained again on the day of their wedding, but Greg maintains that, could they do it over, he wouldn’t change a thing. They were married in Northwest, England, in a church adjacent to Liz’s childhood school. Their reception was held in a farmer’s field near her lifelong family home. Being close to one of their homes was particularly special. Fortunately, it was a marquee reception (under a tent), so the rain was not too much of a bother.

“It was a complete fairy tale of a day for us – the church, the marquee, the food, the awful weather, all our friends and family together – one that hardly a day goes by without us mentioning,” said Greg. “One moment we both particular remember is being picked up on our friend’s shoulders on the dance floor with the band playing. Amazing!”

Greg wore a three-piece light grey suit with a silver tie. His ushers wore grey suits with dark grey tie. (The suits were part of their gift for standing up with Greg.) Greg said, “I have never been particularly keen on the morning suit look so was keen to have a smart three piece suit and felt that light grey was the best ‘summer suit’ look.”

“My groomsmen did a great job,” Greg tells us. “I had my oldest mate as best man and three other mates from UNI (short for university. Go figure!), one of which had travelled from San Antonio, Texas to be there. Each had their jobs: master of ceremonies, a reading during the service, being in charge of the music at the church, bride arrival, hymns, etc. But my Best Man really stole the show with his speech, absolutely brilliant. He had people howling with laughter like they had gone to see a stand-up comedian. I am just glad we have it on video.”

Note: If you are planning a wedding, make sure you are having it filmed!

Greg’s and Liz’s story is a reminder to keep it fun, go with the flow, and connect your day with all that is most important to you. Like the song says, Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you,…you can go to extremes with impossible schemes and you can laugh when your dreams (plans) fall apart at the seams…if you’re young at heart. Despite a little rain – and a couple of other small set-backs – they had their fairytale wedding.

Do you have a wedding story to share?

Keeping it real,


Wedding Crashers: What a Man Should Wear to a Wedding

Party crashing is a sport that more than a few have successfully executed, especially during those “experience rich” college years. Wedding crashing, however, is a special form of party crashing – one which requires an extra level of preparation and chutzpah. Now, before you start feeling mislead about the direction of this short story, the following will apply to those who have an actual invitation to a wedding (though if one were to crash a wedding, being especially well dressed would certainly not be a disadvantage.)

When you are in the wedding party, the decision about what to wear is easy, since it is mostly dictated by the bride, and possibly the groom (just being honest.) But when you are a chosen, invited guest….now that is a golden opportunity to impress and express with how you dress.

Leaning formal…

Right down the middle
(It’s a suit, but lighter in color….so not quite as formal)

Leaning casual…

A few basic rules:

  1. Similar to other ceremonial occasions, a wedding is a time to dress up, not down, to ere on the side of being overdressed, not underdressed. When in doubt, wear a tie. (You can always remove it if no one else is wearing one.)
  2. Don’t dress like you’re going to a business meeting. A wedding is not a business meeting.
  3. Consider how the groom will be dressed. Typically a notch below the groom in formality is appropriate. If he is dressed formal, in a tuxedo, a creative dinner jacket would be a great choice, and you can’t wrong in a dark suit and tie.
  4. Consider the setting and the time of day. A friend of mine is going to a formal wedding in Los Angeles, set in a botanical garden. In that case, her date could wear a light colored suit if the wedding is before 6pm. Either one of the “leaning casual” looks above would rock! Otherwise, a medium to dark suit would be a safe bet. And since it is L.A., by all means, he should let the character inside of him out to play.

Russ L. (pictured at the very top) is a financial professional by day, generally being limited to conservative Wall Street attire. However, the real Russ enjoys showing a more creative side whenever the opportunity presents itself. At a late summer wedding, high up in the Sierras, he kicked up his style with a look inspired by late 40’s elegance, including braces for his pants, a tie bar, a summer trilby for his head, and a crisp pair of Aviators to finish the look. The other guests loved his style and he and everyone else had more fun because of his extra effort and thoughtfulness.

What are a few other easy ways to let your style shine?

  • Think SOCIAL. Wear something that is outside of your ordinary workday attire. I like to wear linen and cotton for late spring/summer weddings and muted plaid, window pane, or dressy shadow stripes for fall/winter weddings.
  • Add a VEST. Shown above are two examples. A practical advantage is that when you take your coat off, you still have a more finished, dressed up appearance.
  • Rock a BOW TIE.
  • Wear some COLOR.
  • Definitely add a POCKET SQUARE.

Note: Though it is somewhat rare these days, for a classic formal wedding (i.e., for day weddings – the bridal party is dressed in cutaways, for evening – in white tie & tails) you should go formal. For our purposes, unless you own a full dress suit (tails), you should wear a tuxedo/Dinner Jacket in the evening. For a daytime formal wedding (cutaway/morning coat) the proper attire is the long-forgotten stroller, or Stresemann, outfit. This is a solid black or charcoal jacket, grey checked or striped formal trousers, silver solid tie, and dove gray or buff waistcoat. This is worn with cap toe oxfords and a point collar, French cuff shirt.

Weddings are a celebration. The best ones I’ve been to were actually more like a great party, with lots of fun people, preceded by a romantic, uniquely sacred, and relatively brief ceremony. My suggestion: Dress to respect the ceremony and to enjoy the reception.

Sartorial Regards,


The Best Man Speaks


As you might have guessed, there is even a “for Dummies” book for the Best Man, covering all matters of Best Man duty minutiae. The official duties of the Best Man encompass more than a toast and a speech at the reception, but the speech is clearly the one duty that is the cause of sleepless nights and endless agonizing. More than a few Best Men have met with ignominy, glares and stares, and social devastation because of some misstep during their remarks. Admittedly, most of the real tragedies occur because of the Best Man’s decision to wing it or because he has enjoyed too much of the free champagne before his speech instead of at least waiting until the conclusion of his official duties.

Earlier this year we wrote about the duties of a groomsman and were reminded that, while not without the need for chivalry, the role of Best Man no longer entails kidnapping or physically protecting the bride or similar such duties. You can leave your sword at home. Still, a lot of men would much rather have to put up a fight than give a speech of any kind, so the following will provide a few suggestions that may calm your nerves.


My one and only Best Man Speech occurred a few years ago at my Brother’s wedding. It was not a great success. One of my attempts at being funny brought more gasping sighs than delighted laughter. As it turned out, what I thought would be a familiar reference to most of the crowd was instead one of those “I guess you had to be there” moments.

A lot of other blogs and advice givers suggest that the goal of the speech is to systematically embarrass the groom, pointing out his every flaw, as some sort of free-pass moment of retribution. Sounds like a good way to end a friendship if you ask me.

As for my part,if I had a do-over, I would:

  • Run the speech/toast past a couple of other people….to give it a test.
  • Better consider my audience.
  • Make sure to be favorable to the Bride, affirming that I and everyone else know that the Groom just made the best decision of his life.
  • Tell a funny, personal story that explains my relationship/friendship bond with the Groom.
  • Cause the audience to listen to me but want to look at the Bride and Groom.

James R., from California, sounding like the voice of experience, offers his Top Ten list to anyone thinking about their best man speech:


  1. Know your audience.
  2. Be yourself.
  3. Remember that parents, friends, and maybe even some ex’s will be in the audience. The last thing you want to do is offend anyone so keep your stories funny but not insulting.
  4. If you are not a funny person, no need to tell jokes. If you have a hard time being sincere, make it funny.
  5. Remember to thank the parents/hosts of the wedding.
  6. Score extra points by calling out those who came from long distances to attend.
  7. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them!
  8. Tell a quick story that ties in their love for each other or demonstrates the commitment of the groom. (Now that’s being a good wingman!)
  9. Unlike this list, KEEP IT SHORT. 2 – 3 minutes is best.
  10. Lastly, wait for the booze until after your speech is done!


Every situation and relationship has its unique qualities to pay attention to and capitalize on. Ask a lot of questions during your preparation. Give it a test run. Above all, have fun and enjoy the moment.

A toast to you, Best Man!