Category Archives: Tom Talks

Tuxedo 2.0

Joe C. asks: So I’ve been wearing my wedding tuxedo during the holidays, and I am reminded that even though I plan to keep the girl I married when I bought it, I don’t plan to keep the tuxedo too much longer. It’s not as comfortable as it was on my wedding day, and I feel a bit like a waiter or an usher when I wear my tuxedo with my pleated shirt and my black bow tie and cummerbund. What’s my next move?

Tom Talks: First of all, you made a good investment purchasing your tuxedo. If you’ve kept it for at least 7 years, it has paid for itself, even if you’ve only worn it twice a year (it’s about $150 to rent a decent tuxedo ensemble these days, which includes the stigma of wearing rented clothing). With any luck, your bride will never wear her wedding dress again, but you’ve gotten good mileage out of the tuxedo you purchased for your wedding. But time marches on, so here’s a strategy for where to go from here:

1) Because you wear a tuxedo only occasionally, we would recommend that you not follow fashion trends in selecting your core items. However, you can insert an updated twist, or a touch of flair, by changing your accessories. Consider the new James Bond (Daniel Craig) and his interpretation of proper black tie attire – an absolutely timeless tuxedo jacket with a peaked lapel, coordinated with a fly-front shirt without pleats (no studs needed), a medium spread point collar and a tie-it-yourself bow tie. You won’t be mistaken for a waiter or an usher if you follow Bond’s lead here. A well-folded, white linen pocket hankie will eliminate any possibility of mistaken identity and provide a sophisticated finishing touch.


2) Give your formalwear some variety — If you move in more fashion-oriented circles, you might consider alternating between a bow tie and a “formal cravat” (a necktie worn with a tuxedo, usually a solid color or striped pattern, usually black or silver, woven in a lustrous formal silk, like grosgrain or satin. Most men who struggle to tie a proper bow tie knot can tie a regular necktie with their eyes closed. Modified spread collars (with stays) work best with tuxedo neckties, but a wing collar with a necktie is a great change of pace.


3) Join the legions of men who have freed themselves from “the tyranny of the cummerbund” by adding a formal waistcoat (vest) to your black tie ensemble. It works with either bow tie or formal cravat, and you will always look more elegant and trimmer without a cummerbund to punctuate your “equator”. A classic formal vest is styled with a very low opening and only three buttons, with or without a lapel. You can, however, use a street-wear model, styled to mimic the tuxedo coat model with notched, peaked, or shawl lapels. If you have a choice, opt for no upper pockets and have the back strap removed once your vest has been tailored properly.


Start with a formal vest made in cloth that matches the tuxedo, but consider a contrasting vest fabric for visual interest and variety. For a subtle rich look, consider having the vest made from the same silk as the lapels on your jacket and trouser braid, whether satin or grosgrain. A small black & white houndstooth pattern is a good choice, and a Black Watch plaid or clan tartan vest is a great option for next year’s holiday formal events. The investment in a variety of accessory looks allows for plenty of flexibility and enjoyment that reflect your individual take on “black tie” dressing.


4) Variety is the spice of life, but there are conventions in formalwear, to which you should be attentive:

a) Tuxedo trousers have no belt loops, so use braces (aka suspenders) with them. You can have your trousers tailored to fit a little looser, because the braces will keep them up at the right level at all times, while leaving you a little breathing room after dinner! Classic formal braces are white, but can be solid, black, or silver, or any number of textures or patterns. Formal braces are distinguished by woven tabs, rather than leather ones. Woven silk braces are available in numerous whimsical motifs that can add a personal signature to your formal ensemble. A formal trouser has no cuffs, of course, and features a satin or grosgrain stripe (“braid”) that runs down the outer seam on each leg.

b) Proper formal shirts have French cuffs and usually feature a “stud front” with paired buttonholes to accommodate studs – 4 studs is traditional, but you can have a 3-stud shirt made if you own an heirloom set of 3 studs. A pleated shirt, with either a wing or point collar is the classic “black tie” shirt (ruffled shirts are for high school proms or costume parties). A “bib front” formal shirt, with a wing collar, has a stud front but no pleats. Being derived from the “white tie & tails” ensemble, it should only be worn with a peak lapelled jacket. A “fly front” shirt has no pleats or studs, as the buttons are hidden behind an extra panel of fabric overlaying the placket. Any of the above are good choices, and owning two tuxedo shirts makes sense for both utility (back-to-back events) and variety.

c) Tuxedo shoes are typically black patent leather, grosgrain, or velvet. A formal “slipper” is considered more elegant than a formal tie shoe, but either style is correct. Several shoemakers now feature higher luster calfskins that are not patent leather so they can be worn with regular suits for more utility. Just avoid wing tips, tassels, or penny loafers with your tuxedo. Consider what your wife or significant other spent on her evening shoes as a guideline for what you should invest in formal footwear. You’ll never wear them out, and they may never need to be re-soled — a good investment and the best indication that you take your formalwear seriously. They should, of course, always be worn with black, over-the-calf hosiery, preferably silk.

Whatever your station in life, there are events that demand formal dress. Hopefully, these guidelines will allow you to conform to convention but still express your sartorial individuality in black tie.

Best Regards,

Tom@tomjames.com

Style Never Sleeps

Patrick D. asks: I understand that the movie Wall Street; Money Never Sleeps has the fashion business buzzing about what the actors are wearing, notably the characters played by Michael Douglas and Shia LeBeouf. I remember that the original Wall Street movie had a pretty significant effect on men’s clothing fashion at the time (1989?), but what about this sequel? I confess to taking advice from a gecko when it comes to my car insurance, but what if any fashion advice should I take from Gordon Gekko this time around?

Tom Talks: A fair question, even if you don’t work on Wall Street. The woman who designed the clothing for this Wall Street sequel is the same person who did the clothing for Michael Douglas in the original film, only this time she “did a little research” by observing how people on Wall Street actually dressed for work. Here’s what you can glean fashion-wise from Wall Street; Money Never Sleeps:

1) If you’re being incarcerated, wear something timeless on your first day in; that’s what you’ll be wearing the day you’re released from prison (even if no one is there to pick you up). Having a few classic suits in your wardrobe is a must, even if you work from a home office. None of us can plan someone else’s wedding (or funeral), but there are those events in life where we all need to wear something dark and dressy.

2) Men’s fashion has indeed changed over the last ten years (and certainly over the last nine years, if that’s how long you were in for). That oversized “relaxed fit” Italian suit with the big shoulders and the full-cut triple pleated trousers was all the rage when it was new, but so was the flip phone. In the movie, Gordon Gekko made a point to update his wardrobe as soon as he was “funded”. And the movie’s wardrobe designer had the suits for young Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) tailor- made to the actor’s measurements (at $6500 a copy, no less) to reflect an ultra-modern look: 2-button side vented coats with a decidedly more tailored fit, with trimmer fitting flat front cuff-less trousers. LeBeouf’s suits oozed prosperity right down to the working sleeve buttonholes – the devil is in the details, right?

3) Even Wall Street has embraced the idea of casual dress in the workplace – but where and when it makes sense. Sitting at the desk or pacing the trading floor may no longer dictate coat and tie attire, but jeans and polo shirts may not cut it either. Every profession may have its own casual ‘uniform’, but you’d be wise to take it up a notch from the lowest common denominator in your own workplace. Upgrade the jeans and polo shirts to a dress trouser and collared long-sleeve shirt – necktie optional. You can roll up your sleeves and get to work, but you can always meet with a client or superior on the fly if you keep a spare jacket (sport coat or blazer) and necktie at the office. You can make a quick change and look like you came to work dressed for that impromptu meeting or client visit. We do recommend keeping a clean white shirt at the office, just in case a long day ends with an important late afternoon meeting or business dinner opportunity. Be prepared…

4) In the movie, the formal charity gala event at the Met (New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) had virtually everyone in attendance dressed in their evening finest. No matter how “casual” your profession, or where you find yourself on the food chain at work, all of us need to be able to get properly dressed for an evening or black-tie event. Forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir, but make it a priority to own a dressy black or midnight navy suit or tuxedo (and consider updating your formal ensemble if it was purchased from a “rental fleet”) and keep a nice white cufflink shirt at the ready to use with a formal bow tie or cravat. We like the idea of a fly-front formal shirt with a point collar, French cuffs, and no pleats for maximum utility. Think about it: if your wife or significant other makes an effort to dress to the nines, you should dress like a ‘10’. There wouldn’t be a tuxedo rental industry today if this concept had no merit. And hopefully you’ve reached a station in life where you don’t have to rent nice clothing. Her evening gown won’t be a rental…


5) One interesting nuance in the movie is the correlation of the changes in the morality & wealth of the main characters with the changes in their dress. It is clear who is on the way up and on the way down. Like it or not, we are conditioned to make judgments about someone’s character, background, and ability by how they are dressed. While those judgments may at times miss the mark, few of us are in a situation where we need not give consideration to how we are perceived by others. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “eat to please thyself, but dress to please others…”

Best Regards,

Tom@tomjames.com

The Two Tie Knots Every Gentleman Should Know

One size does NOT fit all where ties are concerned

If you’re like most men, you tie the same necktie knot every time without hesitation.

However, just as some collars are better suited for your face than others, some knots are better suited for certain collars than others.

The proper knot is the one which fills the tie space of the collar appropriately.  Collars with a wider spread have more tie space to fill and thus demand a larger knot;  collars with a narrower spread have less tie space to fill and work best with a smaller knot.

But don’t worry about having to master an array of knots.  A selection of two is fine for most men’s shirt wardrobes: a smaller knot for narrow spread collars and a larger knot for wide spread collars.

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