I frequently advise formalwear rookies not to fixate on assembling the ultimate black-tie wardrobe right away but instead to enjoy the pleasure of premiering a new embellishment with each new outing. Case in point: it’s taken me years to finally obtain a much-coveted classic formal shirt and jewelry set but that delayed acquisition ensured that the 1920s-themed evening I recently attended was unlike any black-tie affair I’ve experienced prior. (Learning of the event only a week in advance proves another of my tenets: clean and mend garments soon after use so they’re ready to wear again at a moment’s notice.)
The occasion was a dinner and dance styled after Prohibition-era speakeasies. It was held in a historic local dance hall, featured a live jazz band, and encouraged guests to dress in period costume. It was the perfect opportunity for me to don a number of period-appropriate garments that had been patiently waiting in my closet for their debut:
- a peaked-lapel tuxedo
- a detachable-collar evening shirt with separate wing collar
- a vintage full-dress waistcoat (a popular alternative to black models during this time)
- a vintage evening jewelry set
The result was a significantly different look than my usual dégagé Rat Pack ensemble with its streamlined shawl-collar and cummerbund worn over a soft-front turndown-collar shirt. It was also a very different feel. The shirt’s stiff bosom and rigid detachable collar subconsciously prompt the wearer to straighten his back and hold his head high, yielding the aristocratic posture regularly seen in Downton Abbey’s lavish dinner scenes. The option of fastening one’s vest with custom waistcoat studs instead of generic covered buttons also adds to the air of gentility. Even more so when those fasteners are of the same design as the shirt’s studs and cufflinks, tying together the formal kit’s two white elements with a distinctive subtlety. As I slipped the jewelry’s old-fashion backings into place, I couldn’t help but wonder if a previous owner had gone through the very same motions back at the time that inspired this evening’s theme.
Witnessing the sublime combination of two such perfectly pressed and immaculately bleached garments allowed me to truly understand why the white-on-white resplendence of full dress is unparalleled. I would have gladly completed the full-dress triumvirate with a matching white bow tie if not for the fact that it would be a major sartorial gaffe.
As a final touch, I considered a casually placed linen pocket handkerchief as was common back in the day, but left that natty touch to my husband Brandon. He was also wearing a detachable-collar shirt and peaked-lapel jacket along with an ebony version of the classic evening waistcoat.
The wristwatch and cell phone stayed at home being modern distractions that had no place in the recreation of such a refined era.
Brandon and I thoroughly enjoyed the event and, as has become a bit of a custom, ended the evening with a nightcap at the Library Bar in the Fairmont Royal York. This grand 1920s hotel emanates such elegance that no one even bats an eye at the random appearance of a pair of tuxedo-clad gentlemen.
The night’s newly premiered accouterments can now join the ranks of my other tried-and-true formal acquisitions. I’m actually already looking forward to receiving the next long-awaited procurement: nifty Black Watch and Prince of Wales plaid cummerbund & bow tie sets from Brooks Brothers, currently on sale at half price.
Now all I need to find is a formal 1950s bash . . .
For a complete rundown of the evening’s festivities and other guests’ attire, check out The Hogtown Rake, a superb menswear blog by my fellow Torontonian and sartorialist, Pedro Mendes.