After seeing the black tie outfits at the Oscars, we were quite disappointed, and while it is always easy to critique others, it is more difficult but also more helpful to show great examples of elegant tuxedo outfits. Therefore we decided to create a hands-on black tie series that helps men look dapper in a tuxedo or dinner jacket without having to sacrifice individual style. Yes, the black tie dress code has many different rules, but at the same time, every gentleman can adapt elements to make the outfit truly unique.
In this article, we want to take a look back to the past because during the heyday of classic men’s clothing black tie was an integral part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Ivy-League students back then probably wore black tie as often as students wear hoodies today.
Of course, when more men wear a certain garment, you end up with a larger variety of styles, accessories, and looks. Fortunately, black tie has changed very little since the 1930s, and you can draw lots of inspiration for your modern day tuxedo outfits from photos and illustrations from that time.
First, let’s start with an illustration that may seem familiar to you – we use it on the homepage of the Gentleman’s Gazette.
The Formal Version Of A Tuxedo
The gentleman on the left wears a black single breasted one button tuxedo with peaked lapels faced in wide grosgrain silk. The trousers are full-cut, the shirt cuffs fit the sleeve perfectly, and the sleeves show four cuff buttons. The shirt has a high, stiff wing collar that is paired with a single breasted cotton evening waistcoat. Both of these elements are borrowed from a white tie ensemble. At that time, evening wear used to be stiff, and it wasn’t until the Prince of Wales that soft turndown collars and French double cuffs became popular with black tie. Even after the softer look became popular, many men still enjoyed the stiffer, more formal look of a white tie shirt and vest. The shoes are patent leather oxfords in black. To add a dash of color, this gent opted for a dark red carnation boutonniere.
The black bow tie was visible on the neckband, and hence it was important that the black bow tie came in a fixed neck size. To honor that tradition and to allow you to wear black bow ties with a wing collar, all Fort Belvedere bow ties are sized specifically to your neck size. In case you are not sure what bow tie is right for your tuxedo, please read this guide on how to find the perfect black bow tie for you.
The Slightly Less Formal Tuxedo
The second chap from the right likewise wears a butterfly bow tie with a stiff evening shirt. However, his jacket is double breasted, and therefore he does not need a vest. Note, it is a 4×1 button configuration meaning out of 4 buttons, only one is buttoned. In this case, the buttoning point is very low, which is something quite common on double breasted dinner jackets or tuxedos, because it reveals more of the shirt front which is always a hallmark of evening wear.
The lapel is faced in wide rib grosgrain again, and instead of a red boutonniere, this gent opted for something in blue.
Soft Collar Tuxedo Outfits
Most men today likely wear a softer shirt with French cuffs with their tuxedo. Again, this was a somewhat new thing back in the 1930s, but as it was more comfortable it is no surprise that the fashion stuck, and the stiffer less comfortable boiled front shirt is rarely seen with black tie anymore.
The gentleman on the very right has a single button jacket with an attractive satin faced shawl collar that gets progressively wider with its widest point just underneath the chest. It is a rather attractive look that is not often seen today. The shirt has a soft turndown collar and pleats as well as studs and the pocket square plain white and made of linen and folded in a crown fold. To learn more about how to fold a pocket square, take a look here.
The man with the mustache also has a satin faced shawl collar jacket, but if you take a closer look, you will see that its widest part is a little higher than on the other one, which creates a different look. The bow tie is more os a slim, wider batwing style that works well for men with wide or big heads.
Both men wear opera pumps or court shoes with a nice bow. These are different than slippers because you can see the socks.
All of these outfits have jetted pockets, and they could be worn just like that today. In fact, you’d look a lot more dapper than most men at the Oscars!
In this illustration, you can see the gentleman on the right wearing a single button tuxedo jacket with wide, peaked lapels. Full cut trousers and wide lapels were popular back then, and today you can certainly slim both down a bit, but overall it is a very attractive look. He wears a black single breasted waistcoat that matches the tuxedo, and you can see the satin strip on the side of the pants which is called galon. The single galon (vs. double for white tie) is the hallmark of black tie, and it is made of the same material as the lapel facings. In line with that, you want to add classic, black over the calf silk socks.
Again, both outfits could be worn just like that today.
Many men believe that all of these black tie traditionas are European and that things are more relaxed in the U.S. However, that’s not entirely true. American men used to be very dapper black tie and white tie enthusiats and companies like William Skinner & Sons from New York specialized in nothing but evening silks! In this picture you can see a top hat and a double galon, both of which are for white tie but the white silk scarf aka muffler and the evening shoelaces can we worn with black tie as well.
If we go across the pond, men in continental Europe wore black tie as well, and certain fashions were evolved in black tie menswear. For example, take a look at the colorful waistcoats of these men. Also, not the three cuff buttons vs. the four in the U.S. Basically, it was just a slight stylistic difference.
As you can see, even though black tie has many set rules, there is plenty of opportunity to add some personality to your outifts but opting for colorful accents, specifically, when it comes to accessories, lapel facing silks, as well as the bow tie and the cut of your ensemble.
If you enjoyed these fashion illustrations, stay tuned for our in depth Black Tie Guide. Also, make sure to take a look at our ebook Gentlemen of the Golden Age, which is full of 1930s fashion illustrations.