Contemporary Black-Tie Shirts

Tuxedo Shirt Rules:

  • white fabric
  • turndown collar
  • fronts can be either pleated or piqué (marcella)
    shirt traditionally has eyelets for studs; fly-front is acceptable in a contemporary contect
  • French cuffs (double cuffs)
White attached wing collar shirt with pleated front

White attached wing collar shirt with pleated front

Attached Wing-Collar Shirt

When the dinner jacket was created as an informal substitute for the evening tailcoat it was worn with the tailcoat’s standard accessories, including the stiff-front detachable wing collar shirt.  Then in the 1930s it was given its very own “semi-formal” shirt with a soft, pleated bosom, French cuffs and an attached turndown collar.  This became the new standard for black tie and remained that way until the 1970s when manufacturers introduced a hybrid that altered the standard shirt’s soft, attached collar from turndown to wing style.  The intention may have to been to add an elegant flair but by the end of the decade these attached collars had become shrunken and flaccid.  Oddly, American men loved them.  By the mid-1980s this style had become the de facto tuxedo shirt in the U.S. and remained that way until the rise of the four-in-hand tie in the ‘00s revived the turndown model.

British style authorities, on the other hand, despise the modern incarnation and expect their wing collars to be impressively tall and erect (so to speak).

A Fort Belvedere barathea bow tie with a wing collar shirt.

A Fort Belvedere barathea bow tie with a proper detachable wing collar shirt.

From an aesthetic point of view, it is not the detachable collar’s physical construction that makes it formal but its appearance.  Therefore, a modern version must imitate the original’s prime characteristics: it must be tall enough to properly cover the neck (almost all the way up to the jaw line), it must be stiff enough to stand straight up throughout the evening and its tabs must be sizable enough to not be engulfed by the bow tie.  The latter trait is not an issue for the modern style of swept wing collar that folds back almost the entire front of the collar to create two large oblong triangles.

Francois Poncet in DB tuxedo with wing collar, patent leather shoes and galon stripe in 1950

Francois Poncet in DB tuxedo with wing collar, patent leather shoes and galon stripe in 1950

Although some consider the pleated front to be incompatible with a wing collar, there are historical precedents for this combination dating back to Victorian times.  A piqué bosom is also traditional and has the added benefit of imparting the shirt with a bit of full-dress formality.  Either shirt front can be unstarched or lightly starched, known in sartorial parlance as “soft” or “semi-stiff” respectively (honest).

The bow tie loop featured on the back of premium formal shirts is particularly important when wearing black tie.  While its omission might have a relatively minor impact on the aesthetics of full dress due to the white-on-white color scheme of the bow tie and shirt collar, the sight of a contrasting black band riding high up the neck lends a distinctly disheveled look to a tuxedo ensemble.  A contemporary variation on the bow tie loop is a full-height hem sewn onto the rear of the collar that conceals the majority of the tie’s band.

Tuxedo Shirt with Pleats, Hidden Fly & Gold Cufflinks

Tuxedo Shirt with Pleats, Hidden Fly & Gold Cufflinks

Turndown-Collar Shirt

In the 1920s most black tie oufits had a stiff collar shirt. The then Price of Wales, later King Weward VII and the Duke of Windsor had a preference for soft turndown collars that were attached to the shirt, and he led the way for those shirts to be considered proper black tie shirts today.

Edward populairzed the soft turndown collar for black tie. here he wearsshawl collar dinner jacket with grosgrain silk facing, carnation boutonniere, and loosely tied black bow tie

Edward popularized the soft turndown collar for black tie. here he wears a shawl collar dinner jacket with grosgrain silk facing, carnation boutonniere, and loosely tied black bow tie

Ever since the 1950s designers have been experimenting with various ways of decorating the classic black-tie shirt bosom to provide alternatives to pleats and piqué.  The most (in)famous of these innovations was the ruffled front that was so popular at weddings in the 1960s and 1970s but recent efforts have been far more tasteful.

Tucks and plissé are understated variations of the pleat and therefore true to the intended spirit of formal attire.  Plain fronts, on the other hand, have to be accessorized with care.

Fancy Ruffled Shirt

Pairing them with notched-lapel jackets and/or four-in-hand ties will only serve to downgrade a man’s evening wear to the level of common business attire.  For the same reason, one should also avoid the recent button-front vogue or at the very least ensure that the buttons are constructed of pearl and surrounded by an elegantly decorated bosom.

Redford in 1981 at the Oscars with notched lapels tuxedo

Redford in 1981 at the Oscars with notched lapels tuxedo and fly front shirt

Qualified Alternative: Fly Fronts

Since the 1980s shirts of both collar types have been appearing increasingly often with fly fronts (concealed plackets).  While this style eliminates the use of traditional studs, the fact that the buttons are hidden perfectly complements formal wear’s refined minimalism.  The bosom of these shirts is decorated in any of the styles used by models with studs.


Summary
Contemporary Tuxedo Shirts
Article Name
Contemporary Tuxedo Shirts
Description
Learn all about contemporary evening tuxedo shirts for black tie and how they differ from the classic black tie shirt counterparts, what to pay attention to and what mistakes to avoid.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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