We’ve barely got over Christmas: the last mince pie has been eaten and that stubborn piece of Christmas cake that no one chose to eat up has been thrown away. Now we are faced with endless acceptance speeches, glittering gongs and ticker tape as the awards season is here once more. It seems that everything and everyone has to have an award ceremony nowadays.
Whilst many of us will be slaving away in the coalface that is work, there are those select few, who some may envy, that are living the high-life on the red carpet. Traditional award ceremonies call for the most common of formal dress codes, Black Tie. But where does this dress code come from? What is it supposed to look like? It seems many of our celebrities don’t know either, or have chosen deliberately to flaunt it.
Black Tie was the creation of celebrated dandy Griswold Lorillard, who wore a mutated and deliberately altered version of White Tie to New York’s Tuxedo Park Club in 1886. At first, sartorial traditionalists were shocked with both the change and the audacity of the man. Lorillard, whose father owned the club – so there was no danger of being thrown out – wore a much shorter jacket than the required tailcoat. He also wore the white piqué shirt, which was worn with correct White Tie, and black trousers.
In England, the then Prince of Wales, Edward, had introduced a similarly short jacket for him and his courtiers, which they dubbed a “Cowes jacket”, which they wore to the annual boating festival.
Fashionistas, at first shocked by the new form, soon began to warm to the new design and the new dress code caught on, soon evolving into how we wear it today.
Black Tie, when worn correctly, is not to be taken literally: it does not mean wearing a black tie – one is not going to a funeral. The tie is a black bow tie, and, where possible, should be self-tied. A white dress shirt (preferably piqué) with turndown collar can be fastened with evening studs. A black dinner jacket and tapered trousers are also part of the dress code. Black patent leather evening shoes are optional, although preferred.
Black Tie is more diverse than some imagine. It can be dressed up or down. For example, if attending a private dinner at home, one could select a soft silk shirt with properly tied bow tie, if going to a subscription dinner – a pleated shirt.
Ladies don’t have it quite so easy when it comes to dressing up for a Black Tie event, although like their male counterparts, they can dress up or down, from little black dress with pearls for a formal business function, to something far more glamorous with ‘important’ jewellery for that award ceremony. However, the reason men wear black and white is so that it acts as a blank canvas for their partners to wear whatever colour they so wish (within reason, of course). Floor length dresses can be worn for more formal black tie events; otherwise cocktail length or luxurious evening trousers are perfect. If attending a white tie event, then long dresses for ladies are de rigueur, together with tiaras and gloves. Earrings can be more flamboyant for evening events, dangling sparkles only at night, and always smaller and discreet – perhaps the ubiquitous pearls – for day wear.
There is so much to say on the humble Black Tie (including how one actually ties it) that next week we will discuss this dress code further.
Tutor, The English Manner