Formal Wear Guide: Black Tie, Mens Formal Wear, Mens Suits and Fashion

A Little History: Black Tie Fashions

Black wasn't always the right colour for the evening - aristocratic formal wear in the 18th century exploded with reds, oranges, purples and pinks, fluffled with feathers and plumages inspired by bird displays. French fashion took this mode to bacchanalian extremes, only to be cut short with the guillotines courtesy of the French Revolution.

Dandy dressing then turned to more sombre hues, taking on the darker shades of working-class clothes, but only to upgrade them with elegant fabrics and material sheen. This was the time black tie attire was born.

England's nobles took over the development of the modern black tie ensemble, deriving inspiration from the cut of suit particular to horseback riding. Longtails became the standard for the most formal affairs, but they fell out of fashion for being exceeding difficult to don and tending to be itchy and stuffy.

Comfort was found in the less elaborate layers of the black suit, picturing restrained refinement. Dinner jackets by consensus of the wearing men quickly won over the dictates of fashionable women.

An innovation in colour happened in the 1920s when midnight blue entered the scene. The Prince of Wales noticed that electric light chnaged the apparent hue of his semi-formal black tie suit from black to something off-green, which didn't appeal to him at all. Popular magazines of the day publicised the colour choice as "blacker than black" and was snapped up by masses of men, who were dressing up like the aristocrats by now, if only on special events.

Colour in black tie broke out of the mould in the hippy 60s, marking the appearance of summer suits, available in plum, orange, deep blue, reddish and prints. Multifangled styles like jump suits and shirt-only ensembles also came into vogue that this time, with the more formal dnner jackets holding out in the oldtimers' evetns in the city.

The Disco 70s sent a lot of zing in the black tie concept. Creative Black Tie was the buzzword, featuring cowboy shoes, denim or corduroy pants, flared legs, fancy collars and accessories. The next decade promptly swung back into more subdued styles and colour, culminating in the classical cut's revival.

Contemporary takes on the black tie concept play with the collar and tie, the shirt and the waistband area, often doing away with one of these elements. Turtleneck shirts are now acceptable as informal black tine, removing the need for bowties. Jackets may now have four buttonholes instead of three to mke up for the often-absent waistband, and exposed shirtfronts can be personalised through pleats, buttoning or fine ribbing.