A Formal Question (or Two)

black bow tie - pocket square

They don’t call it the party season for nothing. As soon as November is all but over, we turn our minds to the blinding glitter and deafening din of December; the month to end all months, the ‘holiday season’, the office parties, the annual balls and the benefits. As a warrior turns to his armour, the December party goer turns to their wardrobe.

And sometimes, they turn to others.

I have already received two anxious enquiries from readers regarding evening wear that need to be dealt with.

“I have a black tie ball coming up but I have recently bought a vintage tailcoat – like yours – and was wondering whether I could wear it with a black or white bow tie instead of a shorter jacket? What do you think?”

The purist’s answer to this is, of course, “absolutely not.” Invitation dress codes should be adhered to and many purists would claim that a white tailcoat worn to such an occasion is as incorrect as a hoody and sweatpants. However, I am not much of a purist. I would probably wear black tie if it was stipulated on the invitation, but if it simply asked for ‘Evening Dress’, I might dust off the vintage tails, purely because they don’t get much of a run out.

The second part of the question is also one of taste; the purist would suggest that a black bow tie worn with tails is out of the question. However, the chances of being mistaken for a waiter in an age when most staff carrying drinks wear plain black shirts are slim. The conundrum is this; should our hero shun the code and wear full formal evening dress (white bow tie, tails), should he strut around in tails whilst wearing a black bow tie, in a nod to the dress code or should he, as the purists demand, discard the tails and white bow tie and dress with a short jacket and black bow tie? As the middle option is half-hearted, I would champion the first.

“I need a favour. I am going to a black tie party but I was wondering what your views on pocket squares are?

I normally wear one with suits but I tried a white linen one with my dinner jacket and it looked way too stark against the black. Should I wear a black one? Or a colour (red)? Or can I not wear one at all?”

This is definitely a question of taste. Most men who wear pocket squares everyday would probably wear one with black tie to avoid that awkward feeling of ‘nakedness’, but I can understand this point of view; with an immaculate black tie ensemble, a white pocket square can look rather incongruous and a little untidy. A black square adds texture and is certainly more subtle, but it will be difficult to notice in low light. A red or burgundy puff is an excellent idea, not least because it adds a degree of colour to the outfit. Some say the last option, not adding a pocket square at all, is actually the ‘correct’ option, proven by the fact that some vintage formal eveningwear does not feature the breast pocket.

My loose rule with formal wear is if I wear a buttonhole, I won’t wear a square – and vice versa; otherwise, I feel my jacket is too busy. With white tie it tends to be a buttonhole, with black tie it tends to be a square. I would say that if I thought of wearing a buttonhole with black tie, I would leave the breast pocket empty.

The question is dear readers, what do you think?