Hold onto your hats; party season is here once again.
Between the middle of December and the first birdsong of the New Year, the world turns into an alcoholic, tinsel-and-firework merry-go-round, wringing out the remainder of our leftover greed, wantonness and impropriety. I have only one Christmas party to go to but one acquaintance of mine has three work-related functions to attend; “One’s a divisional thing, the other’s a group company party” And what’s the third? “Oh. I’ve got an invite to the girlfriend’s work ball – can’t be bothered to go.”
It’s a shame that we get so used to such things, we never learn to appreciate them sufficiently in the moment. Life, after all, is about contribution and being part of something greater than mere survival. Being invited to balls and parties should excite us; fill us with that keen sense of anticipation.
It should also fill us with inspiration – and not lead us into the temptation of skimping on a black tie ensemble by wearing a dark grey lounge suit with a clip-on poly bow tie.
I received a frantic missive from a chum recently, asking me how to dress for a ‘terrifyingly trendy fashionista party’, set to take place in a glittering ballroom in one of Mayfair’s grand dame palace hotels. He had a grosgrain silk bow tie and Marcella cotton shirt but what could else he possibly wear to cut a dash and avoid looking like the rest of the rent-a-tux crowd?
I would recommend a velvet smoking jacket style.
Ultra-traditionalists would sniff that this is ‘normally only to be worn in your own residence’ and is not appropriate for an ‘out of home’ black tie function, particularly balls.
Well, balls to that.
It’s difficult to cut a head-turning dash as a chap without looking a little unconventional on such occasions. And given that female fashion has long dispensed with the length requirements dictated for ballgowns, to shun a fabric like velvet, that catches the season’s aesthetic so wonderfully, is frankly silly.
I would opt for a colour rather than black velvet, due to the fact that coloured velvet is infinitely better at reflecting light. Burgundy is elegant, if a little old school, bottle green is currently trending, although not for the light hearted, but the ultimate in sleek smoking chic this season is, perhaps unexpectedly, brown.
In certain light it has a warm, chocolate tone that contrasts deliciously with the cool, crisp white of a starched shirt-front. Black bow ties appear more authoritative next to it and it has an old-world, distinguished charm to it, like a fading label on a great Bordeaux. Or Robert Redford.
Suit Supply and Gieves & Hawkes both have excellent shawl-collared, one-button options available, with black silk-faced lapels and jetted pockets. Paul Stuart Phineas Cole has an all-brown option, with brown-grosgrain peak lapels.
Given the slightly outré jacket suggestion, one might expect me to suggest sober, black Barathea trousers.
These would certainly work very well, however, black Barathea has never really made much of a statement. It fades into the background (quite by design) and, on this occasion, is only for the unimaginative.
You could go all brown velvet like Lapo Elkann. However, velvet suits make me think of Austin Powers.
Instead, I would either recommend black silk trousers, the shine contrasting with the lush matte of the velvet pile, or – if you are feeling brave (and Tom Ford circa 2010) enough – some tartan trousers, with a Scandinavian uber-taper at the ankles. Hackett have some options to oblige.
I always favour patent Oxfords or opera pumps, but this is a look that deserves something a little more dangerous, like Paul Stuart Phineas Cole’s houndstooth evening slippers.
If these go too far, perhaps a plain pair of black, Albert velvet slippers from Brooks Brothers would be more approachable.
Anything other than evening slippers or pumps in this ensemble adds unnecessary ‘clump.’
The other essentials
The usual routine; shirt studs, black silk socks, and a black silk cummerbund. Add a pocket square if you feel it is needed, but keep it fairly conservative. Remember, keeping the small things trad lets the big things go mad.