Aren’t you just sick of celebrities turning up to the Oscars in a four-in-hand tie? A black tie event demands a bow tie. A long tie may be trendier, but this is an outfit steeped in history. History and tradition demand a bow tie. Right?
Wrong. The four-in-hand was designed by Washington Tremlett, in 1892, for an American called Wright. He first wore it to the opera, and indeed it was originally designed as an unusual evening tie.
In an age where most men wore a bow tie or a shorter form of collar tie, the four-in-hand was fussier and less ordinary. Quite the opposite of how it is seen today.
It was seen as fussier because of its length. If you think about it, a long tie is less neat and more ornate than a bow tie. It is less practical and more likely to get in your way.
It was designed as evening wear and evening wear is what Harrison Ford and Leonardo DiCaprio are wearing it as in these photos. They don’t know its tradition; they’re wearing it because it seems trendy or less fussy. But they are still correct, if only by accident.
Contrast that with the men that insist on wearing a red, purple or other coloured bow tie. Perhaps with a matching cummerbund. These men are, in my limited experience (and apologies to Americans everywhere), largely from the US. And they couldn’t be less correct. It’s a black tie event. You’d think that would be a clue.
Black tie is constructed to highlight contrast of black and white: to create sharp and striking lines under the dim lights of evening. It is about shade and texture. Patent shoes, corded silk lapels and sliver shirt studs provide the highlights in texture, shiny out from the matte black elsewhere. There is no need of colour.
The only exceptions are a red boutonniere or, possibly, handkerchief. But these are eccentricities for the dandies in the room. The basic uniform is not in doubt.
Nicholas Storey puts it well: “Novelty, coloured evening ties and matching cummerbunds made an appearance with dinner jackets; this was a brief encounter with sartorial solecism exemplified by the British actor Trevor Howard in a couple of his gruff, crusty film roles. Coloured evening ties may safely be consigned to the annals of history, and tagged ‘experiment: interesting but unsuccessful’.”