Remembering Inspiration from Christmas

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Eveningwear is not what it used to be. Had you been a gentleman in the 1930s (the decade when all of today’s traditions and ‘rules’ reached their apex), you would have had several options for what to wear at an evening function – such as a Christmas party.

Your closet would have contained a range of outfits for every scale of formality, from that suited to a ball (white tie) through to entertaining friends at home (dinner jacket).

This range has come down to us over the years much the worse for wear. Only two items are still worn: black tie, for almost any formal evening event, and white tie, purely for state dinners and Oxbridge balls.

The rest of the range has been disconnected from its original purpose. Velvet jackets, mohair suits, separate dinner jackets and more formal black tie (patent pumps, two trouser stripes, shirt bib) have all lost their meaning through persistent misuse.

They are floating in the sartorial ether, the preserve of rakes, dandies and ‘characters’; they are picked on as fashion items, or as a means to be a little different. Few really understand what they are wearing.

Yet it is precisely this ethereal lost-and-found that contains the best options for a modern Christmas or New Year’s party. The most fruitful choice is the velvet jacket.

Wear velvet

Gentlemen used to go to a lot of parties. Most nights would bring an evening function of some sort, so men needed clothes that could be versatile and hard wearing.

White tie and tails would be saved for only the most formal event. Black tie as we now know it would be worn more often but certainly not all week. The combination of black jacket with satin or grosgrain revers, trousers with a stripe that matched the revers and a bib-fronted shirt that buttoned into those trousers was not one that could be worn often. The whole ensemble required cleaning and pressing each time. Instead, the gentleman wore an odd (or separate) jacket to many functions.

This odd jacket could be worn with any number of trousers, though most usually plain worsted black, and a range of shirts. Normal day shirts with a folded-down collar and plain front could extend their wear into the evening. The outfit could then be brought up to standard with the addition of a pocket handkerchief, boutonnière and patent Oxfords.

The jacket itself might be double-breasted worsted (considered less formal than single-breasted), mohair (black or, better, midnight blue) or velvet (black, forest green or burgundy).

Wear it with Converse

Mohair and its shiny lustre has associations for many people. Velvet is not without associations as well, but is more versatile and timeless. So let’s take a dark-green velvet jacket as our staple for the modern Christmas party – a nod to tradition, but a tradition we are updating and thus celebrating.

That velvet jacket can be worn to a formal party. Just combine it with black suit trousers, black (preferably patent) Oxfords, a white shirt and a harmonious handkerchief (classic white or perhaps orange/yellow to go with the green). The tie is up to you – bow, necktie or open collar, depending on the event.

The velvet jacket can also be worn to an informal party. Combine it with dark jeans, Converse trainers, an open-necked blue shirt and a more ostentatious silk handkerchief (perhaps paisley or multicolours, rather than the more formal polka dot or plain handkerchief).

The trainers could equally be anything casual and slim. The reason Converse work here and Nike Dunks don’t is that the former have similarly slim lines to a formal shoe, and sit well under lightweight trousers. Adidas Gazelles work, also, for the same reason.

And there you have it. A Christmas party outfit that is adaptable to any occasion and echoes the eveningwear traditions of old. If anyone comments that your black tie doesn’t match, give him a withering and superior look.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.