‘Tis the season to be jolly and though Christmas cocktail parties seemed eons away in early autumn, they have come around terribly quickly. Whether you’re one of those who dreads these office functions, regarding them as Bacchanalian nightmares that must be endured to continue the illusion of ‘team-spirit’ or if you are one of those bizarre people who drinks, gorges, makes merry and performs the funky chicken to the almighty awfulness that is Slade, you have something in common; a desire to be yourself. And, as we are all unique, what better way to celebrate our own individuality than to pick something out from the wardrobe few others will be wearing. Christmas time excuses eccentricity and oddities like no other time of year, and the man of style should be considering choices one step beyond the vast sea of the commonplace; this is a time to trial new ideas.
Many men will choose the modern classic tuxedo jacket; single breasted, peaked satin-silk faced lapels and two-buttons. It is elegant and inoffensive but lacks pizzazz. It’s what everyone expects and therefore, it’s what everyone dreads. Women are unfairly blessed with the potentiality for surprise; they have yards and yards of dress material to choose from. Men are forced into a proverbial corner and very little is expected of them, so it is a magnificent occasion on which to shine.
Instead of the ordinary jacket, why not choose something with a little more to give.
A double-breasted tuxedo jacket may sound ordinary enough, but the steady decline in its popularity has meant that they are not ordinarily available. Paradoxically, this has been wonderful for the DB as high-level clothiers such as Hackett have picked up the gauntlet. Hackett’s creation is fantastic. The lapels are large, peaked and gorgeous; no tacky satin on this one but a thick, matt woven silk. Coupled with an equally individual slub or moiré silk pocket square in gold or royal blue, it will make the wearer look polished, regal and unforgettably original.
The shawl collar tuxedo is the true individual’s choice. Like the DB, the Shawl is rarely seen these days. It has a strong association with the 1950s and 60s, an era when the shawl collar was the most fashionable choice for evening wear. Many see it as dated rather than classic, but for me it remains an attractive, albeit more feminine alternative to the traditional peaked lapel. Whereas your DB aficionado is a follower of the Duke of Windsor, the Shawl collar admirer is probably a Cary Grant man; think space age bachelor-pads rather than genteel and crumbling clubs. It’s generally of a lower cut, and therefore will be less forgiving to emaciated chaps like myself, but worn with a shawl collar waistcoat (a velvet version and a cotton version are both available at Zara), it looks perfect.
For those of a theatrical disposition, the smoking jacket has to be le dernier cris. It’s too laidback for some, for others it has a deliciously cavalier quality; merely possessing the bravado to wear one outside one’s own home is exciting enough. Forget the Noel Coward-style silk version (these really do belong strictly within the confines of your home and should never be considered for functions unless fancy-dress is stipulated), the velvet double-braided model is the thing I refer to. It can be quite hard to find off-the-rack versions, but Pakeman Catto & Carter have a fantastic deep green model (pictured) available for £395.
Most chaps you’ll see at these Christmas shindigs won’t have bothered with selecting shoes; they’ll be wearing what they wore that day to the office in all probability, which is not the worst circumstance, but it is a mite depressing. Patents are available everywhere so polish your look a little with some amusingly labelled ‘shoe-mirrors’.
If you want to be really daring and be the subject of many an ambiguous whisper, the cause of a few splutters of champagne, then go for some evening pumps. Those pictured are $445 from Christian Louboutin. Certainly not inexpensive, but you will have the most beautiful feet at the ball.
For an aesthetic touch, wear an ivory silk evening scarf. I must stress ‘ivory’ or ‘off-white’ for the ideal colour; bright ‘Dulux’ white looks cheap. Make sure it’s a woven silk scarf for added texture and try and resist the ‘two scarves in one’ black and white sided versions.
Some elegant shirt-studs will make you stand out as a true old-hand connoisseur of the art of black-tie. They perform the same function as the poor old button, but they look a darn sight better. Mother of pearl, antique silver or onyx are the classic matter for studs but I have seen some very rare sapphire and malachite versions. It all depends on budget and whimsy; if both are more than substantial then go forth and be individual.
The real shirt
The Marcella shirt, the pleated shirt – that’s all there is to choose from, isn’t there? Well, no. They still make the ‘boiled front’ shirts (though in very small quantities), and as far as evening wear goes, for the gentleman who is truly determined to do his damndest in the pursuit for individual perfection, this shirt is the real thing. The Vintage Shirt Co. can sell it to you for £66.00, though that doesn’t include VAT and you must provide your own studs and collar. However, this merry contraption of a shirt is a reminder of the fun that can be had in dressing for an occasion. And it’s a thing of beauty when worn properly.