The Gentleman's Etiquette: To Black Tie
It's the winter of 1978. In the suitably plush surroundings at the ballroom of The Grand Hotel, Brighton, a photographer ushers and arranges my family together for a celebratory photo. My sisters wear gowns my mum made to match her long elegant sky blue evening dress. I'm front and center of the shot, five years old. Ruddy cheeked and recovering from a bout of mumps, I look unfeasibly proud in my ensemble of pale blue shorts, short sleeve shirt, hooped knee socks and a bright red satin neck tie on elastic.
But the man of the hour is my father. His midnight blue tuxedo is offset with an oversized black velvet bow tie and a powder blue ruffled dress shirt. You could not get more of a time capsule for the mid to late '70s if you tried, and the photographic account of that night would serve as a family mocking tool in the years to come, so demonstrative as it was of a certain louche, over-of-top decadence that decade conjures up when one pictures it in the mind's eye. The photo may be long gone, but the gentle ribbing lives on.
Over time, however, as tastes and fashions have morphed and changed, I have come to better appreciate the luxuriousness of Dad's look. I admire the confidence on display. While clearly from a bygone age, contemporary hairy chested, balding or moustashed male sex symbols like Telly Savalas or Sean Connery may seem bizarre by todays standards, yet there is something compelling about the swagger and peacockery, all but missing from the modern wardrobe.
I keep coming back to the ruffled dress shirt. When men select their formal wear, the focus stays firmly on their choice of suit or bow tie, the shirt almost an afterthought. This seems a shame, as every element of evening wear should carry with it a marked difference from the daytime uniform; some aspect that elevates the look into something truly special. From a velvet smoking jacket over a sport coat, a black tuxedo over a navy lounge suit, a satin bow tie over a four-in-hand, patent pumps over calf leather Oxfords, I would add a silk ruffled, pleated or embroidered shirt over a cotton number to complete the transformation.
One person who agrees with me on this is style writer Aleks Cvetkovic. "I’ve long had a weakness for silk shirts", he explains, "Quite apart from being unashamedly luxurious, they’re naughtily louche and a touch frivolous, to boot. In cream, they’re a sophisticated alternative to plain white poplin.
"For evening wear or ‘black tie’, I’m devoted to my cream ruffle-fronted silk dress shirt with a T&A collar, smoked mother-of-pearl buttons and double-cuffs, which Turnbull generously made for me a couple of years ago. The ruffles lend a distinctive ‘70s edge to an evening look and are a fun point of difference in a room filled with ‘penguin suits’. The cream colour, too, comes into its own in low light – it is softer and more flattering than white."
"One of the reasons I love Turnbull’s silk shirts in particular, is the brand’s preference for sand-washed silk, as opposed to satin. Sand-washed silk is softer and more refined than satin, which can often look naff with its high-shine finish. Sand-washed silk has a matte finish, so the shirt becomes much more about how it drapes on the body and moves than how it looks. It’s subtler and less showy – all round a delightful cloth to wear."
I couldn't agree more. The party season should be a time of festivity and frivolity, one can leave the 'boring' in the cloakroom and join us in raising a glass to sumptuousness and celebration!