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The bow's color and texture are governed strictly by the jacket's lapel facing - satin for satin trimmings and a ribbed or pebble weaves variation for grosgrain facings. Its thistle or bat's-wing shape is a matter of personal preference. The bow's width should not extend beyond the outside edges of the collar's wings or spread collar's perimeter. Bow ties are always worn in front of the wing collar. The original collars were bone hard, and therefore it was impossible to place their parts over the bow.

Although the black-tie ensemble is a rather strict form dress, its bow tie and pocket-handkerchief offer some latitude for personal expression. They both look best done by hand, and a lack of perfection is desired. Humanizing the ensemble and making it appear more individual. Most men cringe at the very thought of having to knot their own bow, but it is rare to find a stylish man who has not overcome that fear. It is one element of formal wear that continues to separate the skilled dresser from those who are content to let the form wear them.


The most aristocratic and elegant of all evening footwear is the black calf opera pump with black grosgrain bow. The man's pump, a word believed to derive from "pomp," is the oldest surviving vestige of nineteenth-century court fashion still in popular use. Originally worn in concert with silk stockings and silk knee breeches, its somewhat effete image accounts for its being misunderstood by the more macho contemporary dresser. Today it can only be found at Polo Ralph Lauren or Paul Stuart in Japan. Still the favorite of the connoisseur, its slipper like club elegance bespeaks the unique character and upper-class heritage of black-tie attire. A more conventional alternative used to be correct shape; this shoe is quite classy in its own right.

The ideal ankle wrapping to augment all this polished swellegance is the black silk, over-the-calf or garter length hose with a self or contrasting clock design down either side. The silk's dulled luster echoes the understated sheen of the trouser's side braid while enriching the dulled matte surface of the surrounding worsted trouser and black calf shoe. The silk's surface also repeats the texture of the opera pump's grosgrain bow, adding the relief of illumination at the end of a long stretch of dark black worsted.


In aspiring to make your formal attire appear less penguin like, it is very easy to end up gilding the lily rather than personalizing it. The idea is to accent the composition of black and white with a single flourish of spice, a pinch of dissonance. The safest strategy is to replace one element in the arrangement with either a third color to two-color pattern, leaving the rest to keep the structure pulled together.

The best colors are those rich enough to hold their own against the severity of black and white, such as bottle green, burgundy, Vatican purple, deep gold, or dark red. If a pattern is chosen, it should be a recognizable classic such as polka dot or hounds tooth, or tatters all in two colors with black as one of them (that is, black and red, black and gold, or even just black and white) . The ideal position for this dollop of panache is where it can be surrounded by black and thus integrated more into the whole. A vest, cummerbund, dress shirt, and pocket square all have enough dark color framing them to pull an alternative design into the composition. Some men choose patterned hose as their expression of personal badinage, but that is best left to the more assured dresser.

Less recommended, but by far the more practiced, is the contrast bow tie. However, if the ensemble's only discordant item is located directly under the chin, it ends up either distracting from or competing with the desired focal point, the wearer's face - something to be avoided at any level of formality.

Matched sets - such as bow ties and cummerbunds - should be shunned. The introduction of more than one contrasting accessory dilutes the form's symmetry, forcing the eye to move from one to another, thereby breaking down its whole into smaller, less important pieces. The black-tie ensemble is already regimented and predictable; adding coordinates that make you appear even more prepackages not only suggests the wearer's lack of sophistication, but produces an effect of something more akin to gift wrapping. Proust said that elegance in never far away from simplicity, and that thought is especially applicable in accessorizing one's black-tie attire.

We invite you to check out some of our other useful custom tailoring related information:

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