April 21, 2012

Style Etiquette: Black Tie

Summer is coming soon, and with it the ubiquitous summer wedding invitations. As society gets less formal, preparing for events such as weddings and galas is becoming more stressful and difficult to interpret. I have a wedding coming up at the end of the summer, and though the invitation itself has not yet arrived, it got me thinking about the ins and outs of preparing to attend. Even if you are lucky enough to get an invitation that lists a dress code, it can still be a bit ambiguous, especially when the words ‘preferred’, ‘requested’, and ‘optional’ start getting thrown around.

Since many previously formal occasions are now being overrun with business causal attire, there is no longer a clearly defined correlation between dress code and attire. With a little common sense and a few basic guidelines, you can pretty safely maneuver even the most convoluted of invitations. These days, there are only a few dress codes that you will see listed on a formal event invitation (with the option of modifiers): Black Tie, Formal Attire, Semiformal, Cocktail Attire, and Casual.

Black Tie is probably the easiest to figure out and is one of the most formal styles of dress. Traditionally, it implies a tuxedo (or dinner dress) and will rarely occur before 7pm. The standard tuxedo consists of a few basic pieces with a few options to suit your taste. The dinner jacket is a wool, usually black, short jacket with satin (or increasingly common grosgrain) lapels. Lapels (in increasing level of formality) can be either notched, peak, or shawl. Whatever material the lapel is, there should be a matching stripe down the outseam of the pants (which should always be black, regardless of the color of the jacket).

When it comes to formal shirts, there are really only two choices: pleated or plain front, and always white. Within that, there are several further choices such as the number and width of pleats, wing or straight collar, and buttons or studs. A bowtie is the standard, and the only option if you are wearing a wing collar. Alternately, you could choose a black necktie, but only if you are wearing a waistcoat. The shirt should always have French cuffs, which is why formal shirt studs usually come with matching cufflinks (though personally I prefer to coordinate, but not match them). Keep in mind that there is a very big difference between the standard white dress shirt and a formal shirt and the two are not interchangeable.

Over the shirt, you should always wear either a waistcoat or cummerbund, traditionally matching the lapels. Shoes should either be patent or highly polished black leather balmorals. With black tie, your socks should always be thin, black dress socks.

An even more formal variation of black tie is white tie. This has almost completely fallen out of usage except for the most prestigious of occasions such as state dinners. It follows the rules of black tie but substitutes the dinner jacket for a tailcoat and the black waistcoat for a white one. If you are ever invited to a white tie event, I recommend a visit to the most reputable menswear shop you can find because it is probably a big deal.

If the last time you had occasion to wear a tuxedo was your high school prom, there are two avenues that you can pursue: buy or rent. Buying is the best option if you anticipate a future of black tie events and benefit galas. A tuxedo is an investment piece that, when paired with a good tailor, can serve you a lifetime. If you don’t want to or can’t afford to purchase, you could potentially rent. The problem with rentals is that they will rarely fit you properly and are usually not very good quality or well taken care of.

If you are thinking of renting, my advice is to pursue a third option. A well-made, impeccably fit black suit is almost always a preferable choice. Stick to all the other de rigueur of black tie, opting for the waistcoat, and you will be much better off than in an ill-fitting rented tux. Plus, a great black suit will be useful to you a lot more often than a tuxedo, so if you don’t already own one, it’s a lot easier to rationalize the expense.

When it comes to deciphering the difference between black tie preferred, requested, required, and optional it is actually pretty simple. If ‘Black Tie’ is on the invitation, regardless of what follows it, the host expects black tie. The modifiers are primarily a courtesy to leave open the opportunity (or not) for their guests who may not own the appropriate formal wear.

Finally, if no dress code is listed you can put together a few clues and come to an informed decision as to whether black tie is appropriate. Take a look at the invitation. If it is made of a heavy stock, with very formal language, and engraved text it is a good assumption that black tie might be appropriate. Another clue is if the event is in the evening and the following reception will be held at a very upscale country club or event space.

If you are still unsure, you can always ask the host. Don’t take the advice of other attendees who may have made their own assumptions. Go straight to the source. It will usually be appreciated and well received. From personal experience, the host would rather take the time to answer a question than have a guest arrive underdressed.

There is spirited debate on the matter, but I always err on the side of being overdressed. Not only is it awkward for the host (whether or not they let on), but arriving underdressed often puts you in an uncomfortable situation and you always want to put your best foot forward.

Next up for Style Etiquette, I’ll cover the ambiguity that is Formal Attire.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

April 15, 2012

Favorite Finds: Light Cotton Woven

Spring is here and summer is coming quickly. Now is the time to get a jumpstart on the heat and refresh your closet with a lightweight, slim fitting, colorful woven. John Varvatos Star USA has just the piece, though not very clever with the product name. The ‘Slim Fit Shirt with Adjustable Sleeves’ is a great cotton shirt with some really unique details that set it apart from the easter egg colored pack that is hitting the stores now.

One of the things I found most interesting about this shirt is the princess seams. Now bear with me on this, I know ‘princess’ is generally not a word that most men want associated with their clothing. In this instance, however, it is a good thing.

Instead of having a traditional side seam, this shirt has a side panel and the front seam curves from under the arm to the front of the hip. It is also darted in the back to further take in the waist. What this allows for is a slim silhouette that still has room in the chest and shoulders. The seam also visually slims because of the line it follows down your torso. I tried on a Medium and the fit was perfect.

The sleeves can be rolled up and fastened by what John Varvatos’ website refers to as an epaulette detail, but is really more of a button tab (since it is not on the shoulder). This is a nice feature in the summer and it will allow you to roll up your sleeves while keeping a clean look. I own several shirts that came with this detail and have removed it on a couple specific ones when I know I won’t use it.

The shirt features a single chest pocket and a button down collar. It is offered in three colors (that I was able to find) – Smoke is a light grey. Windsor Blue is a light, almost teal, blue. Berry is a light pink. None of the colors are very saturated, but are vibrant enough to embrace the coming season’s trends and add a pop of color to your wardrobe – especially great for a first foray into brighter colors.

The fabric is a very lightweight cotton with a visible weave that adds some texture. It is machine washable, tumble dry low, and able to be dry cleaned if needed. As you can see, it is very prone to wrinkles so it will likely need an occasional ironing. Because it is so thin though, be sure to iron on low to avoid scorching the fabric.

The only real visible branding is the peace sign logo on the left gusset, which is a nice touch. It gives just a small hint of the rock and roll inspired edge that John Varvatos is known for.

At $115 the price is fairly reasonable, and all of the assorted John Varvatos products I own have held up extremely well. This is definitely on my short list of pieces to add to my closet and I highly recommend it, specifically for someone with broader shoulders or a bigger chest for whom finding slimmer fit shirts that fit at both the top and bottom is difficult.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I work for a brand owned by VF Corp which also owns John Varvatos. I have liked and worn John Varvatos’ clothing since before I worked for VF and this recommendation is professionally unbiased.

April 11, 2012

Inspiration: DSquared2 S/S 2012

When flipping through lookbooks last year of the Spring/Summer runway shows, I found a lot that I liked but not much that made a statement. Months later when I revisited them looking for source material for this post, I hit all the usual suspects without anything really popping for me.

I wanted something that was a bit different, that took a risk, and above all was fun and stylish. Then, when I saw everything I was looking for written down, one label immediately came to mind – Dsquared2! Their entire show was full of lighthearted fun (when was the last time gardening gloves came down the runway?) while still conveying a clear and wearable aesthetic.

I love the product that DSquared2 makes and, even though most of the time it doesn’t quite suit my style, I have put several clients in their clothes with fantastic results. I honed in on two looks that I felt would be well suited for showcasing how you can pull inspiration from the runway and adapt it to your current wardrobe.

Photos from DSquared2 S/S 2012 Lookbook

What I really focused on in these two looks was the varying pops of color that are infused into both of them. For my look, I modeled the styling off of the first image, but also drew inspiration from the color and feel in the second image.

Jacket and Boots by John Varvatos; Sweater by Ben Sherman;
Shirt by Vince; Denim by Juicy Couture; Socks by J Crew;
Scarf (women's) from Gap; Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen

Horizontal stripes are really in this year, particularly on sweaters, but I wanted to step it up a bit with a pink ombre-striped piece that I bought years ago. Another trend you will see a lot of is colored accents. While this is something that surfaces every year when winter ends, it is particularly prevalent for 2012. That’s why I wanted to double up the color with the purple scarf.

The jacket, denim, shirt, and boots have all been featured in various ways before, which shows how versatile some pieces can be when you have a well-edited wardrobe. The sweater is a good example of how pieces with classic styling, even with some modern elements thrown in, can still be on trend after a few years. Remember that there is a very big difference, and often a very fine line, between stylish and tacky. If you are unsure which category a particular piece falls into, it is likely the latter.

The best thing for me about shooting this post is that I rediscovered a great piece that hadn’t been worn for quite a while.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

April 7, 2012

Quick Tip: Having Fun with Your Socks

For many people, socks are just another piece of clothing. Nothing special, you wear them because that’s just what you do. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In this post I’ll feature five socks that break the mold and let you add some pop to any outfit.

1. Not Your Father's Dress Sock

Socks by Ted Baker; Shoes by Florsheim Imperial

With dress socks, it is easy to get lost in a sea of blue, black, brown, and argyle. The vibrant colors and floral pattern on this sock shows that you can wear something a little different, but still look professional.

2. An Everyday Bit of Fun

Socks by Uniqlo; Shoes by Sebago

Not all casual socks have to be of the white or black variety. This pair is great for daily wear and, like all things at Uniqlo, is super affordable.

3. Casual Color Blocking

Socks by Corgi; Sneakers by Paul Smith Jeans

I discovered brightly colored casual socks only a couple years ago and never looked back. The main difference between these and a dress sock is in the weight. While dress socks are generally thinner, these cotton socks have a bit more weight to be able to take the place of the generic athletic kind.

4. Some Bunny To Love

Socks by Psycho Bunny; Shoes by Ted Baker

Regular readers know that I love Psycho Bunny. The interest that the logo generates is fun for everyone (even my mom gets a kick out of it). These dress socks infuse their trademark wit and humor into any business wardrobe.

5. The Wear-with-all

Socks by Corgi; Shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields

Just because a pair of socks is casual, doesn’t mean you have to treat them that way. The right socks can bridge the gap from sneakers to boots to derbys.

What are some of your favorite socks? Send me some shots and tell me why you like them.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

April 2, 2012

Favorite Finds: Leather Tote

As anyone in New York City knows, a good bag is essential to getting through the day. In the past, I’ve featured both messenger and weekend bags, but I wanted to touch on the oft-overlooked tote. When most men think of a tote bag, they either get images of the ‘green bags’ that are permeating store checkouts or of a nylon bag that their mom might carry to the beach while wearing a sunhat.

A lot of companies are breaking out of that mold and putting out bags that are both rugged and stylish. I have not always been a fan of totes for anything other than groceries, but over the last year I have slowly come around and the Thetford Tote from AllSaints Spitalfields took care of any reservations that remained.

What really makes this bag stand out for me is that it comes with a removable and fully adjustable shoulder strap. I love the versatility that this gives me be able to carry the bag however is most convenient.

It is made out of 100% leather with a cotton lining. Like all of AllSaints leather goods, this bag feel like it is definitely built to last. The leather is soft but also thick enough to be able to take a beating.

It is simple and straightforward, with an inside zippered pocket and no unnecessary frills. The leather strap that anchors the handles continues all the way around the bag and a horizontal seam about 2/3 down adds some interest to its lines. There is a single embossed info logo at the top front, but that is the only external branding, which I appreciate.

It is not a small tote by any means at just under 19” high and 15.75” wide, but it is surprisingly manageable. It is available in Slate Grey (which is more like a washed black) and Chocolate and priced at $295, which is much less than I would expect to pay for a bag like this, especially given AllSaints track record with leather.

As I’m sure you can tell, I would highly recommend this tote. I have plenty of bags, more than I really need actually, but the next time I find an excuse to buy one this will definitely be it.

Stay stylish,
- JJ