Plenty of people pine for the good ol’ days: When furniture was made to last; when gas was cheaper; and when, if boredom struck, you picked up a book or bonded with friends, instead of falling face-first into your phone screen. Of course, there's no turning back now. But there are still ways to reconnect with how things used to be. One stellar way is by putting on a plain black tuxedo.
Have you been to a wedding recently? Or, at the very least, seen one on social media? If not, let me paint a picture. The groom, dressed in a rented navy blue, maroon, or, god forbid, green suit, contrasted by his groomsmen, sets down a cobblestone road before meeting his spouse-to-be. Nowadays, men are allowed a fair amount of flexibility, a courtesy afforded by new-age rental companies like The Black Tux and budget-friendly suit purveyors like H&M, ASOS, Express, and the ilk. At these places, you'll find an endless assortment of suiting options: ones with shawl, peak, and notch lapels; ones with and without pockets; others made from eccentric materials, like velvet, khaki canvas, or corduroy.
And while plenty of shoppers are paralyzed by choice, plenty of others relish the opportunity to break from the pack and pick a configuration their father, or hell, even their father's father, would've never chosen for their wardrobes. It's how we ended up with grooms donning pastel green tuxedos down the aisle, and, in turn, elsewhere down the road. But opting for a more old school take is an elegant choice that will save you from any sartorial regrets later.
For writer and style expert David Coggins, black is always your best bet. (Coggins is currently working on his own, aptly called Tuxedo No. 1, with New York City tailor Jake Mueser.) “Every man looks good in a nice tuxedo—there's no reason to make it complicated,” he says. “Start with black and go to midnight blue from there, if you're so inclined. But don't reinvent anything, unless you're a confident sartorial avant-gardist.”
This isn't to say you shouldn't buy a maroon suit for yourself. But, if you do, only do it after buying a true-to-form, classic black tuxedo. And wear that maroon suit sparingly. Even if you aren't getting married—or you never envision yourself attending a black-tie affair— there's something to be said for owning, not inevitably renting, a tuxedo. It's a sartorial stopgap. Or, on the other hand, a North star of sorts. It's a vision of the man you should aspire to be—dressed to the nines, prepared for any occasion.
Once you've got that tux in your closet, you'll reach for it more than you might realize. You don't need to have a black tie event on your calendar to want to show up looking your best. “It's always nice to wear a tuxedo to an event that matters to you, like opening night at the opera,” Coggins says. “But if you're going to wear one to a party, I would at least mention to the host—you don't want to outshine him!”
But what exactly is “to the nines” nowadays, when expensive sweatpants and fresh-from-the-box sneakers qualify as “formal”? While many can easily recognize a tuxedo, its true definition is more granular.
Use these parameters as your guide: The collar always boasts a satin finish, with the back collar having the option of being satin. The jacket should only feature one button and have pockets (pockets without flaps). Purists will also call for a ventless back, but given how much time we spend seated, vents are recommended. They help you sit and move more comfortably, allowing the back to split open as you take your place at a table or rise to greet a late arrival. (Men in tuxedos are always on time—or at least they should be.)
The return to a classic tuxedo garners more attention than a pastel blue, forest green, or deep, wine-like maroon number nowadays. While men on red carpets tend to wear whatever they want, it's the ones in timeless silhouettes that oft attract the press. And when their simpler choice doesn't, there's no harm done. After all, isn't it better to be silently appreciated than to be publicly flamed for your sartorial faux pas?
Sure, unless you're a celebrity, others are unlikely to blog about your blue tuxedo. But, at a wedding, a black tuxedo is a choice that both ends of the attendee spectrum can appreciate: the grandparents of the bride and groom and the style-savvy cousin. And it makes a more formidable option for occasion wear after the event ends: at black-tie dinners, your wedding, the wedding of a close (albeit fancy) friend, that grand gala on your bucket list, or the opening night at the opera.
As Dean Martin put it, “In a tuxedo, I'm a star. In regular clothes, I'm a nobody.” And though Martin was certainly someone—tuxedo or not—he had a point. Look back at the most stylish men throughout history and you'll find that while plenty were admired for their slubbish charm, they, too, wowed in traditional attire: Marlon Brandon was best known for his barely-there T-shirts and bulging biceps, but the best photos of him, many argue, are from award shows (namely the 1955 Academy Awards)—when he put on a well-tailored tuxedo.
Face it: the black tuxedo isn't some outdated standard; it's setting the standard again, in an age where anything goes and no one says otherwise. And it's not some far-off financial endeavor, either. J.Crew makes a handful of excellent options (the Ludlow for slimmer builds and the Crosby for a classic fit); so too does Todd Snyder; and there's always Ralph Lauren. (To list them from least to most expensive.)
At each, you'll find the standard fare features, easy-to-tailor bodies, cuffs, hems, waists, and sleeves, and no signature-marking add-ons (like patterned liners or contrasting buttons). They make it so anyone can wear a tuxedo. And, as Coggins reminds us, there are still plenty of occasions to wear one.
Why Not a
Silk satin cummerbund,
$180 by Turnbull & Asser
That traditional silk sash has languished long enough. A really good one—meaning one that’s black, broad and understated—has a louche, ’70s sex appeal. Plus, it works to slim your waistline and lengthen your silhouette for an added boost of confidence.