Decoding The Black Tie Dress Code for Men
Timelines have been flooded with swooning looks and creative interpretations to the concept of black tie, thanks to the party of the year–The ABS-CBN Ball 2018, for The Bantay Bata 163 Children’s Village. The ecru engraved card, complete with gold foiling lands on your table. The coveted invite by ABS-CBN’s most senior network executives request your presence, naming time and place and specifying the dress code.
Eyes were glued to the red carpet coverage on cable and the up-to-minute Instagram photos and stories. It was an amazing full-on coverage showcasing the creative, bold and loose interpretation to the dress code. During the evening, as we watched in the sidelines, I was asked about the wide range of suits on parade on the red carpet and therefore challenged to put this story together–particularly my take on how formal is formal. Taking the long view, I considered this for the moment and gathered some insights to help clarify a lot of misconceptions on the dress code dilemma.
It is the season for this type of events and if you decide to attend, here are a few thoughts to help you dress well. Be it a corporate fundraiser, a wedding, a gala or any other formal event, it is best to apply some of the pointers I picked up from many years of research and attending balls. The most important of which is this realization–more than style, at the core of dressing appropriately is good manners. Think about it: following the dress code is a matter of respecting the wishes of your hosts. They placed a seat on the table for you and returning the kindness includes dressing right for the affair.
"A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life."
—Oscar Wilde, Poet
Oscar Wilde would not recognize the eveningwear scene today. It is the era of freedom and a relaxed attitude in dressing. There are new rules to dressing for black tie affairs; however, a gentleman makes an effort to always dress right. Mr. Wilde was right, the black hand-tied bow is de rigueur, and is the essence of the event where the gentleman sets the tone.
In my opinion, the black tie ensemble should be relatively straightforward. It is a suit, with specific nuances in fabric; color, accessories and finishing that provide a sense of history, taken from the Brits.
The dinner jacket, or tuxedo as we know it, has now become the most formal item a man will have hanging in his wardrobe – so it’s an investment that’s worth getting right. In the Philippines, a well-tailored barong in hand-woven pina is considered an equivalent, and encouraged in State Dinners and government functions.
Black tie as we know it today came into being in 1865, when the Prince Of Wales (aka the future King Edward VII) asked the team Saville Row tailor Henry Poole to make him a short jacket in “celestial blue” (hence the selection of midnight blue as a favorite of the young Windsors, William and Harry).
While today we think of black tie as formal attire, the Prince of Wales had this jacket designed for him to wear at his country crib, Sandringham House, as a more casual alternative to the long tailcoats the British aristocracy (think Downton Abbey) wore in the evening for dinner. Hence, came the choice of colors, mid night blue, black, and ecru (for countries in the British Commonwealth that were simply to warm to keep to a woolen black, like India).
The name itself, the tuxedo, was an American invention. It began; across the ponds as they say when Manhattanites—members of the exclusive Tuxedo Park club (a pleasure spot of the rich and influential residents in Upstate New York) turned up to their autumn ball wearing one, the garment quickly became the uniform for male guests. So much so that by the turn of the 20th century, Americans started to call this new form of shirt evening jacket and its accompanying trousers a “tuxedo”. Or as made famous by James Bond, and Jacky Chan.
The elements of a classic tuxedo revolve on color, cut, shirt, tie, trousers, socks and shoes. For a moment I was toying with wearing a Barong Tagalog or the Philippine black tie but took to calling the hosts to see what was required. I was told black tie. And there it is. When in doubt, always ask. Or ask others going to the same event. Men have it easier because it’s fairly straightforward and if tailored well, either here in Manila, Hong Kong, or the designer off the racks (I don’t recommend, it may be just too faddish), will last!
What does a gentleman need to do to wear the appropriate eveningwear?
Let’s not overdo the checklist. The simpler the better. There is elegance in simplicity. Consider your host. Corporate invites require a modicum of elegance, without sacrificing individuality. Fashion events and galas, like the Met Gala where creativity is celebrated, are filled with a plethora of gasping wows. But look at the Gala by Ralph Lauren–the gentlemen kept it gentile, and very waspy. In other words, consider the type of formal event and match the outfit.
I attended the Oscars years ago, the biggest red carpet event in the world, and the men came relatively tame, tempered, and within code. There are always a few avant gardes, but most kept it on point. When in doubt, take your cue from the hosts who sent the invitations. For the ABS-CBN Ball, it was no less than the Chairman, the President and Chief Executive Officer, and the Chief Operating Officer of Broadcast. This sets the tone for the attire of the affair and clearly, it means as formal as formal can be.
Ties must be tied, by hand. And, keep it black. Period. Use grosgrain or silk, velvet is fine, but keep it for colder months (hahaha, or a ballroom with cold airconditioning!)
The choice of jacket color, is a matter of taste, but safe to keep to black, midnight blue (as HRH would have it) or ecru. Fabric is a matter of choice, but I would veer away from brocade or texture. Velvet? Yes, Mr. Lauren.
Dress shirts with either the pleats or Marcella/pique bibs, should always have their collars down, and starched. Wing collars are best for coat tails. French cuffs will complete the look
The cumberband, once staple in the evening dress is a matter of choice. I am a traditionalist, and with pleats folded upward, you can hide away your credit card and some cash without letting the wallet bulge.
Trousers need not have belt loops, and suspenders are much better to keep the pants up. The side grosgrain tab–the stripe on the trousers is the mark of evening trousers that exude elegance.
Socks. I am generally a no socks guy, for for an evening affair, wear long calf length socks.
Finally, the shoes. Patent slip-ons or Oxfords are best. Not too thick of a sole though.
Accessories needed? A simple white pocket square, slightly peeking. The shirt is best with French cuffs with links, to add some zing to the sober ensemble. And a nice thin dress watch. Please keep the Panerais at home for these evenings.
Black tie is all about nuance. In general, dressing is about the accession and fitting to the appropriateness of the evening. Dress codes have loosened up to the decades, but dressing well, and simply, will always be a mark of impeccable manners. Just a few thoughts from your friends here at Metro.Style, and colleagues at Mr. Manners. Oh, don’t ever forget to bring an extra handkerchief with your signature cologne. A lady in distress may just need it to wipe a tear!
Now let’s revisit our favorite looks from the ABS-CBN Ball 2018.
Fashion fades, but style is eternal. A gentlemans evening choice – the tuxedo or the pinya Barong makes a statement of how meticulous a man can be. The Italians say “sprezzatura”, the effortless elegance or being put together. These gentlemen were Metro.Styles choice for best dressed Men for the first ABS-CBN Ball for the Benefit of Bantay Bata 163 Children’s Village.
We grouped our gents intro traditional, and non-traditional. The traditional dressers kept to the modicum of the black tie dinner jacket, while our more creative men lined up as execellent alternatives in their non traditional take on the dinner jacket.
The Seasone Black Tie
Coco Martin shawl collar jacket with his Jewelmer pin spelt classic elegance.
Erik Santos opted for a waist coat in his three piece ensemble. A great option, and more suitable than a cumberband. He added his own personal touch with his full tie ankle boots.
Erwan Heusaff spells suave. Impeccable in fact through his entire tuxedo.
Marlon Stockinger's shawl collar kept things simply elegant.
Matteo Guidicelli opted for the the traditional peak one button dinner jacket. He chose to accent his coat with the Jewelmer Philippine Pearl of the Orient.
I particularly like McCoy de Leon’s vintage interpretation of the classic dinner jacket. The slight peek of the pocket square and the slide pockets shows attention to detail.
Mikee Morada was all business. It was a very well fitted tuxedo that put him right along the stars that walked the carpet that evening.
No one can take away that Richard Gomez smarted everyone in his classic tuxedo. Flanked by his wife and daugher, The Gomezes show how royalty on the red carpet should be done.
The single button peaked lapel with attitude is what Richard Gutierrez chose for his red carpet walk. The sunglasses gave his this je ne sais quoi, and coolness to a sea of black that evening. Another great dresser.
Richard Yap can do do no wrong. The jacket slipped into him as he owed the carpet that evening.
The impish smile of Ryan Agoncillo simply says, I got this one. And he did. Sleek, and polished, he and Judy Ann are simpley comfortable for their debut.
These veteran show makers, the Santiago brothers are no strangers to sartorial elegance. And coming together that evening showed sheer composure.
The shawl and peak collars are a matter of choice. For more traditional looks, keep to turned down collars as opposed to wing. A waist coat or vest is a good alternative to the cumberband to keep the belt hidden or non at all. Shoes should preferably be patent, or one piece oxfords, with no toe cap. If patent isn’t available, a super good shine would do the trick. Also, take note of how the trousers all on the shoes. Called Break, maybe a slight check with the tailor is always a good idea.
There is a fine line in the dress code, given it hosted by an entertainment company. Hence these gentlemen put their own stamp as they interpreted "black tie" for the ABS-CBN Ball.
Carlo Aquino chose to hype his black tie with fabric. A heavy brocade with a waist coat, accentuated by a buttonniere. The look was young and forward. Very much like what we saw in the Kingsmen movie series.
Photo from @darrenespanto
Kudos to Darren Espanto for a very snazzy textured mid night evening suit. The derring do bowtie shows a teen vibrance to an other wise conventional red carpet hightlighter.
Ejay Falcon channeled rockstar in his interpretation for the red carpet. Simple lines though, yet represents his characters in the present telenovelas.
Photo from @andersongeraldjr
Gerald Anderson in his celestial blue broad lapel, and large bowtie says star. He chose a waist coat, and ditched the socks, but kept himself in check with the rest of the attitude. No problem here.
Ian Veneracion pulled it off “smashingly”, he ditched the black bow tie and opted for white, usually, kept for coat tails. He is and will always be an accomplished actor, and he he very consistent in his dressing.
Photo from @jerichorosalesofficial
Jericho Rosales, wore the off color, white lapel, sockless. He is comfortable on his big bike duds and he is in this pink dinner jacket and velvet tie. This one brings you to Palm Beach, or Rat Pack heaven of summers in Vegas, with a lot of doo wop.
Joshua Garcia caught my attention. A well fitted velvet jacket, pegged pant and patent shoes shows he knows what he wants. Easy, with a statement. Like Gerald and Jericho, he opted top expose his mankles. His tie would could have been dark to keep that very Lauren look he smartly carried.
Luis Manzano pulled off the carpet stride in a 3 piece suit and bow tie. Cool, calm and collected.
Piolo Pascual is who he is. He can wear anything and be a stand out. He married classic black tie with edge with his wing collar shirt and white statement pocket square. Again, he is and will always be a red carpet gentlmeman.
Raymond Gutierrez brought elements of Japanese looseness and saville row traditions with his pleated shirt and cumberband. Tieless, he opted to add understated bling to his new strong look. An immediate thumbs up for me.
Taking the non-traditional route takes a lot of courage. We suggest that no matter what you wear, make sure it falls well. White ties, though acceptable, are better worn with coat tails. Shoes again should be shined and blend with the ensemble. Bow ties should be tied by hand, and kept to dark colors for evening.
Photography by Magic Liawanag