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2024-03-12 00:00:00 Avenue Magazine Black Tie Is Dead. Long Live Black Tie

Black Tie Is Dead. Long Live Black Tie

Cary Grant
FORMALLY YOURS The ever-suave Cary Grant
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I was recently walking up Central Park West on a beautiful night in New York when I suddenly started seeing people in black tie. As I got closer to West 77th Street, it became clear that the venue for this formal event was the Museum of Natural History, from which people were exiting onto the streets in exquisite gowns and handsome tuxedos. It was glorious.

Wearing black tie has become increasingly rare, even on red carpets, where young celebrities and the freshly Insta-famous have abandoned classic black tie for bolder, more avant-garde ensembles. Timothée Chalamet, Riz Ahmed, and Pedro Pascal’s attire may be entertaining, chic, and boundary-pushing now, but they risk looking dated after a few years. Time will tell. And yet, when we look at old photos of men in their tailored dinner jackets from decades past, we still admire how good they looked. Why? Because the tuxedo is the perfect uniform, masterfully designed to make every man look his absolute best.

Meanwhile, at the office, we’re in a hyper-casualized place in which men fear, or even demonize, the idea of dressing up or looking too nice. Have you noticed that the necktie has gone into the witness protection program, even among television news anchors? Between the Patagonia fleece vests donned by finance bros on Wall Street and the shlubby hoodies of Silicon Valley, it is a sad state of affairs that is putting grown men into soft, comfy, shapeless, rubberized, sexless, uninspired, adult-size toddler clothes. Our younger men are having difficulty attracting mates today, and our endangered sense of occasion and overall allergy to looking nice isn’t helping.

Perhaps this trifling piece is a call to arms. A call to raise the sartorial baseline. A call to go full black tie, which is the evening uniform in which every man — no matter what he looks like — looks fantastic. As the late inimitable style authority Glenn O’Brien once wrote, black tie “is as close as a civilian gets to the uniform of a hero. Wear it proudly.”

And when we go black tie, let’s do it right. Ditch the half-assed tux with notch lapels, which is just a black business suit with shiny lapels, or a black necktie, which just makes one look like a chauffeur or a pallbearer. Instead, don a real dinner jacket with a peak lapel or a shawl collar, in black or midnight blue (or ivory in tropical modes). Black tie is not the place to experiment or get creative out of boredom or a desperate need for attention. If you’re worried about being memorable, just don’t forget to bring your face and your personality to the party.

When an invitation says “black tie optional,” it means that the hosts would prefer their invited guests to wear black tie. Since they’re going through the trouble of throwing a nice party with free food and drinks and possibly some live music in a glamorous setting and, last but not least, inviting us to said affair, let’s not be shy about dressing up.

And why wait for an invitation to a formal event? Why not create a reason, or just do it for no reason? Going to a Broadway show? The opera? Or just dinner with friends? Make it a black-tie affair, just for the hell of it. The worst thing that could happen is that you might look like an old Hollywood movie star or a member of the Rat Pack. Or you might turn a lot of heads and get a lot of compliments because you look so damn good.

Or is that the best thing that could happen? Let’s find out.

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