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A Tale of Tuxedos

Ralph DiGennaro
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 2)

The best formal shirts are made of soft, pure cotton voile or fine broadcloth. A cummerbund is strictly a matter of personal choice, but even among those who favor them, cummerbunds are best worn with single-breasted jackets only. Opt for the new brocades or woven silks, some with hints of lurex in the design for a touch of sheen. Current motifs for both cummerbunds and formal waistcoats include faint paisleys, minichecks, raised stripes and tiny, woven geometries. In turn, cuff links need not be showy or expensive, but should be double-sided. Handsome alternatives to gold, silver or onyx cuff links are silk knots, available in such men's stores as Barneys, Paul Stuart, Sulka, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Always an appropriate accent to a tuxedo or dinner jacket is a linen or silk pocket square peeking out from the breast pocket. White is always right, although deep shades of burgundy, emerald or even gold can look festive for the holidays. While braces or suspenders perform a necessary function--hoisting the trousers at the rear so that they fall in a clean line in front--there is no reason not to select a pair as individual as the wearer. Classic patterns include moiré, paisley and foulard or, to add a touch of whimsy, there is a wealth of novelty looks available. Patent leather lace-ups are always correct with any tuxedo or dinner jacket yet decidedly more masculine and stylish are slippers or pumps in either silk faille or velvet. Brooks Brothers' velvet formal slippers with embroidered toe-cap decorations are an American classic.

It is best to pair any formal shoe with silk or lightweight wool hosiery. Formal clocks--a vertical woven pattern that runs up the side of each ankle--makes for an elegant finishing touch, but always in black. For a roguish finish, try a white, fringed, silk-pattern scarf casually tossed around the neck. Adding a boutonniere would do Fred Astaire proud.

It is a telling commentary that young people today often plow through thrift-shop bins and antique-clothing boutiques hoping to unearth a formal fashion remnant that captures a sense of Old World style and elegance. Perhaps the fact that Tuxedo Park is undergoing a renaissance and rejuvenation is equally revealing. Like a valuable antique found in an attic, it is being dusted off and restored to its original luster. Likewise, the classic evening suit that bears its name has never looked better.

Ralph DiGennaro is a free-lancer who writes frequently about style.

The Smoking Jacket

No men's garment defines comfort and elegance like the smoking jacket. And for good reason: this luxurious classic descends from the robe de chambre worn by wealthy men in the mid-19th century.

During the Victorian period, donning a dressing gown when entertaining at home was extremely fashionable. It was considered bad manners, however, to wear anything but a long coat (to cover the buttocks) in the presence of women. No such rules, however, applied when company was made up exclusively of men. Hence, many men had their robes truncated to wear while relaxing at home with a few friends.

It was also during this period that smoking reached new heights of popularity. For enjoying a fine cigar with friends at home, these truncated robes became the thing to wear, along with a brimless little cap with a tassel, which closely resembled a Turkish fez. The smoking caps prevented the smoke, the smell of which was thought to be abhorrent to women, from permeating a man's hair.

The smoking jacket continues to be a classic, and like its Victorian descendants, the best ones are made of luxurious fabrics such as velvet, cashmere, printed flannel or embroidered silk. Most feature designs with shawl collars, occasionally with braided piping along the lapels or a matching fabric belt for wrapping.

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