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Going Formal

Despite All the Dressing Down and Casual Fridays, Formal Evening Wear Still Has Its Place
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 1)

While the dinner jacket can be the simplest of outfits to wear because no choices or decisions need be made, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of choices if you want them! In a sense, we've come full circle back to the Edwardians again--but without all the stifling rules. In other words, the choices without the restrictions.

There have never been as many alternatives to the tux. "One of the signals, I think," says Osborn, "that the opportunities for a more individual approach to evening wear is afoot is the growing interest in the odd dinner jacket. We've done a number of them, made for us in mohair wool by Oxxford Clothes, in wonderful iridescent colors like burgundy and green. That dimension of color is returning to formal wear, and it's a telling indication that elegance is again on the rise."

The tuxedo is still the unassailable black-tie outfit for an evening on the town. Perhaps a double-breasted one with sweeping shawl collar, done in a good year-round weight black or midnight blue barathea?

"Well, we could do you up something like that very nicely," says Bill Fioravanti, the incomparable custom tailor on 57th Street in Manhattan. "Traditionally, we'd use grosgrain facings on the lapels, or even a miniature striped velvet. Very elegant. But for something a bit different, we do a marvelous cardigan tuxedo, where we sew the facings directly onto the front of the coat. It's simplicity itself: no pockets, no flaps, no lapels. Sleeves and trouser legs are narrow with no pleats. It's a minimum amount of fabric, to enhance the slimness of the body. Very flattering for the figure." Decidedly sophisticated, for which Mr. Fioravanti will want $4,500.

A more distinctive option--still well within the parameters of the tuxedo--is the colorful silk dinner jacket with black worsted evening trousers. The Italian firm of Brioni handmakes exquisite Dupioni silk dinner jackets in shades of apricot, maize yellow, periwinkle, emerald, pale claret and pearl gray (as well as the more traditional black and white), cut meticulously in single- and double-breasted silhouettes, with either peak or shawl lapels (priced at $3,200, including the dress trousers). These are reminiscent of the 1950s style pioneered by Brioni, and have that distinctive James Bond look. Brioni also creates '50s-inspired tartan dinner jackets, in the classic green-and-navy Black Watch pattern as well as truly sybaritic muted plaids of black-and-peacock, burgundy-and-navy and Prussian blue-and-olive, in lightweight and soft twist woolens (at $3,000, with black dress trousers).

Or, for the holidays, a double-breasted velvet dinner jacket. Alfred Dunhill does the perfect one: chocolate brown, with self-faced shawl collar and frogged (corded) closure ($795), to be worn with either black worsted or tartan trousers ($250).

If a dinner for eight or 10 at home is on the schedule, it's a different matter. The tuxedo is a tad too formal, but a business suit won't do, either. Fall back on the old blue blazer? The Duke of Windsor (who as Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936) solved this problem by wearing a kilt with a short Scottish dinner coat. Wonderful, but perhaps a bit much for the rest of us. However, there are other stylish alternatives to mannerly nonchalance.

What about a black 8-ply cashmere cardigan with a shawl collar ($1,950), worn with a band-collar cotton crepe shirt (with a fly front, so no studs are necessary, $250); or a black cashmere shirt jacket ($1,250), with a white polo collar or turtleneck silk-cashmere sweater ($595)--all to be had from Sulka. Sulka, by the way, is one of the few firms that still provide full dress kit: Super 100s worsted tailcoat with faille facings (and open gussets under the sleeves, to provide maximum freedom and coolness when dancing), with matching dress trousers, white pique dress vest, shirt and bow tie (tailcoat priced at $2,950).

Or perhaps a sybaritic smoking jacket or dressing gown? For $3,500, English tailor Bruce Cameron Clark will make you up a very country-house ideal (as he has for Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, that consummate English dandy): double-breasted, shawl-collared, in plum, bottle green, black or royal blue shades of luxurious Italian silk velveteen, complete with quilted facings and cuffs, frogged-toggle closure, and coordinated silk lining (add $900 for either black worsted or velvet dress trousers).

Custom-made midcalf length dressing gowns in antique Italian woven silks (with all the trimmings: tassel sash, corded silk piping, quilted lapels) are the same price as the smoking jackets. For something just slightly more sedate, Clark suggests a seven-ounce tropical worsted robe in a large variety of solid colors, or perhaps a discreet herringbone or Prince of Wales plaid pattern (like the ones he's made for actor Michael Nouri for his stint in Broadway's Victor/Victoria, priced at $3,000).

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