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Tux2K: Formal Wear

The Turn of the Millennium is No Time to Ignore Your Formal Wear Needs
Kimberly Cihlar
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 1)

This season, many designers and formal wear manufacturers have added special millennium collections to their existing evening options. Brioni's silk "celebration" vests sport the Roman numerals for 2000 interwoven among Champagne glasses. Dormeuil's one-of-a-kind silk jacquard vests are made in Paris by Madame Danou Jacquard. Ermenegildo Zegna is producing "Millennium" suits (priced at $6,000 for the finest quality fabric, allowing for only 100 of them to be produced), which will be accompanied by an ownership certificate and "life insurance," a seasonal postpurchase check-up that lasts for three years. Kiton is creating cashmere dinner jackets that inscribe this coming New Year's Eve inside the pocket. Cerruti's label's will list the year and the place of celebration. Corneliani's jackets have special Bemberg linings jacquarded with "Millennium 2000" and carrying registration numbers.  

Most of the flash, pomp and circumstance of formal fashions fit for all this millennium's bashes stem from the past. Take the term tuxedo itself. The dress suit is known throughout the rest of the world as evening wear, formal wear or the "smoking." It was society prankster Griswold Lorillard, scion of the tobacco company of the same name, who first broke American tradition and social rules to sport a shortened black tail coat with red vest (instead of the traditional coat with tails) to a formal ball in Tuxedo Park, New York, in 1886. The fashion effrontery, though scandalous, caught on and the garment was soon named after its place of notoriety.

If cheeky Grissy created a flap, you can bet the style-setting Duke of Windsor was not met with much derision when he later introduced the midnight blue tuxedo, feeling it looked less green and, in fact, more black than a black tux in artificial light.   While most formal accoutrements have origins rooted in history, that doesn't mean you need to be a slave to tradition. Abboud notes that cutaway coats and those with tails, popular at the last turn of the century, are required for fewer and fewer events today. "They're more of a uniform than anything, worn with morning stripe pants and white tie. We don't sell or make those unless it's truly for blue-blood situations. It's very rare you get an invitation for white tie. It's wonderful to have the history of it, but it borders on costume."  

Accessories are a big part of the historical formal quotient. With dinner clothes you're talking about form, and the best way to achieve that is through traditional routes. Wear a pocket square, most notably in the form of a hand-rolled white linen handkerchief. Cuff links, studs and shoes should add to the elegant attitude of evening wear. Look for jewelry in mother-of-pearl, rubies, even sapphires, recommends Muffie Potter Aston, executive vice president of Van Cleef & Arpels, US Group. "Men need studs, cuff links, a good watch. Buying studs and cuff links is an investment, and the man who goes to black-tie events is buying more than one set. He appreciates the finer things in life--the artistry, craftsmanship and quality of accessories."  

Shoes can range from the elegant velvet slip-on to patent leather "pumps," as they're called. Warren Edwards, the shoe designer based in New York, says what style "depends on what you're doing that night. You can wear velvet slippers, patent leather shoes, black satin lace-ups with toe caps and thick soles. We also create custom-made shoes, for those men with extreme lasts. We've made black pony boots and loafers, black patent sneakers, patent leather animal prints. There's a lot of variety for men. You don't have to go the traditional route."  

The most traditional--and according to nearly all designers--most important accessory, is the bow tie. Although only 2 percent of the male population knows how to tie one, it truly is as easy to tie as your shoe lace. Just ask your wife. Keep the tie simple, say most. This millennium business is no excuse to exploit bad taste.

Keep that in mind when bending the rules for creative black tie. A few years ago Ralph Lauren, as the story goes, wore a tux jacket with blue jeans and cowboy boots to a black-tie event, and met with some criticism. Although not everyone agrees upon how much bending can be done, the rules of creativity when it comes to black tie depend predominantly on the location of the party. Are you ending up at Madonna's home or the White House? Make sure to dress accordingly.  

You may think about more than just your outer ensemble, too. Flusser admits that he would "want to be wearing silk underwear, silk hose, something custom made, something that feels like the best." You can enhance your enjoyment of the big night by getting a massage or splurging for a manicure.  

Until modern medicine proves us wrong, this will be the only turn of the century we will witness. Ensure once-in-a-lifetime good spirits, good times and a damn good look for yourself.  

Kimberly Cihlar, a freelance writer living in New York, writes frequently on fashion.

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