Bride Chic: He Chic- The History of Men’s Formal Wear

Posted by Azure on May 29th, 2009
About Bride Chic

I've devoted so much time and energy to women's bridal fashion, it's time to address the grooms. Men's formal wear is as fascinating a subject as the men who set the trends. Your fiance's tie still dictates the formality of your wedding or lack thereof. Black or white tie determines just how formal an affair you're going to have. And though men's formal wear has been restricted to black, white and shades of gray for the better part of two hundred years, lately all that's changing. Like brides, grooms are breaking the traditional ticket to the once regulated arena of formal wear, adding accents via pocket silks, tie, and even shoes. At present companies like Selix are even offering renditions of vintage zoot suits and other alternative dressing options for the groom.

From whence and where did that traditional tie and tails originate? And the tux? Did Lord So and So really back his butt up too far against the fireplace and burn up his tails hence giving birth to the tuxedo? Sorry folks, that one's a big myth. The tux was born out of the Victorian era's hunting jacket. Yes, once it was toned down in velvet from the classic tweed for indoor drinking and shooting billiards with the rest of the gents, it became known as the the smoking or lounge jacket.

Looking at the elegance of Fred Astaire all decked out in top hat white tie and tails, you'd never suspect the origins of his chic derived from eighteenth century hunt regalia. But look closely, doesn't his waistcoat look like something a gentleman from the early 1800s would ride to hunt? Think red and beige and you'll realize that's exactly where it evolved from. On today's versions, the overcoat is still typically black and can be single or double breasted. A white pique shirt and white vest are worn underneath with white bow tie. White gloves and a pocket silk or boutonnière really complete an appearance. And what about the top hat? Chances are your groom won't wear one like his great grandfather, had he gone in for a formal to-do back in 1931.

The Duke of Windsor--aka Edward VIII who abdicated the throne--traded his birthright eventually becoming the foremost leader of men's fashion during the 20th century. As Prince of Wales in the 1920s-30s, he broke the fashion norms of the day, freeing men from the 'starched' look of earlier generations. Diana Vreeland, former editor of Vogue, when asked about the Duke of Windsor: "Did he have style?" came up with this answer: "The Duke of Windsor had style in every buckle on his kilt, every check of his country suits."

The Duke's personal wardrobe which spanned 60 years was auctioned off ten years ago at Sotheby's. He never lost his svelte physique thus was a something of a pack rat never throwing anything out.

Once the dinner jacket (tux) replaced tails H.R.H went on to introduce comfortable fabrics like silks, cashmeres and mohair. Turned down collars replaced the wing. By the mid-1930s not just the Duke but all men had the option of dressing for comfort. Thus, in an era of the visual, films cranked out by the hundreds became moving fashion catalogs. Variations on the tux evolved. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart as night club owner, Rick in Casablanca? Worn like a uniform, he's synonymous with that white dinner jacket and rarely seen in the movie wearing much else (except a trench coat in the final scenes on a fog swept runway). By the 1950s the white dinner jacket was a summer classic for evening wear and weddings.

There were some interesting variations on the tux and tails that never made it into classic or accepted 20th century formal wear but are stamped into fashion history nonetheless. If The Duke of Windsor set traditional men's fashion in the 20th century, I like to imagine Cab Calloway set the standard for radical chic. No, you couldn't have worn this all white tie and tails to a serious event like a night at the opera or diplomatic reception. The Cotton Club? Yes. Especially if you were a performer and Cab performed like no one else. Fast forward seventy years and it isn't uncommon for a groom to sport the above ensemble for full formal regalia. Thanks Cab . . . . Renting Formal Wear

It’s never been easier. Just point and click. Since most formal wear rentals are connected to nationwide chains, this means your groom can go online to register and shop for the look you want right on your computer. He enters his choice, clicks the store nearest you and they have all his information in their system within seconds. Then whenever he's ready, he goes in and gets measured. Ideally he should do this 3-5 months before the wedding. A couple days before the wedding is when the suit gets picked up. This is when minor alterations are taken if any are needed like pant legs taken up or jacket hem adjusted. Groomsmen follow the same procedure. But suppose his guys are scattered as far and wide as San Diego and Atlantic City? Not a problem. Since he's probably dealing with a nationwide chain, they can go to the nearest store and have their measurements taken. No store nearby? Again, not a problem. They get themselves professionally measured and fax or email those measurements into the store. A word here about taking measurements. Have your guy's groomsman find a professional tailor or pay a finer men’s store to do it. Having a friend or relative do it is not okay. Precision and experience is the key to fitting men’s wear.

Below are a few formal wear resources to get you and your groom started. Good luck and congrats! www.afterhours.com www.selix.com www.aftersix.com www.menswearhouse.com

Posted in Tuxes and Suits Veils and Accessories


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