QI've noticed in the Midwest and in the South that relatives who are not part of the wedding party sometimes wear black tie. When I attended a family wedding recently, I left my tux at home. Would it have been OK to wear it?
A: You can wear a black-tie evening suit for such occasions without appearing to be overdoing it. Nevertheless, most men are a bit cautious about seeming to be "too dressed." That's why, at a dressy wedding, it would not be wrong for any male guest to dress in black tie.
As attested to by any James Bond fan, men look fantastic in black tie. They also look marvelous in "white-tie-and-tails," the ultimate in formal wear; but a man who wears such a "full dress" get-up when it is not called for looks ridiculous. This is not the case for black tie. Even though most men may not realize it, in socially elite circles, black tie is not really considered terribly dressed up.
Historically, black tie was initiated around the turn of the century when the celebrated dandy, Griswold Lorillard, turned his back on tradition and wore it -- rather than full dress -- to an exclusive
in Tuxedo Park, N.Y. Thus, the name.
Nevertheless, currently, it is not considered chic to call it a tuxedo. (A waiter wears a tuxedo; his customer wears a dinner suit, even though they are one and the same.)
Q: I am about to buy a new navy blazer and am thinking about one with elbow patches. What do you think of them?
A: I am in favor of anything that makes sense and is not phony. Soft suede elbow patches were designed to extend the life of a favorite old blazer or sports jacket. But to start out with a brand new jacket with elbow patches can seem to be an affectation.
For softer fabrics, such as fine woolens or cashmere, which tend to get holes at points of wear, this was a clever invention. It's a style favored by tweedy professor types who practically never wear suits, but live in blazers and Irish country tweed jackets. Nostalgia and fond memories of the person who wore the patches -- maybe a much-admired teacher -- may account for the popularity of the look.
Instead of buying a new jacket with the aura of the old, why don't you buy a blazer you like, wear it and enjoy it in its pristine state for a few years? Then when it has mellowed (or appears on the verge of wearing out at the elbows, whichever comes first), have suede elbow patches sewn on.
Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Today in Style, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Ms. Fenton welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally.
Ms. Fenton, the author of "Dress for Excellence" (Rawson Associates, $19.95), conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country.