Q I am in the film business. And while I am no actor or producer, I average probably a black-tie affair a week. I don't have the money of a producer, either. But "black tie" is business dress for me. So I'd like to have a little more variety without buying three more tuxedos. Any suggestions?
A: Stay with the classics for your evening suit; leave the variations for your accessories.
One of the first changes in "proper" black-tie dressing was the introduction of flattering wing collar shirts (more correctly worn with tailcoats for white-tie dressing).
Next came variations on the cummerbund: Some were simply a switch from black to red or from solid silk to questionable brocade. Others were more esoteric and fun such as the cartoon caricature design that President Bush -- surprisingly -- was photographed wearing.
Color departures from black silk bow-ties were all too common, with bright fire-engine red being the most often seen (and perhaps most offensive) version. Invariably, not-very-sophisticated dressers echoed the color of these too-bright bow-ties with the same -- too obvious -- shade of silk pocket square. This can be done with style if the colors are subtler. I found a distinctive combination for one of my individual clients: A pair of green-and-blue enamel on gold cuff links at Tiffany & Co. plus a quiet green and navy Black Watch plaid
silk bow-tie and solid deep green (nearly black) pocket square.
Some men like startling braces (suspenders) in vivid patterns, such as huge black-and-white polka dots as variations to black-tie dressing.
The latest, offbeat variation is the plain-and-plaid formal dress shirt by Troy Guild. The shirt appears to be
cotillion-correct when covered by the jacket; collar, cuffs, and pleated front are the expected white. But when the jacket is removed, plaid sleeves are revealed. Unique and fun, but not for everyone. As a change from conservative black tie, it's a unique idea for formal wear and after-parties unwinding.
Your financial concern about three tuxedoes makes sense, but it seems in your line of work, a second -- perhaps with a different lapel -- would be a logical investment.
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.