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Is the traditional tuxedo dead?

For the past few years, men have been defying the rules and changing what ‘black tie’ means. Picture: Trennery

For the past few years, men have been defying the rules and changing what ‘black tie’ means. Picture: Trennery

Published Dec 5, 2021

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I was recently invited to a black tie dinner. The invitation said black tie, but then as I read further, it demanded a splash of bright colour. I started stressing. How was I going to honour the invite in a way that still made sure my outfit was classic and I was not committing fashion faux pas?

I thought about wearing a pair of bright, Ankara print trousers with a cummerbund, French cuff shirt, bow tie and traditional tuxedo jacket, you know, so I can stick to the required dress code. It didn't work.

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I eventually decided on wearing black, but edged it up with a leather jacket. So the outfit ended up being black trousers, shirt, jacket and a bow tie with a white accent. I asked my date to wear the colour and she chose emerald. It worked out very well.

Which brings me to the point of this article. Is traditional black tie dead?

Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey

There's a scene in Downton Abbey where Lord Grantham decides to not wear white tie and tails for dinner, preferring to wear a dinner jacket and black bow tie. The Dowager Countess was not impressed seeing him without the usual livery.

“Why are you in your rompers?”, she asked him.

“Tony only brought black tie. He didn’t think we’d be changing if there was no one staying,” he responded.

Clearly miffed by how basic rules were being broken, she retorted: “So another brick is pulled from the wall.”

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A stickler for rules, the Dowager Countess would probably be clutching her pearls at seeing how men are now interpreting what constitutes evening wear.

English actor Daniel Craig walks on the red carpet after arriving to attend the World Premiere of the James Bond 007 film “No Time to Die” at the Royal Albert Hall. Picture: AFP

Take the London premiere for the latest James Bond, No Time to Die. Daniel Craig decided to break all rules, wearing a velvet double breasted fuchsia dinner jacket, forgoing the usual black tie he has worn at previous premieres of Bond movies. The jacket was from Savile Row tailors, Anderson & Sheppard.

People had a lot to say about it. From those who loved how fashion-forward it was, to those who thought the look was garish, it was clear that he had made an impact. Which is what is required from men these days, fashion-wise. It really shouldn’t be surprising that looking like a penguin, which is what some refer to the traditional tuxedo, has become a faux pas. Even Italian designer Roberto Cavalli was bored with how men can simply wear a tuxedo and are done.

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“In the evening every man looks the same. Like penguins. Women have a special dress for that event; men, the same tuxedo.”

Chadwick Boseman. Photo: EVAN AGOSTINI/ AP

For the past few years, men have been defying the rules and changing what ‘black tie’ means, and celebrities like the late Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Timothee Chalamet, Jared Leto, Rami Malek and Billie Porter have really pushed what constitutes traditional menswear on the red carpet.

All have paid dust to the tuxedo, choosing to wear dinner jackets and outfits that have texture, sparkle, interesting embroidery, prints and brocade.

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Jared Leto arrives at the UK Premiere of the film 'House of Gucci' at Leicester Square in London. Picture: Reuters

Boseman and Jordan solidified themselves as style icons during the Black Panther promotional tour in 2018, where their outfits were not the expected tuxedos. Instead, they proudly wore designs that allowed them to express themselves, their personalities and their love for fashion. Malek, Leto and Chalamet have also chosen to forgo the usual, making sure their outfit choices show just how menswear and suiting can be interesting, instead of the usual tuxedo on the red carpet. Porter has taken it up a notch, infusing both masculine and feminine silhouettes to make sure he stands out when he is on a red carpet.

Legacy actor, Anton David Jeftha with Boity Thulo at the SA Style Awards Judges Dinner last month. Picture: Supplied

Coming back home, we have seen how stars like Maps Maponyane, Anton David Jeftha and Thapelo Mokoena have also decided to bring an edge to the tuxedo and menswear. Designers have also responded to the call and are making sure that when they dress the stars, they stand out and don’t look like they have taken an old tuxedo and put it on and gone to a red carpet event.

The rules of black tie have been rewritten. Now it’s up to us to decide just what the new rules are. The days of a black tie dress code for men being a uniform and everyone looking the same, are over. Sure, there are those who will still wear traditional black tie, an easy elegance that is beyond fashion and trends, but as we become more individualistic and expressive of our personal taste, it’s time to go beyond the usual.

So, is the traditional tux dead? Not really, but please, gents, bring on the colour and peacockery.

This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, Dec 5, 2021

Related Topics:

InsiderLuxury fashion

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