Review: Details Formal Guides

Posted on December 10, 2011

As conservative as I may be, I’m the first to admit that if it wasn’t for change black tie would have never developed such natty variations as the white dinner jacket and the formal turndown collar shirt.  However these changes were introduced by impeccable dressers and their experienced tailors who understood the rules well enough to successfully bend them.  In contrast, modern changes are often championed by designers and marketers oblivious to the timeless principles of effective formal wear and certain that newness is a virtue unto itself.  Thus menswear magazines dating back to the 1960s reveal a continual cycle of revolutionary new approaches to formal wear – “formal” jumpsuits, powder-blue tuxedos and open-neck shirts, for example – followed by renaissances of traditional styling.  You’d think fashion pundits would have learned their lesson after fifty years but two recent Details articles prove otherwise.

It’s Time to Ditch the Tuxedo” is a perfect example of selling change for change’s sake, regardless of the aesthetic consequences. Here the author promotes a ($5,000) light grey cashmere tuxedo and bow tie as well as a black-on-black shirt and tuxedo combo, both guaranteed to strip a formal outfit of its drama and contrast.  (This despite the fact that she later emphasizes a traditional outfit’s drama and contrast.)  Readers are also encouraged to replace the tuxedo altogether with a black suit and long tie.  However, accompanying photos of dishevelled celebrities in funereal business suits make it clear why this pedestrian alternative will never compare to the aristocratic original.

The Partygoers Guide to Black-Tie [sic]” is a later article by the same author but which praises the previously spurned traditional tuxedo (no doubt irking readers who had tossed their classic formal wear based on her earlier advice).   However, her recommendation to accessorize it with a regular white dress shirt and regular dress shoes are consistent with her penchant for denigrating formal attire to the level of common business clothes.  As is her advice to wear nice pants so that “you can feel confident ditching the jacket.”

In the end, philosopher George Santayana said it best:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.