Black Tie vs. Tuxedo: The Great Divide

Posted on April 15, 2013


One of these things is not like the other.

The recent season finale of The New Normal was very astute in its understanding of black tie in today’s world.  At the wedding of the two lead characters, the affluent and urbane grooms wore turndown collars with self-tie bow ties and well-fitting tuxedos.  Meanwhile, a small-town simpleton guest wore a undersized wing collar and pre-tied bow tie.  Those choices, along with a jacket that was at least a size too large, were clearly intended as hallmarks of a rented outfit.  (To be honest, he shouldn’t have even worn a tuxedo in the first place as it wasn’t a black-tie wedding.  But that’s another post.)

Viewers might naturally assume that the contrast in clothing was purely a product of the wearer’s wealth, or lack thereof.  But the belief that wealth brings taste couldn’t be more wrong.  Just look at Donald Trump.  Or, more to the point, attend a posh black-tie event.  I’ve seen exactly the same contrast in tuxedos at fundraiser galas that cost hundreds of dollars per ticket.

No, the bumpkin guest’s outfit wasn’t a reflection of his lesser income, it was a reflection of his lesser sophistication.  For the same price he could have rented a turndown collar shirt and self-tied bow tie and properly sized suit and looked infinitely better.  But he, like most of America, was oblivious to this to this fact.  Thanks largely to mainstream tuxedo renters he would have grown up surrounded by such 1980s-inspired outfits at proms and weddings and assumed they were they were the only option.

Hollywood has become much better at showing the world how to wear tuxedos properly  either on the silver screen or the red carpet.   However, to the average guy the distinctions between these outfits and his own monkey suit is not very apparent.  But put his sophomoric interpretation side-by-side with the classic incarnation and the differences couldn’t be more obvious.  That’s why I loved this episode.  Too bad it can’t be used as a Public Service Announcement looping infinitely in every formal wear rental shop in the world.