Friday, October 17, 2008

Organizing Your Formalwear: The Anatomy Of A Tuxedo

Your fiancée is planning to wear a poufy off-the-shoulder number at your garden wedding. Or maybe she's considering a long stretch of hip-hugging satin for a candlelight ceremony. Then again, perhaps she's chosen that silk extravaganza with all the lace, a veil, and a train long enough to cover a buffet table, for your intimate 300-guest affair. So what do you wear? Simple: a tuxedo.

Where to start

Peruse a few formalwear catalogs, usually available from formalwear retailers. Formalwear can be ordered from three different kinds of retailers: bridal salons, formalwear stores, and menswear stores.

Don't get hung up on what's "correct" for the ceremony or the season. Formalwear etiquette is much more relaxed now than when you were a ringbearer for your cousin's wedding. Nowadays, a tuxedo is de rigueur for any wedding, from garden brunch to ultra-formal evening affair. Only white tie and tails should keep to after-dark hours. Nor are tuxedoes the sweat-inducing suits of armor they used to be; comfort is a top priority for leading formalwear designers these days.

Your initial visit to a formalwear outlet should be about six months before the wedding. (In a pinch, some formalwear stores can provide tuxedoes on just a few days' notice, but for your peace of mind, don't count on this.) This visit is to narrow down your choices and have your measurements taken, along with your attendants'. If any of your party is coming from out of town, have him visit an affiliated formalwear store or a professional tailor, early enough that you can include his measurements with your order. A second visit is required just one or two days prior to the wedding, at which time you will try on your suits and take them home.

Your formalwear consultant will be able to recommend styles that best suit your build. Consider tuxedoes and accessories for your groomsmen that coordinate with, rather than match, your own ensemble - a trend that is fast becoming the norm in the nineties. For instance, choose a double-breasted tuxedo for yourself and single-breasted tuxes by the same designer for your groomsmen. Or opt for white tie and tails for yourself, and black tie and tails or single-breasted tuxes for them.

When in doubt, trust your formalwear consultant to help you with your choices. You'll be confident that the fashion statement you make on your wedding day is simply elegant.

Glossary of formalwear terms

Unravelling the mysteries of formalwear is a matter of getting the terminology down. Knowing the lingo lets you, with the help of your tuxedo-rental representative, translate your personal style into sartorial elegance.

A double-knot tie with wide ends that folds over the chest and is fastened with a stick pin. Usually worn with a winged-collar tuxedo shirt to accessorize a morning suit.

This new style of tie is simply a band, usually black, worn with a stand-up-collar shirt. It may feature a decorative button cover or stud at the center.

A very small floral arrangement, usually consisting of just one or two blossoms and a few sprigs of greenery, pinned to the left lapel at the buttonhole. (Don't worry if the buttonhole is sewn closed, which is often the case. Just pin the boutonnière on top.)

The most familiar element of a formal ensemble, the bow-tie is most often obtained pre-tied with a matching length that encircles the neck. The bow-tie should match the vest and/or cummerbund; all of these accessories are available in a wide range of colors and patterns these days, from stripes to florals. The color of the groomsmen's bow-ties and cummerbunds can be, and most often is, coordinated to match the bridesmaids' dresses.

A decorative, circular ornament, resembling a cufflink or a large stud, worn over the top button of a mandarin-collar or stand-up-collar shirt, with no tie or with a band tie.

This modern alternative to the bow-tie is a band of fabric (usually black) with pointed ends that are crossed at the neck and fastened with a small stud, so that the tie lies flat at the throat. Worn with a stand-up-collar shirt.

A buckled sash fastened about the waist (always with the pleats facing up) to cover the trouser
waistband. The cummerbund should match the vest and/or bow-tie; all of these accessories are
available in a wide range of colors and patterns these days, from stripes to florals.

The term is often used interchangeably with "tuxedo jacket" to denote a formal jacket sporting either a notched or shawl collar. Some prefer, however, to call only the white or ivory tuxedo jacket a "dinner" jacket.

Worn only for a daytime wedding ceremony and reception. This ensemble features a grey suit jacket that resembles a business suit jacket. It is worn with a turned-down-collar shirt, a four-in-hand tie, a grey vest, and grey/black striped trousers.

Similar to a business tie, but made of a more formal fabric and used to accessorize a director's or a regular suit.

Also known as "tails," full dress is the ultimate in formality and worn only after 6 p.m. The ensemble consists of a winged-collar tuxedo shirt, ascot or bow-tie, vest, tuxedo trousers, and tailcoat. The full-dress ensemble can be acquired in black, midnight blue, or grey, with a white shirt and matching accessories, or all-white. (See white tie.)

A new style of formal shirt featuring a short band collar only about one inch high, specifically designed to be worn without a tie. The shirt's top button can be decorated with a button cover. Tieless formalwear ensembles could be worn to informal or formal weddings.

So named because it's only appropriate at ceremonies and receptions held before 6 p.m., the morning suit is the daytime equivalent of full dress. The ensemble consists of a cutaway jacket (a mid-thigh-length coat with single-button closure that is cut at an angle in front, from button to side seam, to expose the trousers), winged-collar shirt, striped ascot, grey vest, and grey/black striped trousers.

A style of tuxedo jacket whose hem is just below the waist, rather than below the hip. At the front opening, the hem dips into points, so that the Spencer resembles a tailcoat without the tails.

Another new formal shirt look for the tieless trend; it can also be worn with the new band tie or crossover tie. Like the mandarin collar, this collar is made of a band of fabric, though it is slightly higher and cut in a notch at the front closure. If no tie is worn, the shirt's top button can be decorated with a button cover.

They look like tiny cufflinks and replace buttons on a formal tuxedo shirt.

Worn only for full dress or white tie, this very formal jacket is cut just below the waist in front, with "tails" at the back that are about knee-length. Standard features include non-functional buttons on both sides (a tailcoat is never closed in front) and a hem that descends into points at the front opening.

See full dress.

A formal shirt with a collar like a business shirt, accessorized with a bow-tie. This style can be worn in a tuxedo ensemble; it is less formal than a winged-collar shirt.

The suit that set James Bond apart from all the other spies, the tuxedo comes in a range of styles to suit every taste. The jacket can be single- or double-breasted, with shawl or notched lapels; a newer look, called a five-button tuxedo, features a stand-up collar and no lapels. Tuxedos are usually tailored in silk, wool, mohair, or a blend, in black, grey, white, or ivory. Textured fabrics, often sporting a woven stripe or pattern, are very popular. No matter which look is chosen, the tuxedo is always appropriate for formal weddings.

Available in either single- or double-breasted styles, a vest (also known as a waistcoat) is an optional accessory that can be worn with almost any tuxedo ensemble. Most rental vests have an open back (a band goes around the neck and another is fastened across your back); some styles are full-back. The vest usually matches the bow-tie and/or cummerbund; all of these accessories are available in a wide range of colors and patterns these days, from stripes to florals. Full-dress and white-tie ensembles and morning and director's suits require vests of a special design.

See vest.

A variation on full dress, worn only to the most formal evening weddings, white tie consists of a black tailcoat and black tuxedo trousers with a white bow-tie (of piqué rather than satin), winged-collar tuxedo shirt, and white vest.

A traditional tuxedo shirt featuring a stand-up collar with ends folded over to create "wings," usually accessorized with a bow-tie, sometimes with an ascot.

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