Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What to wear: Dressing for the semi-formal

PinstripesandTweed.com received the following question from a reader, who identified as a student at the prestigious University of Michigan:
Love the blog. We all read it here at U-M. I had a question. Do you think it’s possible to pull off the Gatsby look on a budget? It’s going to be the theme of our fraternity’s semi-formal in Toronto in November this year. I was thinking a tux or white dinner jacket. I looked at the Brooks Brothers collection, but it’s a little out of my price range.
PHOTO courtesy of Tumblr.

As he observed, a semi-formal function would call for black-tie attire, which properly speaking is a dinner jacket or a tuxedo in the vernacular. This can be ivory or white (generally reserved for warm weather), black, midnight blue or tartan. Regardless of the color choice, ignore the absurd and often hideous styles of rental shops and stick to classic style. That is to say, it should be a one-button jacket with either peak lapels or a shawl collar.

With all of that cleared up, it would be easy to advise him to avoid a dinner jacket. Some might say he would be appropriately dressed in a finely tailored lounge suit. Others will claim the expense of purchasing a dinner jacket isn't worth it for him, though they're probably wrong.

Even if the reader in question is an underclassmen, there's a good chance he'll attend enough weddings and social functions in the coming years where having his own ensemble would be cheaper than renting a cheap polyester jacket and plastic-looking shoes over and over again.

One option is Hardwick, which still makes its tailored clothing, including dinner jackets and pants, at its Tennessee factory.

Hardwick's fit may be a bit on the generous side, but the quality is fairly good for the price ($199; available here). Spend some of the savings, which amount to at least $600, on alteration expenses to get the best fit. (At the minimum, he'll want to taper the leg openings on the pants, bring in the sides of the jacket and narrow the sleeves.)

COURTESY photo.

Once he has the jacket — the shawl collar jacket similar to the picture above of Daniel Craig, the actor playing "James Bond" — he can get the rest of the ensemble right for under $300.

For someone of his age, a pair of embroidered velvet slippers ($61.99; available here) are a stylish choice. From there, get a shirt with a laydown collar ($72; available here), a solid black bowtie ($40; available here) and cummerbund ($56; available here) from T.M. Lewin. Don’t forget a simple, but elegant, pocket square. For a bit of flash, consider a colorful socks or fancy cufflinks.

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