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Modern Black Tie Etiquette

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Just the other day a reader from South Africa asked me for advice on modern black tie etiquette. He is rather puzzled everytime he sees fellow members of his club in Johannesburg turning up in a strange version of the classic dinner suit sporting long black neckties with it instead of the black bow. Is he old fashioned at 33 in his traditional black tie ensemble of dinner jacket with satin facings, satin braids at the outer seams of the trousers, cummerbund and proper evening shoes?

Although I am rather conservative when it comes to the choice of dress I don’t resent change if it is an improvement. How does the long necktie improve the dinnersuit? Does it look better? Not really. A long tie will rather mar the cleanliness of the white shirt front so beautifully framed by the lapels. Does it look different? Maybe initially. But the more people copy this idea the less they will stand out in the crowd.

When everybody will wear an ordinary black neck tie, in the end the bow tie will be the more eccentric choice. So where is the improvement?

The dinner suit was invented in the 19th century as a more comfortable alternative to evening tails. If people from today wanted to find a more comfortable alternative to the tuxedo they would have to abandon it altogether. The dinnersuit is just as comfortable or uncomfortable as any other suit. If you don’t like wearing suits you will not like to wear a Tuxedo either. But people don’t seem to have this in mind when they change the tradition because they still wear some sort of Tuxedo. So why don’t they like the bowtie? Perhaps they don’t know how to tie it?

If somebody finds the traditional evening outfit old fashioned and not part of his world and the way he lives, he could wear a black suit with a black long tie as his most formal suit. Mixing a black long necktie with a dinnersuit is like wearing black shoes with a brown tweed suit. You could do it. But why?

Black shoes symbolize business and tweeds stand for the country. The dinner suit is worn on formal festivities, for most us it is not something you wear every evening. The tie is something you don every day with your office attire. It’s a shame to mix it with a garment that is reserved for special occasions.

About Bernhard Roetzel

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Bernhard Roetzel, 45, is an expert fashion writer from Berlin, Germany. The first edition of his book 'Gentleman. A Timeless Fashion' has been translated in 18 more languages since 1999. 2009 saw the launch of the revised edition of this book which has since been translated in more than a dozen languages. He currently works on a new book on menswear which will be published in English in Spring 2012.

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