A Robb Report article once stated “of all the days that blend into years that drift into the past, tuxedo days are, without exception, special days.” After a year-long black-tie drought I finally had a chance to don my own tuxedo recently and discovered this adage to be as true as ever.
The sense of specialness emerged the moment I began my traditional preparations. With upbeat jazz playing in the background and a glass of premium whiskey at hand I freshened up with a pre-evening shave then slicked down my hair à la Cary Grant. Because I reserve this routine for only the most auspicious of occasions it typically triggers a Pavlovian sense of anticipation before I’ve donned a single formal garment. That anticipation grows with each piece of black-tie attire that subsequently slips into place until the mirror reveals the final, incomparable result.
I invariably feel like a million bucks when out on the street hailing cab and by the time I actually arrive at the event it’s as if I’ve taken on a completely different persona: a man of the world for whom a night of tuxedos, champagne and culinary delights is a regular occurrence.
This recent event in particular couldn’t have been more perfect. The occasion was a black-tie dinner at the 29th International Churchill Conference, an annual gathering of Winston Churchill admirers from Britain, America and Canada. The highlight of the evening was an eloquent remembrance of Churchill by his granddaughter Celia Sandys who was in turn introduced by former Canadian ambassador to Iran Kenneth Taylor. (Yes, that Ken Taylor who saved the American hostages as recounted in the new film Argo.)
Furthermore, the venue was the Fairmont Royal York, a grand old railway hotel built in 1929. As I dined in the Concert Hall ballroom that evening I could easily picture the multitude of tuxedo-clad guests that had done the same over the past eight decades. (In fact, there was another black-tie function taking place simultaneously in another ballroom immediately below us.) And to top it all off, cigars and port were served in a private suite following the dinner in true Churchillian style.
The glorious evening was long overdue. During the preceding months black tie was becoming an increasingly academic and dispassionate concept as I had to settle for researching its technical aspects or reporting on other people’s experiences. My recent night out was a powerful reminder of what hooked me on the tradition in the first place. I may have begun my formalwear odyssey on a purely pragmatic level–namely, assembling a proper outfit for my first black-tie affair–but once I personally experienced the unparalleled elegance of that event I felt compelled to share it with the world. My latest encounter has only renewed my conviction that every man should have an opportunity to partake in this uniquely sublime phenomenon at least once in his lifetime.
Also rewarding was the reaffirmation that all those academic details really do make a difference. There is a genuine and discernible superiority of peaked lapels over notched, for example, just as for self-tied bow ties over pre-tieds, and traditional low-cut waistcoats over tall, coloured contemporary vests. Most obvious of all was the supremacy of the tuxedo itself; while the few men who settled for regular suits that evening may certainly have looked dressy their appearance in no way qualified as special. And that, as the quotation above suggests, is the whole point the Black Tie dress code in the first place.