When Tom recently contacted me from England for advice on his outfit for a “once in a lifetime black-tie occasion” I was naturally intrigued. Turns out he wasn’t kidding: his friend in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had invited him to the recent Academy Awards ceremony. Tom kindly agreed to provide us plebeians with a glimpse of what the red carpet looks like from the opposite side of the camera lens.
Being driven down the closed-off Hollywood Boulevard lined with thousands of members of the public behind metal fences was a surreal and surprisingly nerve-wracking experience. Everything was grander and bigger and louder than I could have imagined. Once we had been through the security checks in the car we exited for the line of the valets where the red carpet – or rather red sea, since it was so vast and all-covering – began.
Far-off spectators were still trying to glimpse who we were in order to gauge our fame. We had infiltrated the Hollywood elite, becoming them in all but fame and money. We heard the whispered or screamed names of people we had only known from cinema screens, the whispering and nudging coming from those among and the screaming coming from those at the sidelines. It was all a blur. Through the security checks we went, having our driving licences matched to our tickets and passing through metal detectors.
Finally we walked out of the covered area and there we were, surrounded on either side by enormous bleachers filled with people who have never been in such close proximity to their ‘idols’. And we were even closer. To our left hand side were the security personnel ushering us on, then the A-listers and then the press. (See the photo above - Tom is visible in the lower left corner.) We wanted to linger but it was over fast.
Ten minutes later we reached the Hollywood and Highland Center, unrecognisable as the shopping complex it is by day and as glamorous and grand a venue as has ever hosted the Academy Awards. Everything is covered and people are ascending the stairs or heading to the bar. Tim Burton walks past with his broken arm, Helena Bonham Carter in tow. Not long after, we see Channing Tatum hanging around nearby, although I did not know who he was. Jane Fonda saunters by the giant Oscar statuette before we pose for another photo, looking obscenely glamorous.
Then at the bar – open, of course, with the best of service – occurred the most wonderful incident. I spotted Jason Schwartzman, an actor who had blown me away in his debut in Rushmore – a film which had a truly profound effect on me – and who has continued to impress me greatly. It was nice to realise that he is the same height or smaller, which means no more than 5’ 6”. My date went to the bar right behind him and I tagged along. Too shy to say anything, and realising that it is probably not appropriate in any case, I just wallowed in the experience. And then it happened: Service at the bar slows and a moustachioed Mr. Schwartzman turns and engages us in conversation. He addresses us as equals, with charming wit and welcome eye contact. He humourously complains of the older members pushing past at the bar to be served first and states that ‘we are all together.’ For a moment, there is a solidarity among the little people. And though we leave the bar empty-handed after being turned away, we leave as equals. Or at least with an anecdote.
What a night…
Tom also shared the details of the outfit he assembled for the big night . . .
My first concern after receiving the invitation was, ‘what do I wear and how do I wear it?’ I was not just a lucky film archivist but also a budding sartorialist interested what was considered correct and what looked good on me. It was obvious to me that the studio-era stars of the 1920s -1950s looked a damn sight better than many of the ‘gentlemen’ of today, and that the vast majority of the males frequented Savile Row tailors and English shoemakers. However, I was on a strict budget so I had to find resourceful ways to approximate a ‘made in England’ look without compromising quality.
After months of searching online I found a dinner suit by Netherlands-based Suit Supply that was just like those worn in the 1930s and still produced by Savile Row but at a fraction of the price. The black wool jacket was a one-button model with traditional silk grosgrain facings, peaked lapels, functional cuff buttons and half-canvassed construction (who else does this at such a low price point?). It did have double vents but this was something I have a preference for anyway.
I might suit a shawl collar slightly better as I am not the biggest of men but I do not think these particular lapels are too big and I really the high peaks. The Academy Awards might be the one occasion when the high-glamour of satin lapels is justified but my grosgrain was the right choice for my own personal taste and for the British aesthetic I was going for. Besides, it was nice to not be loud at an event where so many people are simply trying too hard. One criticism of the suit was that the Super 110 material was not matte enough to provide a strong contrast between the wool and the silk trim. Also, I had asked my tailor if the jacket should be shortened but he did not want to and the more I looked at classic examples the more correct the length seemed. It was only when I later looked at current trends that I felt my jacket could do with being shorter.
I was not happy with how the trousers were sitting until my tailor informed me that they were meant to be worn with braces. Wearing trousers this way was actually a revelation in terms of comfort as they sit so much better and conflict much less with the shirt.
I committed my biggest sacrilege against black tie by opting not to wear a waist covering. Although a waistcoat would have been my covering of choice it just wasn’t necessary due to the conservative cut of the jacket, the height at which my trousers sat and the fact that I would not be unbuttoning my jacket because it just doesn’t look good, waist covering or no waist covering!
I did not opt for a wing collar shirt, despite their seemingly endless popularity in certain sections of society in the UK, because I just do not think they look right for black tie. Fine for white tie, but it just does not work for me here. I opted for a Paul Smith London shirt with the necessary wide spread collar that could compete with the big lapels of the jacket. I also liked that the shirt had an elegant hidden placket and a rather unorthodox front covering with what I can only describe as an ultra-micro pleat. Subtle and tasteful (although I now realize that I am a marcella/piqué man).
With the shirt I wore mother-of-pearl cufflinks, bought for me by my dear girlfriend.
The bow tie that my tailor offered me was a very pleasing raw ‘slub’ silk material that perfectly contrasted with my grosgrain lapels. It gave the outfit a more stylish individualism than would have been afforded with satin.
Finally, for the shoes I decided upon a pair of patent leather Grenson oxfords. Pumps wouldn’t suit me, or my style, so I’ll leave them to the aristocracy.