Western Tuxedo Etiquette: A Right Proper Gentleman

Posted on December 19, 2013

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(Jay Premack)

(Courtesy of Jay Premack)

Further to yesterday’s post on western tuxedo attire I thought I should touch on the corresponding etiquette.  Now, there’s no specific rule book when it comes to this subset of formal wear but there are plenty of longstanding general conventions that can provide a very sound context for when and where it would be appropriate.

As always, I think the best approach to the subject of formality is a hierarchal one.

At the apex of the formalwear pecking order we have the traditional, unadulterated tuxedo for reasons explained ad nauseum in the Guide.

Next down the ladder would be a literal interpretation of the “black tie and boots” dress code.  The simple substitution of cowboy boots for formal shoes has only a minor impact on the overall outfit’s aesthetics.  Of course, the boots would have to be black and polished to a mirror-like finish.

Below that would be western tuxedos.  Although the range of variations within this category is substantial, the formality of all versions is limited by their inclusion of a cowboy hat. Hats, as we all know, are outdoor garments designed to protect the head from the elements.  They are as inappropriate indoors as work gloves or earmuffs.  This is especially true of cowboy hats whose exaggerated proportions that so effectively protect the rancher from sun and rain stand out like mid-sized umbrellas when worn inside.  And before anyone says that the appropriateness of wearing headwear indoors is relative, let me point to the Texas Cowboy’s Christmas Ball.  Held annually in Anson, Texas this historic dance originated in 1885 and was revived in 1934 maintaining its original traditions.  One of those traditions is the dress code dictating that gentlemen are to check their hats and spurs at the door.  So even denizens of the old Wild West were well aware that headwear and formality were incongruous concepts.

Among the western tuxedo’s various manifestations the delineation is pretty evident.  Obviously, a traditional tuxedo suit and formal shirt that were accessorized with cowboy boots, hat and western tie would be the most refined interpretation.  Switching the formal trousers for dark, dressy jeans takes the outfit’s formality down a notch but is still faithful to black tie’s conventional black-and-white palette.  Adding coloured vests, however, demotes the ensemble to prom wear and opting for blue denim essentially reduces the outfit to informal status.

Now let’s apply this sliding scale of formal attire to the sliding scale of formal occasion.

A ritzy, urban gala should be a hat-free affair, no matter if it’s in the heart of Dallas.    A black-tie event with a western theme, on the other hand, would allow for much more latitude regardless of its location.  Thus a rancher who was a genuine stranger to suits and ties could enjoy the familiar comfort of jeans, boots and hat and be obligated only to wear a formal shirt and jacket.

As for weddings, they can obviously be as dressy or as informal as the bride dictates.  (The groom may or may not have a say in the matter.)

blacktieandboots

Posted in: Etiquette