Harry Styles in Gucci by Alessandro Michele
Harry Styles in Gucci by Alessandro Michele

The party season's men's dress code is formal, but can go undone, too

​The season’s dress code is to dress up. But to tie, or not to tie? To err on the side of cautious tradition, or to explore brave new sartorial terrain? Our fashion experts give their takes on the menswear debate

Alexander Fury,Simon Chilvers
Thursday 17 December 2015 19:54
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Come undone, says Simon Chilvers

Even the idea of putting on a bow tie makes me feel twitchy. I hate the way that most men look like they’re in costume on the red carpet and anything with a dress code that involves a lounge suit makes me urgently eye-roll. I’m not against dressing up. Clothes should take us to places which make us feel the best possible versions of ourselves, and if you need a dinner shirt or a velvet blazer to get you in the party mood then no judgment. However, as menswear continues to loosen up, why would you want to truss yourself up in a cummerbund?

A style from a/w ‘15

In the spirit of goodwill to all men, I say let’s break out. I point you first and foremost to Gucci. The transformation of this brand is the fashion story of the year, thanks to its Granny meets World of Interiors, geek-amazingness makeover. Harry Styles has already worn two catwalk suits, if that sort of thing matters to you. Apparently, the one he wore on the X Factor finale caused outrage on social media. So, if that isn’t a reason to bust out the statement wallpaper vibes, what is?

Naturally the easier sell is a print shirt (avoid calling it a party shirt at all costs – so 2012). Saint Laurent is a very good source of these and if you go down the SL road, you can also legitimately roll around on the floor in the manner of one of Hedi Slimane’s musical pin-ups. Note: anything a bit Kurt Cobain is in for 2016, so mashing in an oddball cardigan is perhaps no bad thing either.

A style from s/s ‘16

Perky festive sweaters, while popular, don’t really scream sex kitten on men, do they? A minimal roll neck has generally been agreed as a modern evening alternative in place of collar and tie and if you’re after something along these lines in a lighter cotton, just head to COS, which has austere monk-chic on a platter.

Though if knitwear is your bag, nothing has raised the bar more than the BBC 2 series London Spy. Specifically, the woollen-filled wardrobe of Danny, played by Ben Whishaw. Think that sort of ugly-excellent Prada/Marni-style pattern (bit brown, bit 1970s), or a simple crew neck in perhaps a bright blue. To fancy this up at night, tuck into classic, well-cut tuxedo trousers, slim velvet numbers or a pair of cropped-at-the-ankle chunky cords. And of course you could always go totally rogue and wear jeans.

Imagine.

Simon Chilvers is men’s style director at matchesfashion.com

Proper, not prim, says Alexander Fury

Buttoned up: traditional white-tie and tails

I’m an unconventional advocate for a hefty dose of tradition in menswear. Then again, I quite love tradition – I’m against convention, though. And it’s conventional to knock tuxedo-ed or white-tied attire as stuffy, old-fashioned, prissy. To me, those staid and safe and buttoned-up traditional options can be, ironically, quite liberating.

This formal stuff hasn’t been around for two centuries just because blokes couldn’t be bothered wearing anything else. It actually makes most people look great. Black and white, arranged right and well-tailored, can elongate and trim, square shoulders and whittle waists. Subtle tricks can help iron out any self-perceived imperfections. Plus, they’re a wonderful throwback to glamorous olden day stuff: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; a dashing Douglas Fairbanks Jr; Marlene Dietrich in top hat and tails in Morocco. After all, women look pretty great in white tie, too.

Dior Home a/w ‘15

You can’t do it on the cheap, mind – a shoddy tuxedo (or, God forbid, morning coat) shows up every lump and flaw. On the flip side, fashions at that level change so infrequently that, if you invest correctly, a tuxedo or tail-coat could outlast you.

I’ve experimented on both sides: I once wore Louis Vuitton pyjamas splattered with a Chapman Brothers print to a black-tie event. They were fun, and garnered plenty of attention: maybe too much. I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb. The next time, I wore black tie – a tuxedo by Dior Homme. And far from feeling like the ventriloquist’s dummy, the waiter, or the teenage usher (I’m only five foot seven) I assumed I would, it felt oddly fitting. Fitting doesn’t have to mean fitting in.

A formal look by Dunhill foir s/s ‘16

I understand the objections to hyper-formality. Lots of them stem from the fact that white or black tie is generally a command, rather than a request, and if school uniform teaches us anything, it’s that none of us want to be told what we can and cannot wear. Yet we all loved chafing against the restraints of uniform rules, exerting our own individual spirit, seeing how far we could push. I think black and white tie are great rules to bend, without needing to break them. And as for comfort – why does it have to be physical, determined by an elasticated waistband or a stretch fabric (although the latter is often incorporated into modern tailoring to make them fit better even if they aren’t bespoke)? Can’t comfort be psychological as well – the comfort of knowing you look great, even if you’re not lounging in a t-shirt and jeans?

Alexander Fury is fashion editor of ‘The Independent’

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