Sunday, August 16, 2009
A formal affair, circa 2009
For many of my peers, the tiny black script at the bottom of a wedding invitation directing them that the event is 'black tie' creates anxiety, questions, and insecurity when the closet doors open. Those in my parents' generation regard black tie as a grand occasion, dictating the donning of tuxes and long, serious gowns. But with the decade that galvanizes individuality, and has made the paring of a v-neck Hanes t-shirt with skinny jeans the 'go to' ensemble for every event from grocery shopping to dining at Le Cirque, 'black tie' can hardly be as simple (or restrictive) as times past.
'Black tie' originated in 1860 as an alternative to the reigning dress code at the time, known as 'white tie', which was even more formal. But much has changed since 1860.
Even by conservative standards (both the pearl-wearing kind, as well as the political stance) black tie no longer requires long, floor grazing frocks for women. For men, the waters are slightly murkier. Ask 2 different men if black tie mandates a tux, and you will get 2 different answers. (Ask my father, and he will look at you as if you threw water in his face, after which he will mutter under his breath about modern women and the loss of tradition. He also might not let you into our wedding.) For men, the dress code certainly requires a suit and tie. Within that broad framework, there is much room for interpretation. But no matter how much you respect (or fear?) convention, black tie is really just another invitation to express your personal style, and to place your individual stamp on your look. (I personally would rather die than be under-dressed for any event, including a trip to Starbucks, and enjoy dressing up. Perhaps I should have been born in the 1920's when mufflers were all the rage and no one was seen in public without a petticoat. But that's just me.)
Besides signaling the inappropriateness of khakis, seersucker (sorry Paul), spandex mini-dresses, or madras cocktail numbers (sorry Eileen), black tie serves really only as the hosts' statement of event overtone. Feel free to play between the lines, that's where the best outfits are always born.
Posted by Christina, Esq.