I have a friend named Kelly who works as a wardrobe supervisor and dresser for Broadway shows. Over the years, she has invited me to be her plus-one date for several opening nights on the Great White Way, including the parties that immediately follow. Because of Kelly, I’ve had the privilege of attending the opening nights of The Seagull with Kristin Scott Thomas, A View from the Bridge with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johannson, Death of a Salesman with Philip Seymour Hoffman and An American in Paris.
Kelly’s current gig is the wardrobe supervisor for the new production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Liev Schreiber and Janet McTeer, and she invited me to attend what would be my last opening night as a New Yorker. As is our way, Kelly and I like to bring a sense of occasion to the affair, since we’re talking about an opening night in American theatre’s most prestigious form.
The operative phrase here is “an opening night in American theatre’s most prestigious form,” which is what Broadway is. Typically, these opening night performances are immediately followed by an invitation-only party at a fancy venue. As I see it, this constitutes an occasion for black tie. I don a tux and Kelly works a gown. Even if I were just attending the show and not the party, I’d still wear a dinner jacket. In today’s relaxed culture, one can accurately deduce that my sartorial choice puts me deep into the oddball minority.
The majority of the men attending the show and the after-party opted for what I’d call “cocktail lounge chic,” which is a suit or jacket, a dress shirt and no tie. They looked fine… if this were a cocktail lounge with no particular occasion. But this was an opening night of a hot ticket with big stars on Broadway. Kind of a big deal, I think.
Even the show’s stars, Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber, fussed together a great look after acting their asses off for two and a half hours – for us. Janet looked stunning in a gorgeous white J. Mendel dress, and Liev looked just like Ray Donovan at his tailored best with a midnight blue suit (John Varvatos?), white shirt and dark tie. Co-stars Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Elena Kampouris also looked dazzling in their opening night drag.
With a few exceptions, the occasion of a premiere has fallen victim to the big casual wash-down, and it’s a shame. These days, getting a man to wear a suit and tie is hard enough, let alone a tux. Maybe it’s that fear of being too dressy, a phenomenon about which I’ve written before. Whenever I see an old photo of movie stars on social media, the comment thread is invariably filled with sentiments like “People looked so good then!” or “It was so much better when people used to dress up!” Even with today’s anomalous standard-bearers like Tim Gunn, Daniel Craig, Tom Ford or Paul Feig, people admire them for how good they look while managing to cast themselves as some ineligible, unworthy “other” who shouldn’t dare.
Instead of whining about it or wistfully wishing there was more glamour in our frumped-out athleisure era, I made a hardline decision to do something about it on my own personal level, to not cave in for the cheap sake of fitting in. Instead of looking at glamorous old photos or modern rarities and thinking “Oh, I could never. I just couldn’t,” I said “Fuck it. I can and I will.”
What is the big occasion men are waiting for when deciding to actually wear a suit and tie? Who has to die? (Unfortunately, some men’s best-dressed day will be their own funerals.) And a tux? Even if it’s black tie optional, why not wear one? It makes an otherwise ordinary evening extraordinary.
And the whole “I want to be comfortable” argument makes me want to vomit. Sure, a nice suit or tux is not as comfortable as jeans and sneakers, but they offer a very different kind of comfort with knowing and feeling that you look really nice.
I’m so lucky to have a partner in crime like Kelly. She’s so game and she loves dressing up, too. At the opening of Les Liaisons Dangereuses the other night, we had an absolute blast, as we always do. Because looking nice not only feels good, but it’s also fun.