The Black Tie Situation at the 2017 Emmy Awards

Other websites and blogs will showcase and praise the men who made loud sartorial choices on the red carpet last night. I can’t help you with that. What I can do is applaud a handful of men who looked like handsome grownups.

There is a virus spreading in the world of men’s formalwear. The virus causes men or their stylists to be overcome with an uncontrollable urge to make a big splash and break away from what has proven to make men look their handsomest for more than a century. The symptoms can range from screaming jacket patterns or colors to other ill-advised attention-grabbing gimmicks designed to exercise an impulse to be different.

This phenomenon is most visible among celebrities, which is particularly interesting since they already command more attention in one evening than many people will ever get in their entire lives. And when a trophy show with a red carpet beckons, the virus is full blown.

For women, it’s different. Black tie affairs are designed to showcase them, not the men. Look at old Hollywood black tie photos or the bride and groom models on a male/female wedding cake: the woman is the star… on purpose. Men’s formalwear is designed to elegantly frame a man’s face and shape while offering the real spotlight to his female counterpart. This impulse for men to show off is – to me – a selfish gesture to muscle in for even more attention. Women, particularly in Hollywood, have it hard enough. Men should step aside and let the ladies shine brighter (and give them equal pay, please).

Generally, I don’t recommend looking to male celebrities for style cues. The stylist industry smothers its clients in designer fashion that tends to wear them as opposed to the man wearing the clothes. The effect is an inauthentic look that was was transparently chosen for them. They don’t dress themselves; they are dressed. And some of the worst offenses happen on the red carpet for black tie awards shows.

At the Emmys this past Sunday, there were some shining stars who got it right. My criteria for “getting it right” includes:

  • A black or midnight blue dinner jacket (white or ivory jackets are for summer);
  • A dinner jacket with peak lapels or a shawl collar;
  • A balance in the size of the bow tie, the shirt collar and the jacket lapel;
  • Just enough exposure of shirt cuff (about 1/2”);
  • Tailoring that flatters the body without squeezing it;
  • Black velvet or patent leather “pumps” (formal shoes);
  • Restraint, confidence and an attitude that says “my personality and intelligence are enough.”

Not all my favorites hit every bullet perfectly. But each came pretty damn close and looked really good.

Stephen Colbert.
Alec Baldwin. Photo by LA Times.
Milo Ventimiglia. Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty.
LL Cool J. Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty.
Aziz Ansari. Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty.

Exceptions to the rule…

Donald Glover. Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty.

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Lena Waithe. Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty.

Another exceptional favorite was Lena Waithe, who also made history with an Emmy win for her writing on an episode of Master of None. The win was a first for an openly gay black woman, who arguably gave the best acceptance speech of the evening.

RuPaul. Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty.

Then there’s RuPaul. I mean, come on… It’s RuPaul. (But I would have suggested a different shirt and a bow tie here.)



  1. All winners here–except, perhaps, Mr. Colbert. He’s usually quite spiff, but the jacket’s a wee bit tight about the waist, and those trousers could use a wee bit more room. Otherwise, you chose the best of them. The color and tailoring on Glover was delicious; he can go violet any time he likes.

    Vis a vis Colbert: I get it—it’s the Tom Ford Effect: tailoring within an inch of one’s life. But the Ford Effect, arguably, has raised the bar for better tailoring after so many pendulum swings to and fro between 80s Claude Montana and that Thom Browne nonsense. The poster boy for the Effect was Colin Firth. in a year of outrageous triumph for Mr. Ford for both his sartorial influence and directorial debut. Under Ford’s tutelage, Firth will never again do foppish!

    RuPaul can do whatever he likes, too. He’s can always be counted on for impeccable tailoring and exceptional fabrics–no matter which way he’s working a red carpet.

    Just thinking about Waithe’s stellar episode makes me mist up all over again. JFC, that was powerful!

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