It’s official: the Oscars are possibly the worst occasion on which to observe well-executed black tie, with very few exceptions. Not only are simple tailoring cues missed by a mile, but there is also that unnecessary urge for some men to make a statement.
The day before the 2016 Oscars, my friend Stephen Lacey, a journalist from Australia’s Executive Style, asked me a few questions about my thoughts on the tuxedo show on the red carpet. The first question was “What, generally speaking, is the biggest Oscars red carpet faux pas when it comes to men’s formalwear and why?” This one’s easy. It’s the notch lapel jacket and the regular necktie (as opposed to a bow tie). The notch lapel tuxedo is basically a black business suit. Not so special. Black tie is for celebrating and deliberately designed to be “other” than regular suiting, hence the more celebratory choice of a peak lapel or a shawl collar. The same essential idea goes for a necktie versus a bow tie: neckties are for regular suit wear, and bow ties are for celebrating. The combined effect of a notch lapel dinner jacket paired with a black necktie makes the one look like a pallbearer or a chauffeur.
One of Stephen’s other questions was about the worst statements I’ve seen on the red carpet. Quite frankly, the worst statement a man can make with black tie is to succumb to the urge to make a statement in the first place. Men’s formal wear is not really intended to make a man stand out, but some men simply can’t resist, particularly the less secure. This phenomenon is especially interesting in Hollywoodland, where one’s bread and butter is dependent on attention and validation from millions of strangers. This is a group of people who, by trade, already receive more attention than the average person could expect in twelve lifetimes. And yet they come to a black tie event looking for even more, contributing to a red carpet that looks like a fifty car pileup of sartorial narcissism. If one is wishing to look different than the next guy, to quote Glenn O’Brien, one need only remember: That’s why we have faces.
As I’ve written before, as Ricky Gervais loves to point out at the Golden Globes, and as Chris Rock beautifully illustrated at this year’s Oscars ceremony, movie stars are among the most privileged people on the planet. They have access to virtually anything. That said, I am consistently confounded by how badly this group misses the mark on one of the simplest and longest-standing forms of modern men’s wear. Stylists are largely to blame here, since they may be fluent in “hot designer” while remaining bafflingly illiterate about tailoring basics like trouser length, shirt collar/lapel width/bow tie balance, or how much shirt cuff should be showing.
And so… there lingers this persistent urge in this well-tended crowd to stand out even more than they already do, to be even more different, to be so very “other” and to, thus, pine for even more attention. And after all of this effort, after all of the rarified access, after all of the stylists and after all of the money spent and received, dead icons of yesteryear like Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Steve McQueen and the fictional Mr. Bond – all practitioners of very simple black tie – still kick all of the ass there is to kick in this department.
Forty or fifty years from now, I highly doubt that coffee table books of men’s style icons, advertisements alluding to the good old glamorous days, or the walls of the world’s best men’s stores will be graced with prints of Jared Leto, Kevin Hart or Michael Strahan. But I guarantee you that iconic photos of tuxedoed guys like Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. will still hold up.