Formal wear with informal flair


Today's black-tie dressing appears to be about everything but the tie.

That bit of silk at the neck has lost its importance, and the focus now is on accessories that have been reinvented or borrowed from the ladies. The possibilities for originality are endless for the creatively fashionable male, but may present problems for the man who does formal wear by the old formulas.

The idea is to relax, enjoy the less restrictive social climate and put some fun into dress for festive occasions. A little thought makes sense, too.

* Resist looks that make you uncomfortable. So what if GQ tells you black frock coats with a string tie are hip? It's a look that works for Johnny Cash but may be too Grand Old Opry for most men to carry off with style.

* Stuck with the cummerbund and matching tie you've been wearing for years? Remember, a cummerbund and bow tie put a horizontal line across the torso and some torsos could do with camouflage. A vest gives a longer, narrower line.

* Speaking of vests, ornate and opulent styles are the season's hot ticket, and the handmade originals most favored. Give the kids an old vest, a glue pen and scads of sparkles and paint. You'll be surprised what they can come up with. Keep your promise to wear it.

* The new banded, collarless shirt is a clean and handsome item. It looks very modern on the hip and the lean, but tends to make any man with a hint of extra chin look like the kindly village vicar.

* If you can legitimately lay claim to a clan tartan, do wear a kilt at every occasion. Women can't resist them, especially on men with a well-turned calf.

* Don't fall into the snappy shoe trap. Those little patent pumps with the bow can be killers -- ask any woman. Invest some money in soft calf slip-ons and take the time to break them in a little. Ditto for boots. If they don't feel as if you were born wearing them, don't.

* Make a statement with socks, the frequently forgotten element of black-tie dressing. Try some pattern or bright red for the holidays. Think sleek and fitted because slouchy woollies simply won't do.

* Black tie doesn't have to be black. A velvet or solid-color cashmere jacket paired with black pants and a formal shirt works just fine. That's a jacket, not a blazer. Brass or gold buttons are meant for days on the yacht.

* Is there a bolo tie from your urban-cowboy period still hanging around? Give it one more chance and wear it to a party. Black velvet or grosgrain ribbon run through it instead of a leather cord will make it more formal.

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