In the Fresher’s Guide to Oxford Fashion, we noted how easy it is for a man to look almost unbearably handsome in formal dress. The elegance of the uniform carries its own weight, distributing its benefits without regard to status, manners or aplomb, and is the reason why every sartorialist aspires to champagne socialism. While the egalitarian effects of satin lapels and pleated shirt fronts are undeniable, so too the challenge of standing apart from a well-dressed crowd.
For most of the events around Oxford where formal dress may be expected – college balls, formal dinners, early morning tutorials – expectations are such that there is room to experiment. Be daring with your neckware, for example, by substituting a pocket handkerchief for a bow tie, knotted once around the neck (not the collar) and turned slightly askance. (Favour a regal colour scheme – black, silver, burgundy or purple – to maintain a semblance of propriety.) In cooler months, try a velvet dinner jacket in some adventurous colour, such as green or burgundy, and wear it also on less-formal occasions, helping you look rakish yet dishevelled on your way to the gymnasium, the boathouse, or wherever else you might be inclined to pull as hard as you can.
The thing to watch for, as ever, is stepping too far out of line, and mistaking camp for creativity, looking worse for looking different, yesterday’s junk for something more than this. The line is elusive, but it is enough to avoid the most egregious offences, which repeat themselves with dispiriting regularity: the powder blue le smoking (with or without frilled shirt front); the patterned cummerbund (with or without matching bow tie); various forms of athletic footwear (with or without ironical intent). The best defence is to remain thoughtful before the closet (perhaps some Kipling with your pre-prandial, ‘Keep your head when all about you / are losing theirs…’), and regardless of the outcome, act as if you couldn’t look more dapper.