A Guide to Black Tie (sort of)

Let us remember the slip-ups, the expense, the rules, and all that we love about wearing black tie

Picture the scene. You’ve paid £100 for the privilege of going to a ball, and the night ahead lies at your mercy. Your trousers and shirt are on and the creases are so sharp that they could cut through the jargon of an English Lit finalist’s essay. Having surreptitiously googled ‘black suit belt thingy’ you have discovered the item before you is in fact a ‘cummerbund’, which you say aloud to yourself a few times whilst giggling, before tying it round your waist.

Now it’s time to separate the men from the boys. The bow tie. The piece-de-resistance. Thank god that, according to GQ, the “neckwear is supposed to look somewhat floppy or off-kilter and perfect alignment is not expected or preferred,” because you are utterly incapable of tying one. Never fear – the trusty clip-on tie rises from the second drawer down to greet you like an old friend, and in a matter of seconds is firmly affixed to your collar.

Shoes polished, socks on, and a check of the family tree confirms that Bob is indeed your Uncle. A quick glance into the mirror reveals that you now look like Daniel Craig, Sean Connery, and Roger Moore all rolled into one, and as you leave to join pres you are already smiling at the thought of Jonty and Bonty laughing when you sidle up to the bar to ask for a VK, shaken, not stirred.

But then disaster strikes. Because, as you hit pres, you realise every other bloke there is dressed like you. And suddenly you aren’t James Bond at all. You’re Ron Weasley. Wobbly lib, greasy-haired, Professor-McGonagall-teach-me-how-to-waltz Ron Weasley.

Loathe it or love it, the black tie is a necessary fixture of Oxford’s social scene. This is perhaps unsurprising – a dress code that has connotations of elitism being associated with a university that deals with similar accusations every day is hardly headline news. It can also be something of an inconvenience, what with the inevitable stains, the stiff collars, and the dry cleaning. What even is dry cleaning? What do they even do there?

But let’s hold on a second. Whilst they are over a century old and seemingly inaccessible, the reality of the modern-day tuxedo is that they are now available in the likes of Topman, H&M, ASOS, and many other staple high street shops – something of a far-cry from the Savile Row they might usually be more associated with. And they can perhaps be modernised and tweaked even further to address the establishment vibe the outfit gives off. when Charlie Chaplin wore it in his 1930s slapstick films, or when Ian Fleming decided which hue of velvet his protagonist was going to don in that chapter, did they really have in mind that somewhere, in 2018, Giles and Hubert would be pairing their outfits with denim jackets and air maxes like the hypebeasts they bloody well are?

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Herein lies the crucial problem. How does one stand out in a suit being worn by all around you? There’s always the velvet smoking jacket, but that has certain risks attached to it. If a couple of your mates have them too, suddenly your intended chic of sophisticated armchair socialist has been replaced with barbershop quartet, on the cusp of a heartfelt rendition of ‘I Want It That Way’. Not ideal.

Then there’s the option of the dazzlingly white tux, an excellent choice for everyone who wants to look like a waiter from Fight Club. The first rule about white jackets is definitely, definitely, that no one should wear white jackets. So, a simple black number appears to be the top choice.

Of course, there’s always the option of not wearing a jacket at all. You’ve been working out at Pure Gym, you’re well known around college as the brand rep of Huel, why not show off those biceps as much as possible and remove the blazer altogether? Again, it’s a definite possibility, until the inevitable rip occurs, and then you’ll be wishing you had something to cover up the impracticalities of your XXXS shirt. And if the rip doesn’t get you, well my friend, the sweat will. Patches emerging out of nowhere, laughing to themselves as you have to spend the remainder of the DFO gig with your arms clamped by your side. I think not.

The trousers then, surely? Pin stripe is a possibility. Al Capone wore pin stripes. He was a cool guy, right? No. Incorrect. He was a convicted criminal who ended his days in Alcatraz having contracted dementia from undiagnosed syphilis. Pin stripes. Your call.

Your choice of footwear is an absolute deal breaker. Too casual and scruffy, and you look underdressed and out of sorts, too loud and it’ll be even worse. The number one worst thing you can do is wear slacks. Slacks. One of the premier reasons I am doubtful of the existence of a higher religious being is because I refuse to believe any omnipotent, benevolent presence would sanction the creation of slacks. If I wanted to look like an extra in a Year 8 production of Bugsy MaloneI would audition.

And don’t get me started on White Tie. The £200 for a Commemoration ball can just about be scraped together, but having to fork out to loan a full outfit on top of that? And can someone please explain the buttons to me? Why are there two sets of buttons? It’s not like the outfit itself is particularly becoming either. I didn’t want to look like a pregnant penguin. I just wanted to ride the dodgems.

In short, the solution – the only possible solution – is clear for all to see. We must simply all agree to look the same. So I call on you, tuxedo wearers of Oxford, let us unite behind a uniform outfit of tailored black jacket, white shirt and black trousers. I can’t stop you from jazzing up the tie, that’s your prerogative, and if you want to stand out then so be it. But I can at least illustrate the pitfalls of attempting to do so.

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Next time you find yourself preing before a 21st or a ball in a room filled with individuals imitating your outfit, take a moment to smile, reflect, and consider what could have been.

Sure, you’re no different from the rest of these people. But at least you aren’t Gary in the corner, who looks like he’s about to go on stage with Suggs and the rest of Madness.

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