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How to Do Creative Black Tie Right (and Who Does It Horribly Wrong)

Creative black tie done right.

See also: The Morning After: Black Tie Gets Creative.

It's funny how two benign words can become utterly terrible when they're paired up. Take cherry and Coke, neon and underwear, or take hydrocodone and alcohol—just not together. Or, worst of all, take casual and Friday, a deadly combination that spawned an entire wardrobe of oxymorons and faux pas: dressy polos, pleated khakis, dad jeans, and Greg Norman (Just Google him).

Actors and musicians have been lucky enough to dodge the Casual Friday bullet (they usually adopt a perma-casual style of overwashed T-shirts and jeans), but man, do they get tripped up by the red carpet! For it is then that they fall victim to "creative black tie."

Did you feel an involuntary shudder when reading those words? Good—that's the right reaction. As archival footage clearly indicates, you should be afraid. Just picture Johnny Depp trying to look ten years younger (but looking ten years older) in a clownish zoot suit. Think of Jamie Foxx sporting a tacky black button-down under what could masquerade as an asphalt-gray prom rental. Or how about Robert Downey, Jr., still rocking old '80s style in a matchy-matchy all-black, tie-shirt-jacket ensemble, which (or at least what you could even make out) just looked cheap.

Then there's the eternal maverick Sean Penn, who famously leaves his collar spread open like some kind of low-level drug lord to prove just how much he doesn't want that Golden Globe award. (Nobody's fooled.) For Ricky Gervais (in a claret-colored tux) or Jeremy Irons (in a knee-length frock coat), going creative on the red carpet is just begging for Joan Rivers to run you down like a dog in the street. And hey, Quentin Tarantino, you're one of the best directors of your generation. Your creativity is not in question. Isn't that enough?

johnny-depp-jeremy-irons-sean-penn-worst-dressed-suits.jpg
From left: Jeremy Irons, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp.

Think about it, guys. "Creative black tie" is a contradiction in terms. "Black tie" is, by definition, noncreative. That's the idea, that's the goal, that's the dream. A man looks fantastic in a perfectly tailored classic black tuxedo, whether the jacket is single- or double-breasted, has a satin shawl collar or peak lapels, whether the shirt has a pique bib or pleated front, and a black satin bow-tie that you tied yourself.

No one ever said that getting into the monkey suit was fun, but hey—it's a lot better than it used to be. Those shirt studs are a major hassle; if there's not one missing when you're getting dressed, there will be when you're taking it off. So forget them: get a shirt with buttons hidden behind a placket. Nix the cummerbund, which looks bullfighter-good for 20 minutes till it starts to crumple and mess up the shirt. As for the odd vest, which has emerged as a major vehicle for red-carpet creativity: really? Unless you're gonna do some drinkin,' gambling,' and hoe-doggin' at a Wild West saloon theme party, just leave it on the hanger and we'll pretend the subject never came up.

We know you want to play with your toys. Just not now. Look at it this way: one good tuxedo can last a man twenty years. (You don't want to outgrow the style faster than you outgrow the pants.)

If you really have to get creative, just do it with a little class. There are options that won't make you look like a crasher. First and foremost, the simple black velvet jacket has become such an established look for stylish festivity that it's worth making a point to buy one, and it's the perfect CBT solution. It goes with satin-stripe tux pants as well as other dressy black trousers, and it might well come in handy more often than a tux jacket will. If black isn't your thing, there are some amazing tuxedos out there in midnight blue and espresso brown. (The ones from Tom Ford are fantastic.)

There are also plenty of subtly stylish bow ties that are a patch on the classic black satin, from soigné black grosgrain ones you should tie yourself to spiffy velvet numbers that you shouldn't. (Don't get hung up on masculinity here, guys.) And if you want to do CBT a bit more discreetly, 2(X)ist has a special line of satin-stripe-sided underwear called "Tux." But then again, if you really want to get creative, maybe just put your craziest Spider-man underwear on first and then a classic tux on over it. That way, your creativity can be what it ought to be: your little secret.

—David Colman

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Also on Details.com:
The Complete Guide to Men's Suits: 57 Rules of Style
Top Tuxes: The 10 Best-Dressed Men at the Met Gala
The Velvet Revolution

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