The Classic Black Tie Tuxedo Must Die — Here’s Why

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If plain black tuxedos aren’t ubiquitous, then I don’t know what is. They seem to proliferate any black tie formal event, as such an occasion is, by virtue, meant to be littered with the strappings of black jackets, black bowties, and white dress shirts. Any opera, any state dinner, even movie premiers and award shows are beset by what amounts to not formal dress but essentially a uniform. Men are, for the most part, expected to dress in such a manner — to do otherwise can be seen as uncouth or even taboo. Why, then, are men relegated to the realm of the unimaginative, while women are actively encouraged (if not pressured) by society to capture the room’s attention with fanciful and elaborate gowns? When did it become decided that men should don identical attire, and that it was simultaneously almost a crime if two women showed up wearing the same dress?

The black tie suit as we know it today traces its origins back to late Victorian-era Britain, later becoming popular and the established semi-formal dress around the time of World War I. The composition of the tuxedo is well-known; it consists of a typically-black jacket, a white dress shirt, black bowtie, black trousers with a side stripe, a cummerbund or waistcoat (depending on whether the jacket is single or double breasted), and black Oxford shoes. I have just described to you the exact outfit that millions of men around the world have worn at countless occasions throughout history, while I would be dead before I could explain all the amazing dresses women have worn to those very same events, and that is truly a shame!

Once again, we sacrifice variety and diversity in the name of tradition. Oh, how I hate tradition.

Truthfully, my gripe with the tuxedo does not arise from any personal issue with the appearance of the outfit itself, nor any personal blood vengeance. I will be the first to admit that there’s nothing more dashing nor attractive than a well-tailored tuxedo. These are just facts. Instead, my disdain for the suit is moreso with the concept of it as a whole. The black-tie suit is the product of an era rife with social repression in Britain; barring the obvious reasons, such as a woman displaying an undue emotional outburst being labeled “hysterical” and admitted to a sanitarium, there was repression in fashion as well. Particularly upper-class men and women were expected to conform to the strict dress codes and fashion trends of the day, and deviating from such rules could render you an outcast from “better” society and considered a deviant. IF you were a man who liked to dress up in a more outlandish fashion than your contemporaries, then you were a dandy, plain and simple. At any formal event, the dress code functioned to ensure that men’s clothing were the canvases upon which women painted their gowns. Additionally, this dynamic reflects the common misogynistic sentiment of the time period; women were meant to be looked at, not heard. Men didn’t need to be looked at, as their presence spoke for itself. This is the environment the tuxedo was created in, and for the most part, this is not the environment we continue to live in today. So, if that environment has failed to persist to this day, why should the tuxedo be any different?

The fact of the matter is that while society may have moved past such rigid dress codes, the bubbles in which they still remain have not. If you go to a black-tie event in anything but the expected attire, you are automatically the pariah of the room, and it’s your own damn fault; the invitation said black-tie only, so why would you show up in anything but your suit and little black bowtie? I won’t defend you in such a situation — even after everything in this article, I would have worn what was expected. However, with that being said, maybe it’s not about going “fuck society” and violating a dress code to make a statement. Maybe it’s that we, as a society, need to “fuck ourselves” and do away with such dress codes.

Now, wouldn’t that be nice?

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