Tuxedos & Formal Wear

Ask the Expert Alan Flusser: Timeless tips from the legendary menswear designer

Alan Flusser on Groom Style

A few preliminary words – for a more complete answer to the dressing specific side of these questions, please consult my last book, Dressing The Man. I say this because it deals in some detail with the type of what-to-wear questions posed here. Brooks Brothers carries their own specially-boxed edition and Ralph Lauren sells it in many of his stores. Okay, now that I have established myself as a certified self-promoter, let us begin.

When it comes to wedding day fashion, there’s so much attention paid to the dress. Fashion-wise, what’s the guy’s role in all of this?

The groom’s role should not be driven by fashion but by the sartorial protocols associated with the wedding as a ceremony itself. The groom’s primary function is to present the bride, not compete with her. On this day more than any other, she is the focus, the center of attention. His choice of attire should look to pay tribute to the lady on his arm and therefore compliment, frame, and escort her to best advantage.

This is not to suggest the groom’s ensemble be banished to fashion oblivion, it’s just that his choice of dress should be considered in relation to his capacity as the principal supporting player. Having said that, it’s always debonair, if not charming, for the groom to sport something in a color that is echoed in the bride’s outfit – the connection also serves to help visually present them as a couple. He might choose to coordinate his vest or cummerbund, dinner shirt, pocket-square, necktie, or boutonniere with the color of the bride’s dress, bouquet, hair, or eyes. Avoid donning a bow tie in shades other than black or midnight blue, as placing a contrasting color bow under a man’s chin tends to make him look more gift-wrapped than well-groomed.

Naturally there are those cynics or comics who can’t resist quipping that all this attention being accorded the woman is really a dress rehearsal for the man’s future role in the marriage – that of deferring to his bride on all matters of importance, whether real or imagined. Parenthetically, should the groom secretly harbor an abiding urge to play the peacock, he might want to ease into that persona after she says “yes.”

Admit it. We’ve all seen “Say Yes to the Dress”. Shopping for a wedding dress can be overwhelming, but so, you’d think, can shopping for the groom’s outfit. What’s your best advice for a guy when it comes to the shopping process? Bring the entourage, go it alone…?

The more people you bring to the activity, the more opinions are likely to end up being lobbed into the ring. I will expand upon this in the next question but the short of it is – at a minimum, the groom should become familiar with those basics garments that constitute classic, high-pedigree wedding attire. The more he knows, the more comfortable he will be deciding how little or how much to deviate from those time-honored benchmarks of sartorial sophistication.

Again, it would be ideal if he could bring along that person in whose taste and opinion he feels the most confidence. Unfortunately, there are so few people qualified to give advice here as wedding attire is the most rule and tradition informed of all male dressing genres. This means that before a groom (or for that matter, any man dressing for a ceremonial occasion) decides to break or bend tradition, he needs to know what rules come into play, particularly if he wants to finish on the high side of the style bar. In this regard, the services of a practiced hand and an experienced eye would be invaluable relative to helping learn how to gild the lily without going overboard.

What’s the biggest mistake grooms make when it comes to dressing for their wedding day?

Regardless of the occasion, I’m loath to recommend an ensemble or a style of dress that includes clothes whose design invites premature obsolescence. I feel it’s my responsibility to steer the groom away from the pitfalls of fashion’s more disposable byways and towards those with more proven footing. The wearer should be the ultimate arbiter of his clothes’ length of service, not time or fashion. All genuinely well-dressed men have wardrobes composed of clothes that have transcended fad and whim to become like old friends. Having said that, those sympathetic to the Thom Browne or fashion-at-all-cost plumage should likely pass on my dance card, as we’d be out of step from the first do-se-do.

A man’s wedding day is likely to be not only his most important, but his most memorable photo opportunity to date. As such, he should try to put his best-tailored foot forward. Hopefully, decades and fashions later, he will show off his wedding pictures to his son or son-in-law having inspired them to set their style clock for distance rather than speed, or if really dialed in, both.

If the goal is to project a formal yet stylish individuality, some variation on the classic black tie or dressy dinner suit ensemble would be considered high ground. While this may sound overly conservative or predictable, rest assured that informed by those proportions and colors which characterize high-bred male regiment, a surprising variety of accessorizing options present themselves. Placed in proximity to like-minded, bred-in-the-bone accoutrement, the look is transformative.

The good news is that any man happening into well-designed formal duds is guaranteed high marks on the debonair and handsome scale. While few of today’s wedding corridors play host to this level of groom swellegence, top drawer formal wear comes with it’s own time-tested seal of perpetuity. Maybe that’s one reason that this last vestige of upper-class life has managed to hang around for so long. In spite of the fashion community’s seeming congenital need to de-fang the classic tuxedo’s perceived sameness, “the real deal” continues to deliver on its original promise of investing all comers with a Hollywood-esque, leading-man-like bearing.

Unfortunately, I wish there was more encouraging news relative to unearthing these fashion-proof dress duds. While they do exist, the odds of finding them, no less donning them correctly, are steeped against you. Between today’s retail floors where fewer well-trained staff roam than at any time in menswear history, the paucity of public style-models, and the decades-long unraveling of high-class, time-honored taste, men intent on refining their dressing skills face an unprecedented force of counter-veiling winds.

Reflecting the culture’s need for immediate gratification, industry antidotes abound; follow this designer, study this fashion magazine, shop with this retailer, hire this personal stylist, etc. Many are jealous of those who can afford someone do their shopping for them. I would argue that if anyone other than yourself is picking out your clothes, enduring personal style will always elude you. Like all self-tuning, skill-based learning curves, mastering your own style is not something that can be purchased; it must be lived.

For those interested in reading themselves towards higher-brow terrain, periodicals like The Rake or France’s Monsieur Magazine should be at the top of the list. Style advice columnists like Glenn O’Brian or Bruce Boyer should likewise be at arm’s length. And if you can hunt down the whereabouts of a library or private person’s collection of pre-1960 Apparel Arts, Esquire, or Adam fashion magazines, you’ll have unearthed the mother load of all truth-in-timeless male taste and fashion.

To conclude, nothing of any importance or lasting value has ever been accomplished without a commensurate degree of personal ownership and resolve. Dressing well is a skill that can be taught and learned. Contrary to popular opinion, personal style is not something you are necessarily born with nor does one mystically imbibe it from the atmosphere. Learning to choose clothes wisely and wear them with some imagination is actually much simpler than commonly thought – what makes it complicated is gaining access to the correct information on a person-to-person basis.

So what’s the biggest mistake grooms make relative to dressing for their wedding day – first, taking responsibility to learn enough to be able to make good choices for themselves and second, relying too heavily on those whose lack of expertise is often confused with their desire to be helpful.

What’s classic? How does a groom guarantee that he won’t look back 20 years from now and wonder how anyone let him walk down the aisle looking like that?

Hopefully, the preceding commentary will have filled in a few of the blanks here. A classic wearable is something whose design and quality permits it to transcend time, place, and fashion. Many men think that donning classic attire means consigning themselves to looking conservative or old. However, in the hands of an experienced dresser, nothing could be further from the truth.

Basically you are asking about something akin to fashion-victim insurance. How does the groomsman free himself from the specter of ending up as one more fashion victim. Again, there can be no substitute for old-fashioned initiative and self-reliance. And how this translates into the realm of personal raiment is by gaining mastery over the two lynchpins that govern long-term personal style – proportion and color. Regardless which trends happen to rule the day, season, or time, as long as you wear clothes whose proportions complement your body and colors that enrich your complexion, you will always look in-the-know and up-to-date.

However, more than color, quality, fit, or price, a garment’s proportions dictate its longevity and thus its susceptibility to early retirement. For example, were you to select a tuxedo or dress suit that reflects today’s fervor for shrink-wrapped, outgrown-fitting fashion, your short-sighted vanity will soon be joining those 80’s airplane-wide shouldered suits and 90’s low-gorge lapelled jackets, square-toe shoes, matching dress shirt and tie sets awaiting comeback in closets around the globe.

But here’s the good news. Any man can wear anything as long as he dresses in proportion. The size of your head, the shape of your face, width of your shoulders, the height of your neck, the length of your limbs, the position of your waist, the size of your feet remain the same throughout the course of your life. Unlike fashion which demands constant fealty to obligatory change, all you need here is to learn once and for all those clothing proportions that improve upon your unique scaffold and you’ll have opened a life-long, fashion-insured savings account where interest accrues year after year.

Presumably, you’ve dressed a lot of grooms in your time. What’s the most unusual/weirdest day look you’ve seen on a groom? Any funny stories you can share?

A couple of years back, we dressed one of Gotham’s own Masters-of-the Universe whose wedding was to take place on a beach in the Hamptons. We made him a cream silk double-breasted suit which he paired with navy velvet slippers monogrammed with gold initials, white linen handkerchief, cornflower blue boutonniere, no socks and a white tee shirt –a smattering of Savile Row insouciance with a soupcon of young Cecil Beaton chic!

Recently, we made a Mid-West groom-in-waiting a summer-weight silk and linen, hunter green and black hounds tooth dinner jacket. We paired it with a pink dinner shirt and black accessories. By back-home standards, such swellegence was destined to attract its fair share of joshing, but he didn’t care, it was to be his special day and he was dressing for the ages. Theirs will be a wedding album that will serve as a timeless source of enjoyment and pride.

Any particular trends in groom style you are loving (or hating) right now?

Like watching a train wreck, I can’t take my eyes off the annual Oscar night mash-up between what remains of American male style literacy and that which masquerades as Red Carpet peacockery. The occasion never fails to assemble a cross-section of the oddest mantled men, most of whom look as if their clothes were trying them out for size. If one needs a reminder of how far this new-age fashion frontier has strayed from Hollywood’s halcyon days of home-grown, movie-star glamour, this yearly parade rarely disappoints. With the impressionable male celebs costumed by the latest cadre of red carpet specialists, the get-ups pay homage to borrowed fashion as a cautionary tale. Those who ask others to do their sartorial bidding typically end up looking as if the clothes rented them.

Here’s one of the Red Carpet’s more amusing fashion trysts. Five or so years ago, substituting the long tie for the bow tie seemed like a stylists’ dream, shaking up the tuxedo-wearing establishment while distancing their clients from the bow-tying hoi polloi. That the tie’s length covered the evening shirt’s bejeweled front contravening both function and form while dumbing-down its distinctive stature was of secondary importance.

Then, as the four-in-hand began to insinuate itself as the new norm, its widening appeal obliged it to implode, courtesy of its eviscerated exclusiveness. And in true fashion irony, the long tie’s proponents beat a hasty retreat back to the formerly maligned, but now fully pardoned, bow.

For those seeking the sartorial grail, these episodic flights of contrived fancy are what everyone has come to expect from the trend subservient business of fashion. In some circles, these excursions entertain, eliciting bemused mirth; in others, they are taken as gospel, squiring multitudes around yet another lap of fast fashion’s ceaseless pursuit of the future-perfect tense.

Too many victims, not enough victors……the battle continues!

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