For far too long, formal dress for men has meant one thing: the penguin suit. No matter the fabric, cut or price, black suits and white shirts pretty much all look the same in evening light. While there will always be a place for the classic tuxedo -- and Tom Michael at Larrimor's says that remains its top seller -- there is a growing trend toward self-expression and a less traditional approach to black-tie dressing.
Pittsburgh has its share of well-dressed men who aren't afraid to buck convention. Tim McVay and partner David Bush are even known for their impeccable taste and the delight they take in wearing beautiful clothes.
During the holiday season, it's easy to experiment with alternatives to the tux, given the abundance of red, plaid and velvet jackets that can be worn with tuxedo pants. While dinner jackets used to be pretty much white and relegated to summer, today they come in a wide variety of fabrics that span the seasons and are appropriate for most formal occasions. Their growing popularity can be attributed to a number of things -- relaxed standards, increased confidence and a sense of equality, especially among younger men who enjoy dressing for events as much as women do.
"Young people are dressing up, and that's really true as a trend," says Mr. Michael, who is president of Larrimor's. "They are more interested in dressing than the boomers -- it's kind of their rebellion."
While the store stocks the traditional tux -- which he describes as having one button, a peak lapel, side vents and a flat front -- Mr. Michael sees renewed interest in the shawl collar.
"In the '50s and '60s waiters all wore shawl lapels. We didn't sell a lot then because our customers didn't want to be mistaken for maitre d's. But today, a new collar for younger people is the shawl collar."
Younger men are skipping the cummerbund altogether, and wing collars are also on their way out. A traditional straight or spread collar looks more modern and is the best choice with a dinner jacket. While tuxes are still predominantly black, Mr. Michael says navy is a sophisticated alternative. It's just different enough to be fresh, yet it reads as black in the dark.
"You can dress a deep navy velvet jacket up or down. You can wear it with a pair of jeans. Young consumers are demanding more versatility in their clothing. Today a man will buy a three- piece suit and wear it all together or separately. You have to be wearing a tux with some regularity to justify the investment. We sell a lot of black peak lapel suits that can be worn for formal occasions. It's a way to get a lot more wear out of your suit."
The key to personalizing formalwear is to incorporate a few black-tie elements -- tuxedo pants with a satin stripe, a tux shirt, French cuffs with cuff links and a bow tie (formal ties are also on their way out). Add velvet, patent, woven or beaded slippers and a pair of jeans or gray cashmere trousers to make an individual statement instead of an inappropriate one.
Functionality as well as fun is the key to shifting attitudes. Playboy magazine, an arbiter of style in its own way, has an article titled "Beyond Black Tie" in the December issue. It sees more men wearing dinner jackets to actual dinners as they dress up more for an evening out. Conversely, the article suggests not wearing formal elements with a dinner jacket to make it more casual if the occasion is festive rather than formal.
"Think of the dinner jacket as the highest expression of the blazer," writes Jennifer Ryan Jones in the article. "It has subtly elegant details that set it apart from a suit or sports jacket: contrasting lapel, satin accents, covered buttons. That amount of flair can go a long way toward putting together a look that has a sense of occasion."
Some people do read Playboy for the articles.
Marylynn Uricchio: email@example.com or 412-263-1582.