The first few months of any new year is when wedding invitations (or at least save-the-dates) start appearing, and so far a number of hefty ones have been plonked down in our mailbox. We are honored, of course, but there are those of a certain disposition whose minds almost immediately turn to dress and whether or not the old wardrobe can accommodate. When one considers the variables involved—location, time of year, time of day, venue—the wedding can quickly become a challenging event for the clothes-conscious guest.
But the real moment of pause occurs when scanning the remainder of the invitation one encounters an opaque phrase like Formal. In the classic sense, formal means nothing short of white tie and tails. Common sense (or unfortunate experience) suggests this isn’t what’s meant, so one may consider the tuxedo. This is usually also incorrect; in the US the F word refers to a suit. When Black tie is Suggested, Encouraged, Optional or indeed anything short of Required, most men wear suits. In any case, phone calls are inevitably made between guests and eventually the bride herself, or her mother, will intervene. This is too bad; there was a time when people just knew.
I like a black tie wedding, but the truth is they are going the way of morning dress weddings in the US. There is practicality to consider—most ceremonies take place in the early afternoon when tuxedoes aren’t correct—but the real reasons have more to do with an increasingly casual culture, and, to a lesser extent, fear of appearing elitist.
For those with a greater sense of occasion, however, all is not lost. One may choose to wear a suit styled with more formal details. At the top of this category is probably a dark three piece with peaked lapels. If the waistcoat is double breasted, the effect would be particularly grand. This suit is perhaps one notch below the tuxedo, and for some, that may just be the problem as its relative formality reduces its utility. For me, a double breasted in a plain or subtle self-weave seems a smarter choice, ideally in navy for its ability to appear rich, subdued and celebratory in equal parts. And double breasted, for that configuration’s ability to appear formal and somewhat undone at the same time, something that must stem from the classical tension between the wrapped asymmetry and symmetrical buttons.
Now this is not a novel idea, but what separates a standard navy suit from the consummate party suit is the cloth. The right shade of navy is crucial. Dark, true navies always look smart but can seem too severe in the afternoon. A navy that has been permitted to retain more blue is better, as long as one doesn’t cross the invisible line that divides navies from blues. How to know? One must spend hours comparing similar swatches in every conceivable way until one is certain of the differences. No, really.
Chris Despos (my tailor) and I spent three full hours with what the casual observer would have noted were dozens of near identical swatches of navy suiting. We ran between, dim, artificial and natural lighting. We set several up about the room to determine how each rendered at varying distances. I held many against my skin while gazing silently into a mirror like some vain pantomime. It was a trying experience, but just when I thought I was losing grasp of the objective, my awareness of the subtleties suddenly peaked, and before me no longer lay countless scraps of navy cloth but a handful of real contenders whose differences where as dramatic as a book of tartan plaids.
The winning cloth is a rich navy in a fine twill from H. Lesser’s Lumbs Golden Bale. The cloth is a solid navy, although the subtle diagonal rib lends a certain surface interest, and the depth of color is extraordinary. Some may take issue with the weight (10/11 ounces) considering this suit will often be worn in the summer, but I feel that is a small tariff considering the benefits of drape and longevity. I fully expect to be wearing this suit in fifteen years. Of course what conventional wedding dress will look like then is anyone’s guess.