An Expert Guide To Dressing Up For A Big Party
You know the deal: the e-mail has landed in the inbox, the WhatsApp message has been sent, an invitation on quality paper stock has been placed gently through your letterbox (oooh, look at you with your letterbox). You've been summoned to a festive party. But what to wear?
It might be a once in a blue moon kind of shindig, or maybe you're heavily involved in some chapter of a shadowy secret society with quarterly meet-ups in marble banquet halls. Either way, knowing what to wear to a special occasion is an important part of—outwardly at least—convincing the world that you know what you're doing.
With the help of some of the most prestigious names in dressing smartly, this is a guide to looking and, most important, feeling good this party season, whatever the venue or dress code. Bow ties, cummerbunds, trousers, even shoes. Because what the hell are you supposed to wear to a party at a pub?
All will be revealed.
The Work Party
The boys, having a laugh
You are not going to embarrass yourself, you are not going to embarrass yourself, you are not going to embarrass yourself, you are not.
Enough with the mantras, everyone knows that the work Christmas party can be a fraught occasion. It's the end of the year, you're tired, you might be sat across the table from your office nemesis (I'll get you one day, Johnson), do you go for full razzle-dazzle proto-Gatsby, or play it more conservatively?
"Eveningwear should be about having fun, and I am massively in favor of alternative black tie—such as velvet or silk jackets," says Oliver Spencer, founder of the eponymous label, as well as formalwear experts, Favourbrook. "I have found customers buying more velvet, firstly starting with navy or black and then coming back over the years for more adventurous styles."
For most office parties, it will be a formal event that isn't strictly black tie, which gives you plenty of freedom. Broken tailoring works especially well here: Think a velvet blazer in midnight blue or bottle green, or something in corduroy or houndstooth with classic black trousers and patent loafers (white socks? Why not?). Finish with a smart dark T-shirt or classic white shirt with an 'air' tie. Leave the bow ties and cummerbunds for the more rigorous dress codes.
"My preferred choice of colors would be claret or bottle green and black is a classic," says Jeremy Hackett, chairman and co-founder of Hackett London. "Velvet jackets coordinated with tartan trousers also look incredibly smart."
"Trousers should be hight cut with plenty of room so it is comfortable to sit down," adds Spencer. "They should have side adjusters with no belt loops. I would always suggest a narrower fit for the bottom, which is more elegant for the shoes."
Cotton and cashmere corduroy blazer, by Hackett London, hackett.com
Slim-fit cotton jersey T-shirt by Sunspel, mrporter.com
Gilan slim-fit super 120s virgin wool tuxedo trousers by Hugo Boss, mrporter.com
Roos horsebit leather loafers by Gucci, mrporter.com
The Almost Formal
"Good one, Bella!"
For occasions that blur formal and casual (it's a birthday at a pub, but it's a nice pub in, like, Hampstead), the rollneck is your secret winter weapon. A piece that can be deployed in place of a shirt under a blazer, or worn solo with cords or simple wool trousers (elastic waist, optional), the rollneck is your man. It's the kind of item that will make people say, "You look smart." But all you did was put on a chic bit of knitwear. How Parisian of you. How Gainsbourg. Uniqlo is a great option if the purse strings are a bit tight, however there's plenty to choose from across all budgets.
"The versatility of the roll neck is ever increasing and something I love about the garment—you can wear it with everything from a simple denim, a suit, under a shirt, through to layering an evening wear look," says Jess McGuire-Dudley, from John Smedley, British purveyors of very nice roll necks. "A fine knit rollneck elevates the mood of an outfit, it adds a certain elegance that a shirt simply cannot.
"For the shape, you don’t want the neck to be too high or the body to be too loose," she continues. "The silhouette should be masculine without being too chunky. Especially when marrying an evening-wear look."
It's hard to get the rollneck wrong, such is its range (just not too tight, come on), but it's best to think of it as the main statement of your outfit, one that looks best surrounded by muted colors. If you dislike the idea of a covered neck, then swap it out for a merino or cashmere crewneck, tucked into your trousers if you want to go a bit fash-un, with a raglan-sleeve or wool chore jacket on top. For shoes, something smart, with a sole. Derbies with a cleat, Doc Martens, or Paraboots (Michels) are all magnifique.
Single-breasted wool-blend coat by Raey, matchesfashion.com
Cherwell merino wool rollneck sweater by John Smedley, mrporter.com
Wide-leg cotton cord trousers by Mr P., mrporter.com
Varley leather derby shoes by Dr. Martens, mrporter.com
Louis Vuitton Harness: optional
You are now deep in the festive trenches. What time is it? What day is it? How long have we been out here? You are the Colonel Kurtz of Christmas and yet, the show must go on. When it comes to dressing for a big night out – that big annual friends get together, the New Year's Eve party that definitely, definitely won't disappoint this time—you want to be smart, cool and comfortable. Singing, dancing, having a bloody laugh.
“Our aim in designing the Mr P. tuxedo was to create a suit that is deliberately relaxed and comfortable yet party appropriate," says Olie Arnold, style director at Mr Porter, who had a big hand in the brand's new range of modern eveningwear. "We kept classic tuxedo elements – a fully lined, shawl collar blazer and trousers with stripe grosgrain detail. However, we modernized the look by incorporating a softer shoulder on the jacket and by introducing a more relaxed trouser shape with drawstring waist and unfinished hem so you can crop them." Also good for dancing.
The rules around getting dressed up for a big do have been growing ever-looser. Wear a printed shirt, wear a leather harness over your dinner jacket that costs the same amount as a Ford Mondeo, wear trainers. Maybe. But accessorize."Accessories are a great way to add interest to a modern eveningwear look," says Arnold. "If wanting to add a pocket square, I would keep it minimal with a white version folded in a simple, graphic style, likewise with a tie or bow tie. When choosing footwear, a contemporary tuxedo can look just as good teamed with sneakers or derbies as it can do with classic oxfords or patent shoes."
Slim-fit tuxedo shawl collar tuxedo jacket by Mr P., mrporter.com
Cotton poplin shirt by Drake's, mrporter.com
Slim-fit checked wool blend trousers by Aimé Leon Dore, mrporter.com
Spazzolato leather penny loafers by Prada, mrporter.com
There will come a time when you'll have to get properly dressed up in the most classic sense of the word: dinner jacket, tuxedo shirt and trousers, bow tie, the works. Maybe it's a gala being held in your name (well done). Maybe you've been invited to a country house by a baron with gambling debts, a wealthy mother, and a mustachioed Belgian friend. Classic black tie is one of those things that appears straightforward on the surface, but it is still a ritual that is full of potential pitfalls.
"If we are talking about a black tie event then I think you should dress as it says on the tin," says Hackett. "I always think that a single-breasted, one-button, peak lapel is the best option—formal but not buttoned up. My mantra is 'Formal dress is not fancy dress'. Keeping it simple makes a much stronger statement."
Black or a very dark blue dinner jacket works best in this scenario and now's the time to introduce some more event-appropriate additions to your look. "If it's full black tie, you should be wearing a silk bow tie that matches the facings of your jacket. A skill that every man should have is to be able to tie his own bow tie – don't opt for the pre-tied variety," says Michael Hill, Creative Director of Drake's. "Everything else should be kept simple, understated. Perhaps a white silk pocket square to add the finishing touch."
And for under your dinner jacket? "The most elegant thing you can wear under is the waistcoat," says Spencer. "When you take your jacket off for a dance you remain well turned out. Bow ties are also good, but I am seeing a trend going for a larger blade."
Finally, shoes. You're hardly going to be turfed out of the venue for choosing to wear a pebble grain derby, but for the occasional strict dress code, it's good to have a pair of high shine oxfords tucked away. "The most appropriate for a classically formal event is our black patent oxford, the Overton," says Jeremy Fox, brand director at Crockett & Jones (they make James Bond's shoes, they know what they're doing). "A few years ago we developed a super-thin leather sole that we combined with our Goodyear-welted construction, as opposed to the traditionally cemented—and thus cheaper looking—formal shoes of the past. Never covering big mileage—pirouettes and triple steps aside—these fully repairable formal shoes will last you a lifetime."
Good to know when you're mid-cha-cha slide.
Dark green slim-fit faille-trimmed-cotton-velvet tuxedo jacket by Favourbrook, mrporter.com
Grosgrain-trimmed cotton-velvet waiscoat by Favourbrook, mrporter.com
Silk-faille bowtie by Dunhill, matchesfashion.com
Overton patent dress shoe by Crockett & Jones, crockettandjones.com
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.