Classic Tails

Once upon a time the formal black tux was the epitome of style. It is again.

THIS IS THE YEAR everybody in Dallas wants to get all dressed up, either to give a party or go to one. Some people say it’s because 1980 is an election year, and dress is always more festive during our great political tribal rite. Others suggest the interest in formal dress is part of a trend toward conservatism, a movement back to tradition. Still others claim they just want to have a good time, and big-occasion, pull-all-the-stops party clothes add to the excitement and fun.

Whatever the reason, formal wear is enjoying a renaissance in Dallas this fall, for men as well as for women. “I’d like to have a Rolls Royce for my fortieth birthday,” a local gentleman observed at a fund raiser recently, “but I’d settle for a new tuxedo.” Not since Camelot has there been such enthusiasm for the fetes, clothes, and accoutrements of society – and even those who hated JFK’s politics have not forgotten how wonderful he looked in a dinner jacket.

Actually, the dinner jacket, or the tuxedo, became completely acceptable as formal wear for men only later in this century. Before that, a gentleman’s formal dress had demanded a black frock coat or tails, along with the starched collar, ascot, and high hat immortalized in the portrait of Jiggs in the comic strip Maggie and Jiggs. Who can forget Jiggs, tyrannized by the social-climbing Maggie, forced into his “monkey suit,” all too often mistaken for the waiter? Only Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp was ever more incongruously garbed.

Invented in the 1880s in America, the dinner jacket originally demanded, despite its informal cut, the same starched neckwear as the tailcoat. By the 1930s, however, the substitution of soft shirts and collars allowed a gentleman to go out into society comfortably clad in a lounge suit, black by courtesy and habit. The tailcoat and its regalia retreated into history, worn only for very formal weddings and perhaps, but not always, for presidential inaugurations.

What both the tailcoat and the dinner jacket had in common was their color: black. Through the eighteenth century, gentlemen were permitted color in their formal dress. The black-clad man probably was, as Anne Hollander suggests in Seeing Through Clothes, an image of the nineteenth century romantic hero -a wandering, brooding, solitary figure re-invented and then lived by Lord Byron.

The black suit served several purposes. It suggested the detachment of the strong male from the vagaries of fashion. It made every man into a Hamlet, the black prince, absorbed in serious metaphysics. It gave one a slightly wicked, thus devilishly attractive, air. And, just incidentally, it contrasted nicely with the colorful and diaphanous gowns of fashionable women. Before long, black evening dress was de rigueur for men all over Europe and America. Except for an occasional flurry, such as the one in London around the turn of the century when Oscar Wilde and other aesthetes flouted convention with lavender coats and yellow shoes, black has remained the preferred color with men for formal wear until today.

In Dallas, of all the numerous stores eager to outfit a man for society, Brooks Brothers holds most firmly to the traditional path. This middle-of-the-road store which, as their saying goes, sets trends by ignoring them, offers a straight black and white outfit of black dacron and wool. The tuxedo, made with either a peak or shawl lapel and matching pants, costs $275, with a coordinating black vest for another $60. With dance pumps, shirt, studs, and all accessories, the outfit will run easily to $500.

What you get at Brooks Brothers is quality, fit, and security in what you are wearing. Like a private club, the store has legacy following: father will bring in son for his first formal attire. It will, of course, be black. Brooks Brothers carries no other colors in stock not even the white coats sogenerally accepted with black tuxedo panfor summer wear, though they car. be odered. A hard-to-find item, the white piquevest worn with tails for full dress weddings, is sold at Brooks Brothers. The tails are usually rented (though not by Brooks Brothers which has no rentals) but the out-niter often doesn’t have the white vest, and Brooks Brothers fills the gap. Brooks Brothers styles change so little that you can wear the same tuxedo for years and no one will notice, not even other “club” members.

If on the other hand, you’re a person who abhors the thought of benign inattention, and you actually want to be noticed, you might try shopping for your formal wear at one of the large rental stores in Dallas. The tuxedo rental stores mentioned here have same day or next day service. They also keep files on customers’ measurements and so can provide dress clothes to order with only a phone call. Groups can be measured at a school, hotel, or place of employment, and the suits dropped off and picked up from the same place.

Al’s, probably the best known of tuxedo rental stores, has seven locations in the area. Everyone from a nervous bridegroom whose bride insists on a baby blue wedding, or a high school senior our to make waves at the prom, to a gentleman heading for the Crystal Charity Ball can be outfitted at Al’s for between $30 to $50 for the evening.

For the bridegroom or the senior, Al’s has a wide selection of colors and styles. In the dinner jacket or tuxedo, there are earth tones such as brown, beige, fawn, and nutmeg, shades of gray from silver to charcoal, as well as navy, burgundy, and five styles in black. Full tails are also popular with these customers, and are available in black, white, ivory, silver, charcoal, and light blue. Black tails are the thing in Dallas for some of the debutante parties.

“Our customers,” says Allen Bodzy, a spokesman for Al’s, “are middle income, department store buyers. They want a basic and conservative look-the trend is definitely away from velvet trim and so on-but they do like a wide selection of colors. Except for the college fraternities-college students want black or sometimes gray

For the customer on his way to the opera or TACA balls, Al’s may volunteer the information that the store now carries tuxedos with designers’ labels including Pierre Cardin, Bill Blass, and Yves St. Lau-rent. These garments have nicer appoint-ments and perhaps a little sharper styling than the usual stock, though the fabric is comparabl

A very popular look for weddings before five p.m., according to Bodzy, and one of the hottest rental items, is the daytime stroller look: a gray coat cut slightly longer than the dinner jacket, worn over striped pants, with a white shirt, a wingtip collar, and a four-in-hand or ascot, also striped.

The Western look is another possibility for formal dress mavericks. In this costume, a tuxedo made of the usual fabric, but with such flourishes as a yoke in the front and back or a pocket scallop, is worn with a ruffled shirt, string tie, and black cowboy boots. Skeffington’s, the rental store which supplies Western tuxedos for Cutter Bill parties, insists that this look is not as popular in Texas as one might think.

“Mostly it’s for costume parties or Western weddings,” Bill Heltzen from Skeffington’s said. “The traditional look is more in than the Western look. Even people from the Lewisville and Denton area, real ranchers, you know, want Yves St. Laurent, with the narrowing lapel, a thinner tie, and a wing collar.” At Skeffington’s, as at Al’s, a man may like a rented outfit so much that he decides to purchase it, though rentals constitute the major portion of both businesse

Heltzen insists that the chief influence of the Western vogue has been the wearing of cowboy boots even with traditional dinner jackets. “People see those boots on television, and say, ’If it’s good enough for J.R. Ewing, it’s good enough for me.’ And, if a man has any kind of style at all, he can pull if off.”

According to Derrill Osborn, buyer for men’s wear in the downtown Neiman-Marcus, style -how one carries it off – is the secret for breaking with dress conventions tastefully. Quoting Chanel that “fashion passes but style remains,” Osborn recollects that two potentates of personal style, Fred Astaire and the Duke of Windsor, started trends for formal wear that endure in spirit today. The colored tuxedos now were foreshadowed by the colored handkerchiefs and shirts Fred Astaire wore with tuxedo or tails, as he danced across movie screens from Manhattan to Midland, and the cowboy boots are no more surprising under tuxedo pants than the argyle socks the Duke of Windsor wore.

“The process of dressing well is not ABCD,” Osborn says. “People love to dress up, and they shouldn’t be made to feel restricted or bored. Dressing for a private dinner party is just a marvelous feeling, and you can be as experimental as you like. For an inaugural ball, though, the stylish man will want to make sure he’s made the best choices.”To help him make those choices, Nei-man’s recently sponsored an event, according to Osburn, unprecedented in the fashion world: a trunk showing of formal wear for men. Styles shown included a complete collection of men’s formal fashions. Black tailcoats with white piqué vest, wing collar shirt, and bow tie rubbed shoulders with Ralph Lauren’s Western tuxedo ($325), masterfully tailored in black broadcloth, and with Neiman’s own line of dinner jackets ($350 up) in shades of navy, gray, and brown, as well as the ubiquitous black.

Accessories available at Neiman’s include everything from black silk hose for men, vests, cummerbunds, shirts, ties, proper shoes, to a set of cufflinks and studs made of lapis lazuli inset with diamonds ($1500) or eighteen carat gold pavé ($2550).

Like other shops selling men’s formal wear, Neiman’s anticipates a certain amount of confusion about what is proper and appropriate, and is ready to help the naive buyer select what suits the occasion as well as his own taste. Even procrastinators can be saved with a phenomenal one-day tailoring service on formal wear.

A new era of glamor and dazzle seems to have arrived. As Osburn says, “We’re past the time when sportcoats and sweaters would do for everything. Every well-dressed man today needs a suit, a navy blazer, and by all means a tuxedo.” Dallas men apparently agree.

This year the tuxedo, next year the Rolls Royce.

The following list includes a number of both local and national men’s formal wear outlet

Al’s Formal Wear. 1378 E. Belt Line, 690-6431; 7632 Campbell Rd., metro number 429-0630; 2207 Commerce, 651-1331; 734 W. Jefferson Blvd., 943-4301; 6713 W. Northwest Hwy., 368-6439; 106 Preston Valley Shopping Center, 233-7739.

American Formal Wear By Sir. 4531 McKinney Ave., 522-4074; 5521 Greenville Ave., 691-3440; Keystone Park, 231.8879.

Bridal & Tuxedo Garden, 704 Wynne-wood Village. 941-4000.

Cross Cleaners Tuxedos & Alterations, 2501 N. Josey (Carrollton). 242-7924.

Culwell & Son. 6319 Hillcrest Ave., 522-7000; 13020 Preston Rd., 661.8282; One Main Place, 742-3646.

Esquire Formal Wear. 5990 W. Northwest Hwy., 691-3663; 9505 Garland Rd., 328-328-3458; 3306 W. Camp Wisdom, 298-4681; 9982 Monroe, 358-4129; 718 Plymouth Park Shopping Center, 259-1642; 15350 Dallas Pkwy., 386-8855.

Gentlemens Quarters, Richardson Square Mall. 231-718

Gingiss Formal Wear Center. 2208 North East Mall, 589-1691; 1080 Valley View Center, 661-0557.

House of Tuxedos. 4009 Northwest Pkwy., 363-8568; 1067 Redbird Mall, 296-2911; 432 Northlake Shopping Center, 349-3600.

Mr. Formal Tuxedo Rentals & Sales, 2729 S. Lancaster Rd. 375-8997.

Mister Tuxedo, 6625 Snider Plaza. 363-1871.

Oak Lawn Tuxedo Rental & Sales, 3210 Oak Lawn. 521-143

Reynolds-Penland. Preston Royal; Town East; Northtown Mall; 2250 Promenade Center, 238-9557.

S & S Tuxedo Rentals, 219 Chapel Forest Village. 243-5241.

Sir Formal Wear. 5521 Greenville Ave., 691-3440; 13929 N. Central Expwy., 231.8879.

Skeffmgton’s Men’s Formal Wear. Old Town Village Store, 361.6866; 15101 Midway Rd., 233-8201.

Weddings Complete, 3050 Promenade. 238-0073.

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