Black-Tie Affair

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Expert advice and online resources simplify the art of formal attire.

By Laura Janelle Downey

For many, formal events are rare occasions. This makes the opportunities that much more exciting—but can also lead to uncertainty. “Most people get intimidated by formal wear because it is something that we don’t do every day,” says stylist Jabe Mabrey. “I have clients that never show their shoulders, or put on heels, much less wear an updo. And most men hate wearing ties—let alone a bow tie and cummerbund. That has to be uncomfortable if you are not used to dressing … [formally].”

For those who want a little guidance when preparing for their next soirée, stylists at department stores and designer boutiques can assist with garment selection and provide personalized tips. Online companies like Rent the Runway and The Black Tux can also lend a hand, putting clients at ease by offering designer apparel for rent (including black-tie attire and formal dresses), styling appointments and advice, as well as free shipping on returns. “Rent the Runway allows women to rent a gown that would normally cost thousands of dollars for only a couple hundred,” Mabrey says. “And men can do the same thing at The Black Tux … these websites are so fashion-forward that you can build your tux in a matter of minutes.”

Whether you’re investing in a garment for life or renting it for one night, Mabrey says that proper fit is essential. The Black Tux allows clients to tailor their suits, even providing detailed instructions that can be printed out and taken to a local tailor. And while formal events may require attire that isn’t worn every day, personal style still comes into play. For example, for men, a bow tie to a formal event might be the expected choice, while a necktie feels more relaxed.

Dressing your best is part of the experience. Before your next formal occasion, open a bottle of Champagne, practice dancing with your partner and make getting ready a part of the big event.


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BRUNELLO CUCINELLI CLASSIC DERBY SHOE, $1,275 (brunellocucinelli.com)

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ALICE + OLIVIA BY STACEY BENDET JERI EMBELLISHED T-BACK SLIM LEG JUMP SUIT, $695 (aliceandolivia.com)

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BROOKS BROTHERS 1818 ONE-BUTTON FITZGERALD NAVY TUXEDO, $1,198 (brooksbrothers.com)

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BRACKISH BOW TIES MANTIS 2.0, $195 (Sea Island Shop, 912-638-5172)

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CANALI CURVED STAINLESS STEEL CUFF LINK WITH RAISED MOTIF, $255 (canali.com)

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ESCADA SILK GOWN, $3,950 (Escada Lenox Square, 404-816-9671)

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ZAC POSEN PLEATED OFF-THE-SHOULDER GOWN IN MIDNIGHT, $5,990 (neimanmarcus.com)

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SELF PORTRAIT LONG-SLEEVE PLEATED LACE-TRIM GOWN IN OFF-WHITE, $1,350 (neimanmarcus.com)

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SID MASHBURN DARK NAVY WOOL MOHAIR TUXEDO WITH MOHAIR/SILK GROSGRAIN TRIM, $1,750 (sidmashburn.com)

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