Black Tie at the 89th Academy Awards

Roll out the red carpet for some odd choices in more than awards.

On Sunday, the 89th Academy Awards had a rocky reception, with some controversial decisions and a noteworthy announcement flub. (I still don't understand how Suicide Squad won over Star Trek Beyond for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.) Reflected was a somewhat rocky assortment of black tie ensembles that didn't quite reach the same level as years previous.

The Champion

In my opinion, Andrew Garfield was the clear standout that night. Instead of going too trendy, he opted for high quality and classic details, updating them tastefully with the shoes and a slimmer fit. He may not have won for Best Actor this time, but he won in showing a straightforward but effective approach to evening wear. No, his ensemble is not from the 1930s as some would prefer we still dressed, but this is an example of modern done correctly.

Classic jacket length, good shoulder fit, and beautiful waist suppression.

Tom Ford has been a force for good in clothing due to the dignity he's brought back to menswear, especially in regards to black tie on the red carpet. One can certainly get tailored clothing for the same price, same quality, and better fit through bespoke. That's what I'd recommend to anyone with $6000 to spend on one suit. But if you must go the ready-to-wear route, I can't think of too many others who get it right on a consistent basis. No other designer I know of has tailored jackets with as much shape, structure, and handwork. The nipped waist and overall silhouette of a Tom Ford suit are inspired by English tailors but with Italian influence in small details such as the glossy, handsewn lapel hole.

This dinner suit is most likely the "Buckley" fit. It's a slim fit, but not extreme as many designers are making theirs. Observe how the button is at the waist, meeting up with the trouser waistband and avoiding the dreadful white triangle that appears on so many other slim fit suits. The jacket fit is excellent, with clean lines that do not pull or bunch awkwardly. The trousers are a bit more narrow than I'd prefer, but they work better on his build than they would on mine.

Note the same satin gauntlet cuffs on this "Buckley" model.

The moderate width, gently curved peak lapels are a welcome reprieve from the extra-skinny lapels dominating fashion for the last decade. The satin gauntlet cuffs add an extra touch of distinctiveness and old world class. Underneath the dinner suit, he wears a quintessential marcella-front shirt with spread collar and double cuffs. Onyx studs and cufflinks on silver settings adorn it. The patent leather opera pumps are a tasteful substitute to patent leather balmoral shoes, though they differ from the traditional ones by having a long band of grosgrain rather than a pinched or flat bow.

In any case, he's come a long way. Just six years ago he also favoured a button one peak lapel dinner jacket but with worse results. The button pulls considerably, bowing out the lapels as a side effect and there's a distracting patch of shirt due to the trousers and jacket not harmonizing well together. Compare how adolescent and ill-fitted he looks below compared to the sophisticated and well-tailored young man of today.

Not to mention no shirt cuff showing.

The only other area for improvement, besides his slightly-short trouser break, is the shirt fit. The cuffs appear rather large for his wrists, sliding out well past the half-inch mark from the jacket sleeves. His shirt collar should also be higher to compensate for his long neck. Contrary to popular belief, collar band height should be based on neck length, not total height. (Garfield is only 5'10.) Tom Ford's tall, two button spread collar would be a better choice for him. I could go a step further and say that he's missing a waistcoat, but considering many of the other attendees' waist coverings were not used with much success it's a moot point. As mentioned before, the jacket and trousers are harmonious with each other and that's really the only way to pull this look off.

After a few visual tweaks his proportions look even better.

Matt Spaiser was up to the challenge of showing how these improvements would have brought Garfield's ensemble to even greater aesthetic heights. In Photoshop, he was able to lengthen the trousers, shorten/tighten the shirt cuffs, and make the shirt collar taller.

This before and after comparison makes the changes even more obvious.

There was some other good news for menswear enthusiasts that night, including that the button two notch lapel jacket wasn't seen at all. It probably says something when even President Obama finally ditched his years ago in favour of the single button peak lapel. The aforementioned style seemed very common this year compared to shawl collars taking the spotlight in years past. Apart from the necktie wearers noted before, proper self-tied bow ties were a dominating force so clearly more people understand the difference it makes than they did before.

Furthermore, there were a number of people representing the fly front evening shirt this time. This is one trend I appreciate because of the restrained elegance it conveys. It also eliminates the possibility of showing studs and then a solitary, out of place button when foregoing a waist covering. A full button front also achieves this, but many Americans seem to think buttons aren't formal enough for black tie.

Midnight blue was surprisingly not worn much at all. Those who went the more classic route overwhelmingly chose black instead. There is nothing wrong with black for dinner suits of course, but midnight blue has the advantage of looking darker and richer under artificial light. It can also look more interesting than drab black if the event happens while the sun is still out, such as 5:30 PM in Los Angeles.

The Runners-Up

These other men did pretty well, but not quite to the standard they could have due to fit issues or other minor details. Nevertheless, they deserve gratitude for sticking to the more timeless elements of black tie.

Seth Rogen has cleaned up considerably over the years. Note the stylish fly front shirt.

Michael Shannon dons a classic alternative, the double breasted dinner jacket.
Bonus points for the red carnation.

Lucas Hedges was one of the better dressed to wear a slim fit.
He, like others that night, sported the rakish look of a fly front evening shirt.

Could Be Better...

This most diplomatically summarizes some other attempts. Their outfits ranged from misguided (white jackets, neckties) to completely clueless (whatever Pharrell was wearing). I may be wrong, but it feels like just a couple years ago there was far better judgment.

The erroneous tendency towards white dinner jackets in February continued this year. Since the purpose of a white dinner jacket is to be lighter and cooler in warm weather, there's really no function for it during a high of 58 degrees Fahrenheit. To add insult to injury, every jacket incorrectly had silk facings, an unnecessary addition since they don't coordinate with the silk stripe on the trousers. David Oyelowo, Dev Patel, Jamie Dornan, and Ryan Seacrest were among those seen in them.

The warm weather dinner jacket continues to thrive in colder months for some reason.

Thankfully, only one black shirt appeared to show up this year, worn by Oscar winner and all around great actor Mahershala Ali. Black shirts with black dinner suits tend to make the wearer look rather dour (also more like a disembodied head than a complete person). White shirts have persisted for so long by provide striking contrast against an otherwise all-black ensemble.

A white shirt would have improved things a lot.

He also fell prey to the unwelcome high fastening waistcoat trend plaguing this year. Among its victims were Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Chris Pine showed us how it was done way back in 2010, so I'm not sure why celebrities continue to wear five or six button waistcoats which are more appropriate for lounge suits. Waistcoats for evening wear should have three or four buttons max unless double breasted. Even then, those should fasten quite low as Brad Pitt taught us in 2007.

Jeff Bridges has too many buttons on both his jacket and waistcoat here.

I like velvet dinner jackets and smoking jackets but this brown one is out of place after six. Something in dark red, blue, or green would have looked better with the black facings, trousers, and shoes. Not to mention more regal and appropriate for Prince Charming himself, Josh Dallas.

This doesn't quite work. Even dark brown should be reserved for informal affairs.

John Cho demonstrates exactly how a "tux" should not fit in almost every aspect, but I commend him for wearing a single button shawl collar at least. The short and tight jacket look which has managed to persist rears its ugly head here, looking more ill-fitting combined with the approaching-highwater trouser hem. Thanks to very low rise trousers, there is also a distracting gap of white shirt beneath the closure. Another actor I like a lot, so it was disappointing to see him looking far less commanding than he could have.

Beautiful couple, but Kerri Higuchi is definitely the better dressed one.

Poor fit and colour choice from Chris Evans. The bright blue draws a little too much attention to itself. Even if he was attempting to evoke Captain America, the fit hardly gives him the same presence. Similar to the too-tight Skyfall suits on Daniel Craig, this manages to make a man in great shape look wimpier with clothes on than without! At least the style details were chosen well. Riz Ahmed took it even further by having the facings and bow tie the same colour, which regrettably seems like a modern reinterpretation of the 1970s "powder blue prom tux".

The poor fit is most evident in how his deltoids strain against the upper sleeve.

I love blue, but Riz Ahmed shows exactly how it can be overplayed in evening wear.

The necktie is now a rare sight but not completely gone. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael J. Fox, and Moonlight actors Trevante Rhodes, Alex R. Hibbert, and Ashton Sanders all exhibit how easily neckties downgrade an elegant dinner suit to something you'd wear at a funeral. Miranda's black knitted tie and silver clasp were especially off-kilter, looking more at home with a sport coat than semi-formal attire. This is especially odd considering he's worn bow ties for black tie affairs before.

He brought his mother though, which is pretty respectable in my book.

They would have upped their style considerably with bow ties instead.

Then there's Pharrell. Eccentric as ever. I would actually be fine with the necklaces and interesting button choice if it weren't for his apparent confusion between white tie and black tie dress codes. He sports an evening full dress coat with a black satin bow tie and cummerbund, which does not bring the best of either world into one outfit. I'm also a little puzzled by why there's a hook and eye closure linking the fronts of the coat.

Pharrell... what are you doing, man? The semi-peaked lapels are cool though.


  1. Brown is an unusual colour for evening wear but not entirely unknown. Noel Coward had a super dark chocolate brown dinner jacket and trousers and Simon Crompton of the Permenant Style blog has a brown velvet smoking jacket for less formal evening events that looks, I think, quite fetching.

    1. Regardless of who has done it, I still don't find it appropriate for black tie. Even examples that make the facings, shoes, and tie brown don't really work for me. Simon Crompton and I may agree on many things, but this is not one of them. :)


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