Symposium: To the Tuxedo: A Tribute

<< Back to Robb Report, November 2002
  • Christian M. Chensvold

About 50 years ago, an old Frenchman declared that a man has not really lived until he has undressed a lady wearing late- 19th-century finery. Savoring the gradual unveiling of the woman through endless layers of dress, crinoline, and corset was truly a welcome exercise in deferred gratification.

Unless your paramour has a Scarlett O’Hara–inspired wardrobe, you will probably never have the opportunity to determine whether he was correct. But there is a similar pleasure, also ritualistic and sartorial, that is much easier to enjoy. It comes not from slowly undressing her, but from slowly dressing yourself for the evening.

For many a society woman, dressing for a formal affair is about creating the illusion of nudity. Seductively she bares her shoulders, offers a glimpse of cleavage, or wears a backless gown. With a man, however, it is about adorning himself in bespoke symbols of success. The more plumage he dons—waistcoat, pocket watch, silk scarf—the more respected among men and tempting to women he becomes. This is precisely why I would gladly wear my tuxedo every day.

Just as the Japanese tea ceremony is meant to soothe the soul through its slow, ritualized movements, pulling up suspenders, fastening studs and cuff links, folding a pocket square, and dusting off patent leather slip-ons is one of the last great masculine rituals in an age nearly bereft of them.

Contrary to the opinions of those who associate the tuxedo with obligatory functions, lackluster hors d’oeuvres, and frustration bordering on insanity from wrestling with the bow tie, magical things happen when you wear a tuxedo. Of all the days that blend into years that drift into the past, tuxedo days are, without exception, special days. (Headwaiters and doormen, while impeccably dressed, are allowed to disagree.)

A man’s relationship with his tuxedo is an evolutionary one. You probably were introduced to your first tux at a prep school formal. Maybe you felt silly as you tried to act like a young gentleman who wouldn’t rather be wearing a T-shirt. Perhaps you proposed to your wife in a tux or were married in one. Later, you undoubtedly accepted awards and honors while dressed in a tux. Your formalwear has been witness to the sipping of the finest vintage ports and Champagnes and the shaking of hands to cement critical deals.

You may have also noticed that tux nights tend to be lucky ones. That is not a coincidence. Haven’t there been times when you finished tying your tie, stepped back, took one last glance in the mirror, and asked rhetorically, “Damn, is it just me, or do I look dashing tonight?” Rest assured, you do. It is common knowledge, at least among women, that men are one notch better-looking and two notches smarter while tuxedo-clad. The tux transforms Mr. Dull and Average into Mr. Clever and Cute, while Mr. Smart and Handsome suddenly becomes Professor Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love.

Place a thousand tuxedoed men in the same room, and despite looking identical on the surface, each still appears individually rakish. Formal and elegant, the tux is the single backdrop that best allows the man inside to shine through.

I find myself looking forward to that night, every month or so, when I have an excuse to put Dean Martin on the record player and reach into the back of my closet. I dress slowly and carefully, not rushing a step, and by the time I finish, the needle has traversed half the platter’s diameter.

Then I will leave, standing slightly taller, shoulders subtly more square, jaw faintly more chiseled, looks and intelligence (read confidence) radically improved.

You know, in order to feel this way every day, I just might consider moonlighting as a waiter.

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