How to Nail Formal Wear

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and with it comes ugly sweater get-togethers, as well as more upscale soirees. We know that “Black Tie Requested” are three tricky words to tango with, so we wanted to make the season a little easier with some pointers for formal wear. We sat down with our very own Bespoke Advisors, Bruce Zuckerman (below-right) and Michael Alzona (below-left), to ask them for their sartorial opinions on formal wear.

Describe your style.MA: Updated traditional with an Italian influence.

BZ: Contemporary, edging towards classic.

So starting from the top, what separates formal wear from a regular suit?

Bruce Zuckerman: Satin and or grosgrain trim. Buttons. and stripe along the side of the pants. Usually done in customarily solid colors, black, midnight blue, and midnight navy

Michael Alzona: Same.

Which lapels should you choose?

BZ: Peak and shawl are preferred. Classic notch is not prohibited.

MA: Peak or shawl. Save the notch for your suit.

How many buttons on the suit?

BZ: One-button is highly recommended. DB [double-breasted] is an option, but secondary.

MA: Formal wear is your chance to do a one-button, so why not?

What kind of shirt should you be wearing with your tux?

MA: White, bib front, point or wing collar.

BZ: White broad cloth. Moderate spread collar [or] wing collar. Quarter-inch pleats or contrasting texture bib style.

What kind of tie should you wear?BZ: A black bow tie, suggested to match [your] trim (satin or grosgrain).MA: Classic black satin or grosgrain bow tie for the win.

What are your opinions on studs?

MA: Cufflinks and studs to match. Preferably mother of pearl.

BZ: Highly recommended. French-cuffed shirts and cufflinks mandatory.

Finally, what about the shoes?

BZ: Patent recommended. In a pinch, highly polished black calf. No wingtip. No cap toe. I generally wear a patent lace-up.

MA: Patent shoes or [Prince Albert] slippers.

What do you think about the Hollywood take on the traditional formal wear guidelines?

MA: They take traditional formal and tweak it just enough. Midnight blue for the red carpet has gotten brighter and brighter. For bright blue, it depends on the event you are going to. If you’re going [anywhere besides] an award show then you should go white dinner jacket, midnight blue, or traditional black.

BZ: [It’s] typically a significantly trimmer, shorter jacket, with narrow lapels and much trimmer pants, often in other colors than black. Though [now] Hollywood is back to traditional. The 2015 Oscar awards was filled with classically-based styling on some of the younger stars.

When can you wear Blackwatch?

BZ: Any formal occasion, but most frequently worn at cocktail parties and holiday events.MA: You just gotta own it. It’s appropriate for any formal event. Last year [at the Sinatra Party] I wore Blackwatch trousers and a black velvet dinner jacket.

How do you express personal style within the confines of evening wear?

MA: I think you would have to [say I] express it through accessories. Pocket square, cufflinks, bow tie, tie, hosiery and flair–a scarf perhaps.

BZ: As with all my custom garments, I choose the features and the styling I’m most comfortable in. For example, I like a classic white broadcloath spread-collar quarter-inch pleat tux shirt. I feel the best in it and it meets my style criteria.

What is your favorite evening wear ensemble?

BZ: One-button black peak-lapel tuxedo.

MA: One-button black shawl-lapel tuxedo. It commands respect. [Drops the mic.]

So there you have it, no matter what your personal style is, there is indeed a right way and a wrong way to dress up this holiday season. Use the tips above as guidelines, but don’t be afraid to ask us to tailor your evening ensemble to your specifications. To make an appointment, please email Bruce and Michael at

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Tim Niven

Tim is Wingtip's Assistant Product Manager, a Bay Area native who has been with the company since 2013. Tim's a connoisseur of film and television, and by that he means he Wikis plots for film and television. His style inspirations come from the little screen--Barney Stinson, Brad Williams, and Tom Haverford. He is also a huge comedy nerd, as well as a regular nerd. He is an avid wearer of suits.

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