Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Dressing the Part(ner)

Photo: Medford Taylor via National Geographic
Photo: Medford Taylor via National Geographic

Today’s column is in response to a question from G-M Jones posted yesterday. (Thank you G-M Jones for reading and giving me an easy out today.) He asked me to recommend appropriate men’s attire for a drinks party.

It will come as no surprise to those who know me and/or are regular readers of Easy and Elegant Life, that I can be a bit of a peacock. I like to dress well and there are those days when I dress a little too well; or at least too … colourfully. Especially for small town life.

Years ago I was taught a very valuable lesson. It was during my days as an Arthur Murray dance instructor. I asked why, during the competitions, the women dressed in very colourful and extravagant clothing while we were (for the most part) relegated to dinner jackets or the odd tailcoat? (I can’t imagine asking the same question these days… sophomoric.) The reply was as simple as: “it’s her night, all eyes should be on your partner.”

The simplicity of the black and white evening clothes or dinner jacket and black tie is sophisticated, without being flashy. All men look good in the ensemble and all attention can be garnered by the women they accompany. That is as it should be.

Having said that, there are occasions when we, too, are on display. “Nicholas Antongiavanni” makes a very good case for competitive dressing in The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style”thesuit

We are best served by exactitude of cut. Even the most sober and basic of suits, beautifully tailored to your build, will make you look and feel like a million. Fit is what makes you feel like a king.

So, what would I recommend for my male readers to wear to a St. Valentine’s Day drinks party? It depends on two factors: the dress code stipulated by your hosts, and your date.

If you have a date and she is wearing something as perfect as, say, this:


You’d do well to choose a sharply tailored double-breasted navy suit, white spread collar shirt with French (double cuffs), and a solid navy grenadine tie (or a silver-blue Cary Grant model.) Black, well-polished oxford shoes, of course. White linen pocket square. A good alternative is the charcoal grey, single-breasted suit with white shirt and grey patterned tie (I like glen plaids or houndstooth.) Think Mad Men, if you’re going for the solid tie or discreet stripes. White square, as before.

If, on the other hand, she were to choose a little red, flirty number, you have options.

A more casual, but always appropriate, choice is the navy blazer and grey flannels route. You may choose to inject a little colour into the uniform with the addition of a red and silver (or other colour) tie, or a pink shirt with a pink and navy tie. Or, rachet up the formality with a blue bodied shirt with white club collar and cuffs, worn pinned. Shoe choices expand here too. I really like my chocolate suede monk straps, but in the evening I tend to stick with black and might choose to wear Belgian slippers, Venetian loafers, horsebit Gucci loafers or bluchers. Just make sure that there are no square toes to be found. Slightly squared and chiseled is fine and very elegant. As are slightly elongated toes. “Slightly” being the operative word.

Finally, I will enthusiastically agree with Will of A Suitable Wardrobe when he recommends the bowtie as suitable for cocktails. I wear a “Churchill” navy with white spots bow with navy nailhead, double-breasted suit with a white (or blue and white pinstriped) shirt, cufflinks, white square and black plain toe bluchers. Another favourite is a black bow with irregularly spaced tan spots.

If you are going stag, the world’s your oyster. Choose your role model — Champagne Charlie, Nick Charles, Edward Windsor, Don Draper, Cary Grant, Simon Templar, James Bond, whomever — and, er… follow suit.

4 thoughts on “Dressing the Part(ner)

  1. Well, if I were a man and she were my valentine, I think she would already love me for who I am, however, that said, nothing makes a man look more elegant than a suit and tie, and if I were that elegant lady, I would love for my valentine to wear a pink or perhaps red tie with some sort of pink/red/white striped or tiny check shirt, heart cuffs, and perhaps a velvet loafer with cupid’s heart… all dressed for a party with those you love.

    Or better yet, we could make it a blind date and pretend we just met, and fool one another with something clever – a guise of sorts, a wig, a mustache, – something to keep the relationship full of intrigue for St.Valentine.

  2. Yup! She makes you want to wear black tie….especially those ankles and that neck!

    Better not say anymore… it is PG-13, after all! But we all know what we’re thinking… shining our shoes!

  3. Thank you very much, Elegantologist! It’s very helpful. Now I have more idea of what to wear for my preview cocktail party at the gallery.

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