Basic Black Suits Young Astaires

Ah, spring, when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

And tuxedos.

In a uniquely American rite of adolescence, thousands of boys with proms on their minds are visiting tuxedo shops this month, learning the intricacies of cummerbunds, shirt studs and pants with adjustable waists.

It’s not easy.


Evan Lenchner, manager of Gary’s, a formal wear shop in Studio City, summed up the thoughts of a young man having to choose among Spencer coats, shawl collars and peaked lapels: “You don’t want to stand out too much, but you want to be different.”

It’s a classic teen-age male dilemma. For that matter, it’s a classic adult male dilemma.

Lenchner spoke during a brief lull at Gary’s, a Ventura Boulevard shop usually filled with teen-agers right after school. Dressed in shorts, T-shirts and sneakers--a few who didn’t bother to dress up were barefoot--the boys look as if they stumbled in by accident on the way to a video arcade.

Sometimes they’re with girlfriends, sometimes with parents. Lenchner has seen mothers and sons in yelling matches over style disputes.

Such outbursts are rare, however.

John Taylor just smiled approvingly as his son, Jon Paul Taylor, a junior at Notre Dame High School, coolly selected a Pierre Cardin for his first prom. “This is all rather new to me,” said the elder Taylor in the soft accent of his native England.

There are no high school proms in England, he said, and one certainly would never rent a limousine as his son and his son’s friends plan to do. “You don’t limousine in England. You take the bus.”

Asked for a deposit, Jon Paul turned to his father: “I have no money.” Taylor pulled out his wallet, smiling, clearly tickled by the thought of his son in a tux.

Later, a gangly youth who was clearly uncomfortable told salesman Mark Muus that he needed a tuxedo for the prom.

“Do you want black?” Muus asked.

“Uh, I don’t know.”

“You can’t go wrong with black.”

The boy, relieved at the news, agreed. Then came another decision: What color tie and cummerbund?

“I don’t know what color her dress is,” the boy mumbled, hands stuffed in his pockets.

Muus recommended black. Traditional and goes with everything, he said. The boy seemed reassured.

The era of powder blue and burgundy tuxedos is gone, Lenchner said. And white, though still worn, has lost ground. At his own prom seven years ago, Lenchner recalled, “I wore white tails with a dusty rose tie and cummerbund.”

In the ‘90s, however, it’s black, black and more black. “They’re staying traditional this year,” he said.

Even many girls are wearing black prom dresses. No more green polyester chiffons, lacy white or the soft pastels of bathroom tissue.

Today, high schoolers want black, making them look like a gathering of New Yorkers, who wear black less as a fashion statement than as protective coloration, like green tree frogs hiding among the leaves. Black allows them to blend with the soot and general decay of their streets, avoiding attack and injury by alley trolls.

But the kids of Southern California want black to look sharp, elegant, adult, European. Just like the Armani ads.

Besides, black also hides spills and spots.

“My greatest fear is wearing a white tux and spilling a drink on it,” said Sandeep Agarwal as he, his younger brother Sajal and friend Joe Zaki looked through a large book showing dashing male models in a variety of tuxedos.

The boys, who attend the Buckley School, had visited another tux shop the day before and were carefully reviewing their choices. They had just come from tennis practice.

“Are you going to get tails?” Sandeep asked.

“I didn’t really like the tails,” Joe said.

Instead, Joe asked to see a waistcoat--a word he had learned the previous day at the other shop. Lenchner held up a coat. Joe’s expression told him instantly that the style was not a hit.

“You want to see the other one?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Lenchner went through a rack, pulling out coats as he moved along: “Then we have the Pierre Cardin. . . . Then we have the Christian Dior classic. . . . We have peak lapels. . . . “

The boys, unlike the gangly youth who tried to get out of the store as soon as possible, sat comfortably on three ottomanlike seats and discussed tuxes. They couldn’t decide and, noting that closing time neared, said they would return to make a final choice.

Joe explained why he was taking so long to choose his tuxedo. “I want to look good. I don’t want to look outrageous.”

The boys were shocked when told that powder blue tuxedos were common prom attire in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“Eeeooo,” said Joe in disgust. “And ruffles?”

Yes, they were told, and ruffles.

The grim fashion news seemed to shore up their resolve to wear black. They walked off, as a chubby boy in a gray T-shirt and gray pants made his selection.

In all that gray, he looked as bland as a lamppost. But for one night at least, he will step out in style, with a touch of the peacock, Fred Astaire in Clearasil, Cary Grant with peach fuzz.

He confidently ordered a classic, elegant black tuxedo.

With an aquamarine tie and cummerbund.