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Colorful Vests, Ties and Cummerbunds Help Make the Man

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This party season, black tie optional has taken on new meaning.

For men who want to stand out in a crowd at formal New Year’s Eve galas, there are splashy bow ties, colorful cummerbunds and rich tapestry vests to liven up the traditional tuxedo.

“Gentlemen are looking for more extremes in furnishings,” says Bjorn Sedleniek, owner of P.O.S.H. in Fashion Island, Newport Beach. “They don’t just want to wear black, white or red bow ties. Those get kind of boring.”

Instead, they’re choosing accessories in dynamic colors and patterns, including florals, paisleys and Art Deco-style prints.

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Colorful accessories allow men to get away from the formal tux uniform and show some individuality.

“A lot of our customers are very social. They may go to five events where they’ll be seeing the same people,” Sedleniek says. By adding a fresh furnishing, they can change their look without investing in a new tuxedo.

A slow economy has helped make tuxedo furnishings an attractive option for men, according to Tom Julian, associate fashion director for the Men’s Fashion Assn. in New York City. Even if they can’t afford a new tux, men can update their formal wear with unusual extras.

“We’re doing a nice job with the classic cutaway coat and even the opera capes and top hats,” says Alan Anderson, sales representative for Alfred Dunhill of London Inc. in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. “That’s the creme de la creme. Throw that in with a walking stick, and you’re just about making the entry of all entries. It’s shades of FDR.”

One customer ordered an ebony walking stick, white gloves and a black cape to wear with his tuxedo, according to Ray Caruso, manager of Alfred Dunhill.

“He even went so far as to order the cape with a white silk lining” for a more dramatic effect, Caruso says.

More conservative dressers experiment only with the cummerbund set and vests.

“Men are wearing little beauties like these,” says Caruso, unpacking a box of newly arrived vests made in rich woven tapestries. One elegant vest features Art Deco lilies against a pale lavender background, available for $425.

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“Vests are a great way to update a tux,” Julian says.

Vests with shawl collars that have geometric and floral prints inspired by the ‘30s and ‘40s have emerged as one of the season’s hottest tux accessories. For a vest to look formal, however, the fabric must be lush.

“The brocades are woven into the fabric instead of printed, so it has a richness that moves,” Caruso says.

Meanwhile, more traditional bow ties and cummerbunds have gone from basic black to loud prints in non-traditional gem colors such as teal and purple.

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Sedleniek ordered a gold brocade cummerbund set for New Year’s after the first sets sold out weeks before Christmas.

“It’s a departure from the gray and black,” he says.

If one insists on wearing white, P.O.S.H. has cummerbunds of silk Jacquard with a paisley print woven into the white fabric. Braver souls can choose something more progressive, such as a cummerbund set in pale yellow with large purple medallions or a burgundy-and-gray set with a geometric print.

“A lot of them get gaudy. We try to keep them in good taste,” Sedleniek says.

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Braces, once limited to black and white for formal wear, come in all colors and designs. P.O.S.H. carries Art Deco-style suspenders with scenes of party-goers sipping champagne--an appropriate choice for New Year’s. Another set comes with art nouveau scenes of women bathing.

Gary’s & Co. in Fashion Island has special limited edition braces with red-winged cherubs.

“We always do a little novelty at New Year’s, but we’re doing more this year than in the past,” says Rich Myklebust, merchandise manager for Gary’s. “In our part of the country there aren’t as many serious black-tie events as there are fun charity balls, so it’s real appropriate to have fun with things like cummerbunds.”

For New Year’s, Gary’s has a burgundy silk cummerbund set embroidered with gloves, a tall hat and a walking stick for $135.

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While black onyx and mother-of-pearl stud sets still carry the day, Gary’s has found antique stud sets are back in vogue. One full dress set, dating from the 1930s, features silver-plated studs with tiny pearls and gray mother-of-pearl. It’s available for $325.

“What’s new is old,” says Myklebust. “Antique cuff links are the tastiest things guys are doing now.”

Most men are still wearing a traditional white tuxedo shirt with straight or wing collars, but some opt for shirts with bib fronts that have a white-on-white Jacquard pattern or fine ticking stripes.

“It’s real subtle,” Myklebust says.

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While they may plan their formal wear down to the finest detail, men often overlook their feet.

“So many make the mistake of slipping on a pair of business shoes with their tuxedos,” Julian says. He favors the classic pump in black suede.

Tuxedos mainly serve as the plain black backdrop to all of this flash, but they have loosened up since the ‘80s.

“They’re not as tight or stiff as they used to be,” Julian says. He predicts jackets with shawl collars to be the style for the ‘90s. A few designers are adding velvet collars, quilting and other Edwardian touches.

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Holiday parties provide the perfect opportunity to don more festive tuxedo jackets, Julian says. P.O.S.H. carries a black velvet dinner jacket with a shawl collar, or a black-and-gray paisley smoking jacket.

“It’s a great holiday look for men who want a change of pace,” Sedleniek says.


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