Nip and Tux

Tonight, while the rest of America is ignoring the Oscars telecast, I will be attending my first honest-to-God, A-list, gift-bag Hollywood party. I won’t tell you whose party it is, but they don’t come any bigger. This man could buy and sell me a thousand times over. Come to think of it he’d probably just rent me.

I figured when I moved to Los Angeles that one day such a summons from the immortals would arrive, and though I’m not overawed with celebrity, I’ll tell you now I’m damn curious to climb into that particular aquarium--to walk a red carpet through the thick static of paparazzi flash units, to observe the off-camera catfights as “E!” and “Entertainment Tonight” producers jostle for interviews, to smell the bronzer.

This would be the place to establish my cool cynicism about the affair, to assert my purely forensic interest in the entertainment industry--which is, first of all, an industry, a business, and not a very pretty one despite the relative prettiness of the employees. Yes, I have many sober things to say about the crass and empty, and destructive, illusionism of Hollywood, which I’d be happy to run up the rhetorical flagpole if only I weren’t so worried about what I’m going to wear.

Now, obviously, my sartorial dilemma is nothing, nothing compared to my wife’s, a fact she hastens to point out. But Tina has an advantage. She would look fabulous in anything--a dress made of chocolate-covered doughnuts, or parking citations, or pink building insulation. If she went wearing a family of possums, the next week you’d see wives in the OC sporting possum couture.


Me? Not so much.

This is a black-tie event, and given that I spent two whole years of my life in a tuxedo--I was a dining captain at a French restaurant, in other words, a waiter--I have more than the usual acquaintance with formal wear. Actually, I consider myself something of an authority. After all, I know how to knot a bow tie. I own two satin-lapel tuxedos--one peaked collar, the other shawl--and a beautiful off-white Jacquard dinner jacket that I wear when I’m feeling particularly Gatsby-ish. I also own a formal Scottish kilt and all the kit that goes with it, including a magnificent sterling-and-deer-hide sporran.

The kilt--to which I am entitled, being of Scottish descent--was my first choice for the party. Tina assured me that if I wore it she would stab me in the knee with my ceremonial dirk.

And so I discovered a vital truth for any man who is attending a formal event with his wife or girlfriend, or both. Your ensemble does not belong to you. It is, in actuality, purely an extension of your companion’s outfit, a fashion adjunct. You are not there to compete, only to escort, and carry her clutch purse as required. You are an accessory. You are arm candy.

Take out your wallet and check your driver’s license. If the name Johnny Depp or Jamie Foxx does not appear, refrain from “creative black-tie.” Which is to say: no black satin shirts with matching tie, no crushed purple velvet, no Nehru collar, no frock coats, no leopard-print waistcoats, no bolo ties with acrylic-embedded scorpions. Such fashion makes you look like a major tool, and selfish besides. The object is to be an impeccable backdrop for your companion--since it is she, not you, who has starved herself for two weeks to fit into her dress and spent six hours on her hair and makeup.

The misty origins of formal wear suggest that black tie began as ball dress for British military officers in the 19th century. Black tie is a uniform that is best honored not by departing from it but by observing it to the fullest, with the most splendid rigor possible. Variety is not the point.

Recently, George Clooney, amused that he kept showing up on red-carpet best-dressed lists, confessed that he’s been wearing the same Armani tuxedo for 10 years. “It’s a tux,” Clooney told this newspaper. “Guys are much luckier than women when it comes to dressing for these things.”

See? Me and Clooney, hanging.

I’m not off the hook, though. Tina has inspected my collection of formal wear and decreed that it needs an update--or, to quote her exactly: “F’eh!” I can keep the black onyx studs and cuff links, Faconnable wing-collar shirt, my good tie and splendid black-and-white braces. I have some excellent shoes, having long ago rid myself of my old patent-leather slip-ons, which made me feel like I was wearing Ann Miller’s taps.

But I need a new tuxedo. Satin lapel, peaked collar, no vent, deep gorge, one button, 42 Long. I was also thinking about a pocket square.

Nah. Let’s not get crazy.