This holiday season, we turn to Whit Stillman’s 1990 film Metropolitan for a pitch-perfect examination of our two favorite things: urbane style and preppy angst. Home for Christmas vacation in New York City, the characters — wealthy Upper East Side Ivy Leaguers — attend galas, raid their parents’ liquor cabinets, debate Jane Austen and discover love. Snore, right? Wrong. Stillman is a master observer of class, reveling in frivolous details masquerading as legitimate concerns. (Case in point: the hilarious five-minute debate about whether or not an old man can be termed preppy. We say yes!) And not least importantly (at least not to us), the film offers a master class on how to wear a tuxedo. Below are our five rules for formal dressing this party season, based on Stillman’s classic flick. (And FYI the movie is now available for free streaming on Hulu.com.)
Nowadays, a “black tie” invitation — to a wedding, a New Year’s Eve party or a debutante ball at the 21 Club — means “wear a tux.” The metropolitan above plays it straight, but even within this strict dress code, there is still room for self expression.
Rugby Rule 1. An easy first step to standing out is a bow tie with an unexpected pattern (our favorite for this season is the super-fly buffalo check option).
Rugby Rule 2. You don’t need to wear a cummerbund with a tuxedo — that’s a personal choice. If you lose the cummerbund, wear suspenders (never a belt), and don’t forget that they need not be black; in fact, they probably shouldn’t be. We recommend a brash pair with stripes or skulls.
Rugby Rule 3. Finally, consider foregoing the traditional patent leather oxfords for an alternative: velvet slippers. (Our version have skulls and crossbones, naturally).
Occasionally, an event will be of such supreme importance that it merits a venture into the extremely refined territory of white tie. That means tails, gentlemen. Above, Metropolitan’s Nick Smith (portrayed by the incomparable Christopher Eigeman) steps boldly where few would go, wearing an attachable collar, white gloves and a top hat.
Rugby Rule 4. White-tie dressing provides the least amount of wiggle room when it comes to the rules, but you can still stand out with unexpected touches, like conversational cufflinks or patterned dress socks.
And the final rule of tuxedo dressing? Know when to let loose.
Rugby Rule 5. You should look sharp in your tux, but there will come a point in the night when jackets are off, ties are undone and anything goes (as evidenced in the movie). If, while wearing your tux, you’re invited to dance a rumba: you do. If you’re asked to play strip poker: you do. And if you’re forced into a fistfight with a count of dubious provenance: by all means, do. Just try not to get any blood on your sweet threads, ok?