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Black Tie Optional, Excessive Etiquette Discouraged

Topics: Lifestyle & Culture | Add A CommentBy admin | March 28, 2010

Has America’s sense of style and manners eroded to the point that black tie optional really just means no-one will laugh if you drink the finger bowl?

Sure. Have Fun. Just don’t
drink the finger bowl, okay?

What does “black tie optional” mean? Well, there was a time when it meant a bunch of rich jerks standing around in tuxes they actually owned, pointing fingers behind their hand at the inept doofus who was wearing a rental. As I learned recently though, it now means “we have delusional pretensions of class and style from another era, and think you should too“. Attending a few formal events over the past month or two, I was surprised by the range of interpretations of what the terms Black Tie and variants of Black Tie Optional mean in today’s style and social continuum. Although part of me recoils at the idea of people wearing uniforms to identify their social standing, another part of me recoils even more at the idea of maintaining a tradition of that sort and then failing to enforce it properly. The biggest distinction I noticed between “black tie” and “black tie optional” events was a higher incidence of people at the black tie functions who knew how to hold their fork and not drink the finger bowl. The “black tie optional” events were more complicated in their interpretation of style, but easy to break down: you could tell a man was over 50 if he actually wore a tux, and under 50 if he was wearing anything from a Nehru jacket to Dockers and a sport coat with a turtle-neck. With a high likelihood that whoever wasn’t wearing a tie was wearing a Rolex, playing with his iPhone, and drinking the finger bowl. Not that I’m laying claim to being part of some elite old money crowd (although I love things like country clubs that keep garish ties on hand for guests that arrive under-dressed), in fact one of my early major fashion failures was when I was in my twenties and dating a graduating law student*, and she asked me to be her date at a black tie event in Chicago. At the time I didn’t own a tux and was still in the depths of my occasionally rather debilitating alternative style addiction. I thought I’d be clever and jar convention a bit by wearing a Spencer-cut tux. It looked kind of hip in a “White Prince on the Purple Rain Tour” kind of way, but it took me awhile to figure out why all the arrogant little lawyers-to-be kept asking me to get them another drink. Which I think highlights a pet theory of mine, which is that the lack of class and style that seems so prevalent the last few decades is a result of the perversion of an older class structure, driven by the rapid acquisition of wealth by the former underclasses. Which I think has contributed to a sense of a slowly crumbling sense of order and comfort in our culture, something I reference a lot. What do you think? Do a sense of class and style matter as much as affluence and personal expression?