For holiday parties, today's sophisticated man can take a cue from runways and red carpets by choosing tuxedos for formal occasions or components thereof for more casual events.
Fashion designers, obsessed as they are these days with all manner of tailored clothing and reinvigorated by a generation of young men who are wearing suits for the first time, have been busy reinventing the tux.
Style-watchers got wind of the possibilities in 2011 when actor Ryan Gosling, justly celebrated for his red-carpet acumen, gave a one-two punch to tradition by appearing at Cannes in a sky-blue tuxedo for the premiere of "Drive" and a deep maroon counterpart two nights later (both by Salvatore Ferragamo). No doubt these images must have lingered in the minds of designers in the following months as they prepped the collections we're seeing now.
In the process, the stodgy old black "penguin suit" was transformed into the latest emblem of sartorial cool — slimmed down with razor-sharp silhouettes, offered in a newly intriguing mix of materials and tonal variations (especially brown, navy and gray) and infused with the potent spirit of tuxedo-clad icons, most recently in the image of James Bond seen on movie posters around the globe.
"The tuxedo has really come into its own in the last two years," said Jeremy Langmead, editor in chief for online retailer Mr. Porter, explaining the unprecedented variety of evening clothes on runways for the fall season. "Men had forgotten how flattering a classic tuxedo can be."
Mr. Porter has gone full bore on formalwear, offering page after page of tuxedo choices as well as dinner jackets from nearly every designer imaginable. And now there's even an app for that, with Mr. Porter debuting the Tux app just in time for holiday parties as well as the film awards season that's looming ahead in the new year. Besides highlighting black-tie exclusives from the likes of luxury brand Brioni at one end of the spectrum and cutting-edge Swedish house Acne at the other, the app covers a variety of topics that a tuxedo-clad man might find of interest, including suggestions for conversation-starters, an interactive tutorial on how to tie a bow tie and photomontages of legendary formal parties such as Truman Capote's 1960s masked Black and White Ball.
Closer to home, the current show business generation is no slouch in the formality department. Standout tuxedo variations at the Emmy Awards in September included winner Aaron Paul in Prada's shawl-collared brown mohair, Bryan Cranston and Zachary Quinto in shades of gray from John Varvatos and Dior Homme, respectively, and Jon Hamm in faultless midnight blue Giorgio Armani.
Even when they opted for classic black, the men showed memorable style, whether it was Damian Lewis in Tom Ford's rakish shawl-collared tux with his signature '70s-style butterfly bow tie or host Jimmy Kimmel, sleekly tailored in a custom vested and rope-shouldered choice from Gucci.
Two of the most notably turned-out actors were "Modern Family's" Jesse Tyler Ferguson rocking a dark plaid tuxedo (a custom version of a Thom Browne design for Brooks Brothers' Black Fleece collection) and Jim Parsons, the unworldly Sheldon of "The Big Bang Theory," easily carrying off a seriously sophisticated navy velvet dinner jacket. Coincidentally, both stars were guided in their choices by Hollywood men's stylist Annie Psaltiras.
"It's a lot more fun for men to wear a suit or a tuxedo now because there are so many more options," she said. "Some of my clients used to fight wearing a suit or a tuxedo, but everyone embraces the opportunity to get dressed up much more so than they did."
Psaltiras said the key to both looks was attention to proportion and detail. In Ferguson's unusual plaid, "the fabric was so beautiful," she said, while the muted lapels and trim, done in grosgrain rather than the usual satin, added subtle finesse.
For Parsons, the velvet jacket with the sweeping peak lapels from the English clothier Hackett immediately stood out when they were considering the choices before the awards.
"Jim is a taller guy and knew he could pull off that bigger lapel. In combination with the navy velvet, it made him look classic and elegant like an old movie star," she said. The choice was also a bit of a fashion risk because it was a dinner jacket paired with unmatched formal trousers, standing in for the traditional tuxedo suiting. "He's young and cool-looking," Psaltiras added, "and he can get away with something like that."
Parsons'choice reflected the two biggest trends going in formalwear now — the color navy and the velvet dinner jacket.
Navy is "dark enough that it doesn't stand out, but it has a little something extra," said Garth Condit, stylist for Tim McGraw, whom he outfitted in a Dior Homme navy tuxedo with ultra slim proportions for the Country Music Awards last month. Similarly, Kellan Lutz stood out from the pack at the "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2" premiere in a Robert Cavalli tux with navy satin lapels.
As for the velvet evening jacket, its versatility is key, since it can be dressed up with the traditional formal accouterments or dressed down with an open shirt and a pair of dark indigo jeans for holiday parties.
"This season we came up with the term 'formal remix' to describe the new creative spirit in formalwear," said Saks Fifth Avenue vice president and men's fashion director Eric Jennings. Besides velvet jackets from new names such as Carr and Sand, the store is emphasizing hybrid tux-influenced styles such as DSquared's olive silk dinner jacket with a denim vest insert or Hudson's waxed cotton jeans with a formal stripe down the side.
"The mash-up of formal and casual is a huge trend right now, and designers like Michael Bastian are leading the way," said Tyler Thoreson, vice president of editorial and creative for Gilt Man, referring to Bastian's tux-influenced take on the classic tweed sport jacket, fashioned with contrasting lapels.
Finally, if you're looking to inject just a little note of formality into your holiday party attire, stylist Psaltiras has a little advice: embrace the bow tie, even if you're not wearing a tuxedo.
"It's a great way to mix up a traditional outfit with a funky pattern or fabric," she said. Bow ties were once considered nerdy, she said.
"But now it's super-cool choice."