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The new rules of men’s formal wear

Ahead, stylist Martin Gregory Jerez outfits models Clayton Hunter and Mitch Ferrin in Louis Vuitton Men’s New Formal Collection and gives the lowdown on dressing up.

This article is part of the Out January/February issue, which hits newsstands on February 6. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News on January 23.

You’re invited to an event that requires formal wear. What are the essentials to wear?
First and foremost, a well-tailored suit by an exceptional tailor is a must. If you don’t already have a tailor on call, do an online search for “best tailors near me” because, trust me, it will be the best decision you will ever make in terms of formal wear and fit. In terms of cost, I have found some of my favorite suits at secondhand stores for under $200 and used the remainder of my budget to tailor it exactly to my liking.

Which accessories can be added as a flourish?
There are so many options. A tie can always bring a suit together if it’s feeling pretty drab, but I am absolutely obsessed with the staple accessory’s forgotten adornment — vintage tie clips! You can get tie clips at almost any vintage menswear store in variations of metal, color, and shape for under $20. My personal favorites include a silver tie clip with an m on it and an art deco gold clip with a red ruby gemstone adorning the center.

If you’re not favoring a tie, you can try for an ascot (or simply turn your tie into an ascot — because what people don’t see under your dress shirt, they don’t need to know). I also love the idea of adding decorative pins or a boutonniere on the lapel of your blazer. A beautiful flower shouldn’t just be for prom or a wedding; it’s time to scrap that rule. I used to collect golden bee pins and place them strategically along my lapel as if they were flying up to my neck in a lackadaisical pattern. If these tips are a little too fantastical for your liking, try adding a pair of sunglasses or a great hat!

So the necktie isn’t over?
Absolutely not! As a consistent formal wear rule-breaker, I almost always wear my suits with no shirt or tie. But on occasion, I do love pairing a white shirt with a loud, unsuspecting tie. I have recently been collecting a lot of designer vintage ties and adding them not only into my formal wear but also with V-neck cable-knit sweaters — a collegiate throwback that should be incorporated in your staple wardrobe!

Many celebs have ditched the dress shirt to go bare-chested with suits and tuxedos. What tips would you give to men who want to go this route?
Make sure you trim your body hair and moisturize your chest and neck! If the suiting is subtle, don’t be afraid to pair with a necklace or accessorize the lapel.

A lot of men would hesitate to wear anything beyond a white shirt and a dark suit. What’s advice would you give to someone who wanted to take that first step beyond the traditional?
Baby steps are quite all right when venturing out into the world of rebellious formal wear. Instead of a dark suit, try suits with lighter color palettes or subtle textured prints in the families of gray/blue or earth tones. I just recently attended a wedding where a guest wore a light gray wool knit three-piece suit, and he looked so amazing that a stroke of jealousy hit me! My partner isn’t too adventurous with formal wear, but I have gotten him comfortable with the idea of playing with plaid patterns in darker tones. He has a midnight blue plaid suit that he pairs with a lighter blue plaid shirt and a darker blue plaid tie. Of course, finding coordinating plaids can be tough — but a lot of stores carry these subtle patterns in a plethora of options!

The menswear skirt is here to stay. What’s the best way to rock one?
I love skirts, and I believe you can wear them any way you desire — long, short, drapey, pleated, asymmetrical. The skirt world is your oyster. A classic kilt is always great with a fitted blazer. Pairing a shorter, complementary skirt with a suit could add a chic touch to your overall look.

Is it ever inappropriate to experiment with formal wear?
I don’t think experimenting is ever inappropriate, but if you can’t carry your sartorial decisions with confidence, then it will spark controversial commentary — so be prepared to not be bothered with others’ opinions — because all they are doing is projecting their own insecurities onto you. And that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Which formal wear looks (and their designers) have excited you on the runway lately?
Willy Chavarria is one of my favorite current designers that has taken quintessentially Americana formal wear and has transformed it into the brand’s personal Chicano twist with delicately exaggerated proportions and delicate fabrics and colors. Amplified proportions prove to enhance the oversized silhouettes — the shoulders are exaggerated, the lapels are oversized, and the legs are widened — but the waistline is cinched for the gods. The boutonnieres are oversized flowers in silk fabric that almost grow out of your shoulder like a rose that grew from concrete (yes, that’s a Tupac Shakur reference — Chavarria did in fact grow up in California and implies West Coast references in his design). Every formal wear piece is perfectly romantic and sublime.

I also love the designers Reid Baker and Ines Amorim behind the American-Portuguese brand Ernest W. Baker. The brand reinterprets vintage fashion moments, such as New Year’s Eve Studio 54, and turns them into contemporary and iconic suiting options. I recently purchased an Ernest W. Baker pinstripe suit that came with — are you ready for it? Shorts! I wore the short suit during Paris Fashion Week with black latex boots (also by Ernest W. Baker) and the outfit was an absolute hit on the streets and at the shows. In addition, their designs are reasonably priced and the quality is superb.

Any final formal wear DOs and DON’Ts for our readers?
Do not be afraid to try something new, different, and fun. Add a hat, throw on a pair of (sun)glasses, tuck in a contrasting pocket square — don’t hesitate to accessorize!

Do try to mix and match unlikely fabrics and patterns in similar or contrasting colors and see what flows.

What are some resources for those who want to learn more about formal wear?
Go on street style blogs or any media coverage focused on Pitti Immagine Uomo, the Italian menswear platform held in Florence twice a year. Pitti Uomo began in 1972, and I believe there are years of timeless sartorial inspiration to discover.


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