Dear Mr. Molloy:
I just rented a black tuxedo that I will wear with a white shirt. The only reason I chose that one is that’s my image of a tuxedo. I’ve been seeing them on TV and in the movies all my life.
Until last month I had never worn either a tuxedo or a dinner jacket. As a field engineer who has recently moved into management I’ve learned that formal attire must become a part of my wardrobe. In my new position, I will have more responsibility and will earn considerably more than I did in the past. I will be working at headquarters and there it is mandatory to join a very exclusive country club. Frankly, I’d rather not but I have no choice.
Last week I attended a meeting for new members and was handed a schedule of next Spring’s events. The first thing I noticed was many of the events were formal. I think it’s time for me to buy my own tuxedo. When I arrived at the store to buy it I assumed all tuxedos were black, but apparently not. I already noticed that many members were not wearing black tuxedos, but a majority seem to be.
Once the clerk found out that I belonged to the best country club in town, he showed me a deep maroon dinner jacket and a tuxedo in tones of gray. I said no to his suggestion, however my wife said she talked to the other women whose husbands belonged to the club and they all said that black tuxedos were worn by the old timers.
When I returned to the store I tried on that maroon dinner jacket. It was not and never will be me. I decided to purchase a black tuxedo and a traditional white dinner jacket over my wife’s objections.
Was she right?
I am not sure whether your wife is right because in casual and sometimes avant-garde California she may be. However, I never knew anyone to get in trouble wearing a black tuxedo and an appropriate white shirt. If you move to any other state I suspect that you’ll disappear in a sea of black tuxedos. Nevertheless, I am certain I am right because from a statistical point of view the odds are in your favor. When a fellow researcher who regularly reviews my work read your letter he showed pictures of men in different colored tuxedos at a company meeting in California. He said he did this because he was attending a meeting and every one in his company wears only black tuxedos. Since he showed the pictures I gave him to a crowd in a very traditional company to men dressed very traditionally obviously the black tuxedo tested best.
However, when he followed up with the question what would you think of a man wearing a tux of any other color? Their answers were very telling. Their printable answers went from tasteless to low class. Their semi-printable ones were idiot, jackass, clown etc. You will have to guess what the unprintable answers might have been. What was so significant was they judged the man by the tuxedo he wore and I think some of their judgments would eliminate anyone wearing a nontraditional tuxedo from becoming a member of their group. To be ostracized even mentally in a business-social environment would be a disadvantage both in business and socially. Remember when you’re at the club you’ll be meeting clients from all over the world and they will bring their standards with them and make similar judgments.
Further research indicates that on most formal occasions it is best to wear traditional attire. Of course, that means a black tuxedo. Since you are new in your position I think it’s essential to maintain a constant image with your coworkers. The majority of us are more likely to trust and believe others whose visual image is consistent. In short, consistency means credibility particularly when that person is new and members of the community have not had a chance to make up their mind about him.
I mentioned before that white shirts tested best, by white shirts I mean those with a rich, elegant and simple design, with straight pleats no ruffles. Those shirts require using studs or traditional simple gold and onyx cufflinks. You also will need a black bow tie (if you don’t know how to tie a bow tie you can wear a clip on but I suggest you learn. There are simple instructions in my “Dress for Success” book.) In addition, you will need black patent leather shoes, black sheer executive length socks, and black-and-white suspenders.
As an afterthought, my friend asked that gathering what was the most common mistake made by men wearing formal wear. Their surprising answer was that men occasionally wore tuxedos with stains on them to affairs where being crisp and neat is expected. When he followed up with did you ever do that? Most admitted they had. What happened in most cases was when they got home after a formal affair usually late in the evening they hung up their tuxedos without looking at them. When they were going to the next formal affair they took them out, put them on and ran out the door. Don’t do that.