Things got crazy on the way to the party.
Men, bored with their nice classic tuxedos, started shaking up the traditional formula. They mixed evening-wear items as casually as sportswear and pinned antique broaches where the bow ties should have been.
It didn't just happen here in Los Angeles. Fashion buyers noticed a change in the way men dressed up as long ago as last spring at the European menswear shows. Fashionable young males (on and off the runways) donned long pearls with black-tie apparel, jewelry on their jackets, sterling-silver belt buckles instead of cummerbunds. Since then, men's formal wear has hit a feverishly experimental moment.
Jean Paul Gaultier, the avant-garde French designer, created a tuxedo for holiday with long culotte pants, which of course looked like a skirt.
New York designer Fabrice, in his first formal holiday menswear collection, mixes graffiti-inspired geometric prints on tuxedo jacket and slacks. Neiman-Marcus liked the look so much that they put it in their Wilshire Boulevard window.
Other manufacturers play with prints, silhouettes and fabrics (velvet, brocade, suede and silk, for example), making standard tuxedos look alarmingly staid.
The new black-tie rules are as varied as the wearers--and their amount of nerve.
Andrew Fezza, another New York designer, says he likes to toy with the tuxedo by showing it with a suede, splash-print shirt. He also suggests wearing a white tuxedo shirt and bow tie with a cashmere cardigan and suede slacks, for a lounge-wear-inspired look.
Tommy Perse, owner of L.A.'s Maxfield boutique, says the flamboyant new face of formal wear is the result of men dressing up more, but wanting to feel less stiff.
"They'd like black-tie to be less formal, so they've introduced sportswear pieces and mixed them with new accessories," Perse says.
"Alternative evening wear gives men a way to dress up, but not be stereotyped in black tie and wing collar," Neiman-Marcus men's fashion director Colby McWilliams says. "Customers want to get away from that look."
McWilliams suggests the restless dandy try wearing a tuxedo without the cummerbund. Or collect various formal-wear pieces, all in black and white, then try any number of combinations.
For the nearly traditional, he adds, the regulation tuxedo will look more spritely with a dash of color. Choose a tie and matching cummerbund in electric blue or plum or in more subdued antique florals. That shouldn't take much nerve at all.