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SENTIMENTAL RENTALS : For an affair to remember, men are forgoing standard tuxes in favor of period pieces. As time goes by, the classic vintage of formal wear becomes even more romantic.

November 10, 1994|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Men who want to stand out in a crowd at this holiday season's black-tie galas are skipping the contemporary tux and heading back in time.

They're visiting vintage clothing stores and seeking out formal wear from parties long past. To distinguish themselves from their tuxedo-clad fellows, they're sporting everything from classic morning coats of the '20s to those scary polyester and pastel-hued tuxedos of the '70s, a favorite with young fashion iconoclasts.

Men are not only recycling vintage tuxedos but all of the frills that go with them. They're wearing Art Deco-style stud sets and cuff links, '70s-era tuxedo shirts (a fuss of ruffles and pleats), cummerbund sets in loud '60s prints, spats from the '20s and top hats from all eras.

Such out-of-date formal wear is for men who want to be different, who are trying to break away from the sameness of the black tuxedo.

"It's the uniqueness, the style, the old feel to it," says Larry Craig, co-owner of Locals Only, a vintage clothing store in Laguna Beach that carries old tuxedos and accessories. "It's like you borrowed your father's tux."

To be sure, there's nothing on the current formal wear market to compare with some of the old tuxedos. Where else but a vintage or thrift store to find a gem like a '60s-era tuxedo in a colorful brocade or paisley?

"Some formal wear from the '50s and early '60s was real flashy," Craig says. "I've got a tuxedo that's made of woven raw silk in three different colors--black, red and rust."

In the late '50s, tuxedos went from basic black or white to a riot of colors and prints.

"I've had some tuxes in a wood grain moire and taffeta," Craig says.

There's even demand for the tacky tuxedos of the '70s, with hues like peach and powder blue, their wide lapels and bell-bottom pants and their strange fabrics. Polyester and velvet jackets are not uncommon for the era. Who would wear such a tux?

"High school kids. They love them," says Michelle Sauer, owner of Ragztop-Vintage in Fullerton. "I sell a lot of lime-green tuxedos."

Men who don't want to stray quite so far from the black-tie norm can opt for more classic tuxedos that date from the 1950s to as far back as the 1800s.

In addition to the traditional tux-with-tails, there are cutaway coats that taper from the waist in front to long tails circa the 1920s and '30s. Stray Cat Vintage & Costume Store in Fullerton has a variety of these tuxedo styles for sale or rent.

"Around the holidays men like to wear them to Dickens caroling parties," says Anna Evans, co-owner of Stray Cat.

Compared to new tuxedos, vintage tuxedos are a bargain.

"It can be cheaper to buy a vintage tux than it is to rent a new one," Craig says. At Locals Only, silk tuxedo jackets cost $45 and classic white tuxedo shirts with pleated fronts go for $17.

Among Stray Cat's offerings are two tuxedos from the '60s: a black tuxedo with an olive green silk shawl collar ($30) and a pink and black plaid tuxedo jacket ($32). Ragztop has every kind of tuxedo jacket, including funky '70s tuxedos for $20 to $100, as well as tuxedo pants for about $20. Gasoline Alley's vintage tuxedos range from around $40 to $100.

Accessories such as cummerbunds, canes, hats, opera gloves and spats can be found at many of the vintage stores. Stray Cat has spats in white felt or patent leather with pearl buttons that date from the 1910s to 1940s ($8 to $12).

Locals Only has Art Deco-style sterling and enamel stud sets and cuff links from the '30s, as well as kitschy sets adorned with bowling pins and horses from the '40s and '50s ($6 to $40).

"We even have ones with tiki heads from the '60s," Craig says. For more conservative tastes, there's also sets made of mother of pearl and black onyx.

At Gasoline Alley in Orange, there are morning coats with short waists and long tails, white dinner jackets, cummerbunds, bow ties, tuxedo pants, shirts and hats that date from the 1920s to 1970s. Among the most coveted items are the brocade tuxedos from the '50s with skinny shawl collars.

"These are something nobody else is going to offer," says Dawna Saucedo, owner of Gasoline Alley.

Ragztop has tuxedo shirts in sherbet hues of raspberry, peach and lemon ($12) as well as bow ties, from skinny '50s versions to fat '70s ones, most for only a few dollars. To finish the look, try a vintage top hat--available from around $10 to $100 at most shops.

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