Trad Mannerisms: The Nature of Formality


I attended a few semi-to-formal events this past semester (which was my toughest yet, sorry for the hiatus.) Knowing what to wear and how to dress for such occasions is a cornerstone for the young collegiate trad. Gone are the days where a simple tucked in over sized shirt borrowed from Dad and pleated khakis are sufficient for your aunt’s wedding.

Dressing well and paying attention to the details gives you an air of manliness and can set you apart from the rest of your friends wearing baggy khakis and a pair of Billfish Sperries to the Sorority crush dance.

Doing so will always get you noticed, and as you may have guessed, I deeply enjoy dressing up as it’s my excuse to break away from the ordinary. It is your opportunity to assert your sartorial knowledge and swag. Dressing well can certainly help improve your image. Illustrated from these past few months, I’ve received countless compliments from my lady friends, respected admiration from older folks and professors, and was named “Best Dressed” by my fraternity. Nowadays, I’m jokingly labeled as Mr. GQ among my social circle. It’s great to be known for something, and dressing well ain’t a bad way to be summed up.

The setting and date always dictates what you can wear, and this principle is especially important for dressier occasions. As someone on the cusp of adulthood, you will have social and fraternity formals, weddings, cocktails, interviews, conventions, religious ceremonies, graduations, and so on to attend. Each individual event has its own characterized formality that offer hints of what you can get away with. The following are three happenings that I attended recently and my reasoning for each attire. A lot of thought goes into each of my outfits and putting that much effort goes a long way.

School Formal

My graduate program holds an annual winter’s ball in late January. I drove my date in my brother’s convertible and met with our dinner party at an exclusive Italian restaurant downtown. Not gonna lie, I felt awesomely Draper-ed as I sipped on my Old Fashion and conversed with my friends. The suit does that to you. Afterwards we hopped to the adjacent bar for another drink before heading to the Museum of Science and History where the ball took place. The soaring T-Rex and flying space capsules served as backdrop and gave the night a magical feel, and wearing my formal outfit gave me great confidence that evening.


Since it was still a school sponsored event, my professors were in attendance. Taking this into account, I went with a fashionably conservative outfit. My solid navy Brooks Brothers Fitzgerald suit has a streamlined cut without being overly skinny. I always recommend a spread collar, and in this case, my repp tie is a comfortable slim width, thus the collar matches by not being too wide, such as that in an Londoner spread (general rule is that the wider the spread, the larger the tie and tie knot).

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The cut of the suit makes or breaks your appearance, and is the most important factor in formal wear. There are many great guides out there that you can research yourself, but my general rules for suits are:

1) Slim but not too skinny is best for all occasions. Tie and shirt should reflect this as well.
2) Wear your chest size and have minimal shoulder padding, or if possible, TNSIL (Traditional Natural Shoulder Ivy League)
3) 2 buttons or 3/2 roll.
4) Leave enough space at your wrist to show 1/4 to 1/2 inch of your dress shirt. You may have to have a tailor take it in. This is extremely important! Nothing bothers me more than a guy wearing a nice suit with long sleeves.
5) No belt after 6pm. Belts add bulk and are more for business, not pleasure. Therefore your pants waist size should be perfect and tight enough to not droop. Or wear braces.
6) Most suits will need some sort of alteration. Have the tailor take in the sides, and if need be, the arms.
7) Slim flat front pants to match the slim jacket. If you have a large drop, as in my case a 10-drop (such as my 42 chest and 32 waist), your pants may need to be heavily altered or re-cut. I’d actually recommend buying suiting separates if you have a large drop to save you the worry.
8) No break. Personally I enjoy a trad friendly cuff on suits which help weigh down a shorter inseam.
9) Accessories: engine-turned or solid silver tie clip, white pocket square, dress watch with black leather band, black polished captoe shoes are my staples.
10) If it is your first suit, go with a navy 2 buttoned suit. No hate for the grey, but it’s slightly more common than navy (but anything is better than black!). Janie Bryant, the costume director of Mad Men, once said that she always dressed Pete, the aspiring young executive on the TV show, in shades of blue because it represents youthfulness. Perfect for the young trad embarking on the world.
11) Polished shoes. Straight lacing.
12) You may have to fight with your tailor to get your way. These professionals unfortunately tailor for the unaware masses, and you are much more knowledgeable and have a better eye for aesthetics. I had to convince the tailor at Brooks Brothers over and over that I indeed wanted no break on my pants, to keep my jacket arm length short enough at the wrist, and to slim down the whole suit. It made a rather uncomfortable experience, and I have many similar stories to tell! But remember that you are the customer at the end of the day.

Because it was still Winter, although a mild one, I wore my Brooks Brothers rain overcoat (which is my only proper overcoat anyway) and a white cashmere scarf. It’s appropriate to wear a white scarf to contrast a black tuxedo, as seen by Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, and I adopted the practice for my dark navy suit.

Once your formal wardrobe expands, you can start experimenting with more style and color combinations. I love the way walnut wingtips look with a medium blue suit, for example. This Brooks Brothers dark navy suit is my first real suit (to replace my starter Macy’s line Alfani that I got rid of a long time ago), and my only suit as of this moment. I can wear it to interviews, formals, and if need be, funerals. My future suit plans, in order of purchase, will be a “fashion forward” urban-prep slim charcoal or sharkskin (i.e. RL Black Label or BB Milano), a medium grey flannel (i.e. J. Press), a khaki for the summer, and a tweed for the winter. But I will always recommend a navy 2 button suit for your first initial purchase.

It’s hard to pinpoint the specific trad mannerisms, but they are there. Minimal shoulder padding, short break with a cuff, repp tie. But other than that, the overall rules for formal wear and trad are really just the same. Meaning there is no clear distinction and it’s best to focus on looking good and sexy. It’s not like you have to consciously be trad 100% of the time. Be sleek and simple and you’ll win.

The running theme of this blog is that nice clothes can be cheap (See: Part III). In this case, even my best formal ensemble was put together on a budget.

Brooks Brothers Navy Solid Fitzgerald, USA, $500 via Brooks Brothers Post-Christmas sale (originally $1000) minus $200 via Christmas gift card from family.
Club Room spread collar slim fit dress shirt, $15 on sale, Macy’s
Bostonian Black Captoe Shoes (confession: I don’t own the fashion standard Allen Edmonds Park Avenues just yet, but one day soon I’ll replace these Bostonians as my dressy shitkickers), $90 minus $50 via gift card, Belk
Tommy Hilfiger wide repp 3 1/4″ tie (I like this style because it is reminiscent of the 1950s Madison Ave look, especially this classic dark red and navy color scheme), $12 on sale, Macy’s
Engine turned silver tie clip, gift
Pocket Square, inherited from my father
Bucherer Swiss Watch with black faux crocodile leather, inherited from my father
Brooks Brothers Regent rain overcoat, $70, Garland NC factory store
Ralph Lauren Cashmere scarf, Italy, $30 on sale, Belk

Fraternity Spring Formal

For social and greek events, I let the occasion speak for itself. Collegiate events like these are meant to be fun and you can get away with wearing semi-formal attire such as a blazer and chinos. This year’s fraternity formal took place at the beach town of Wilmington, NC in late March, and so I wore loud colors to celebrate the atmosphere and warm climate. I wore this same outfit to Easter as well.

What makes a semi-formal festive trad mannerism? Letting your inner preppiness come out and combining it with the tradly garb. GTH colors, sockless pennies, reversible bowtie.

A few things to take notice. The madras is accentuated by the reversible #4 repp side of the bowtie. Barefoot pennies. Gold accents from the aviators, blazer buttons, and surcingle belt buckle…speaking of which, why it’s so important to have a navy surcingle in your belt collection, as it serves to ground the Nanny Red while exemplifying the warm climate with its cotton material.

Another reason why I chose not to wear a suit is because it was a warm evening, and we went clubbing and bar hopping downtown after the dinner. I didn’t want to get my suit ruined by spilled drinks and sweat, and even left my blazer at my hotel room and strolled down the boardwalk in just my bowtie. I normally don’t remove the jacket if it was a regular long tie, but a bowtie can be inherently casual and “fun”. The bowtie and Nanny combo got me a lot of high fives from random dudes and twinkled glances from pretty ladies.

J. Press Blazer, USA
LL Bean OCBD
Brooks Brothers reversible bowtie, USA
Lands End Nanny Reds
Lands End surcingle belt
Cole Haan penny loafers
American Optical Original Pilot aviators, USA
Seiko 5 watch
Graduation
I still have a while to go before I adorn the cap and gown, but I attended my program’s graduation this weekend to say farewell to my upperclassmen friends. I am pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy and our academic regalia is symbolized by an olive green hood. For this occasion, I wore my olive green Brooks Brothers Argyle and Sutherland to match the pomp and circumstance. (Funny enough, I lent my bow tie with school colors to a friend, and he received numerous compliments including from the President of the University. That bastard stole my show!).
In case you haven’t noticed, I wear a Navy Blazer to many of my semi-formal events. It is a huge staple in your wardrobe and the reason why I suggest investing in a good one. The navy blazer has an academic tradition and was a perfect fit for graduation.

I don’t like the idea of wearing lace ups without socks, as I do with loafers and pennies, so I matched the shoe color with tan dress socks. Anything darker would take away from the summer feel of the seersucker pants.

J. Press Blazer, USA
LL Bean OCBD
BB Argyle and Sutherland tie, USA
BB Hudson fit seersucker pants
Trafalgar Engine Turned Plaque and dark brown Calf belt strap
J. Crew Socks
Cole Haan saddle bucks, vintage, USA
Bucherer Swiss Watch with black faux crocodile leather