Evening Clothes of a Gentleman, Vol. 8, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer: Please advise regarding the proper shoes with a tuxedo. My husband wears one often and wears plain black lace up shoes with it, but isn't it proper to wear a slip-on shoe with a tux? I saw a tuxedoed gentleman wearing a pair of black and white wingtips and heaven help me, husband thought it looked great. Since he wears a tux several times a year, I would be willing to invest in the proper shoes. Also, I assume black socks are appropriate? I just want him to be proper when he is wearing his tux.

Dear Wifely:

Good heavens! Unless your husband is appearing as the late Cab Calloway (may he rest in peace), black and white wingtips are exactly what NOT to wear with black tie. ("Black tie," by the way, is the Perfectly Proper way to say "tux.")

A dear friend of Etiquetteer's, whose late father was a model gentleman of Old New York, taught Etiquetteer that the most Perfectly Proper shoes for a gentleman to wear with black tie were black patent leather laceups. Plain black socks -- Etiquetteer prefers knee-high socks to avoid the Unseemly Exposure of Brawny Shins -- are most correct. You'd never know it, but a gentleman' evening clothes are supposed to keep him from standing out, not call attention to him.

That notion gets stood on its ear when "creative black tie" shows up on an invitation. This invites gentlemen to accessorize within the theme of the occasion. Usually gentlemen will slip into a colored waistcoat and tie, less often a colored shirt or socks. Sometimes a boutonniere so large it's really a corsage is added (certainly not in the best of taste on ordinary occasions), sometimes outrageous jewelry. Some examples Etiquetteer recalls:


  • A red and white Hawaiian shirt worn open-necked with a tuxedo.
  • Green velvet slip-ons with gold fox heads on them worn with a tuxedo.
  • (From a photograph in the New York Times back in 2000): a white dinner jacket, white tux shirt and black tie, worn with a plaid sarong (severely pressed and folded for modesty) and flip flops.
  • And at a nautical costume ball, a gentleman in black tie wearing a squid headdress. This doesn't seem so remarkable until one considers the tentacle protruding from his zipper and wrapped round his right thigh.
Indeed, if you looked in Etiquetteer's closet right now, you'd find a red Shantung silk vest whipped up for a ball several years ago with three rosettes: one to substitute for a bow tie, the other two for Etiquetteer's black patent leather laceups. If Etiquetteer had thought about it at the time, red sock might have been appropriate . . . but it might also have been too much of a good thing.