The flicks
Casablanca: a lesson in ivory eveningwear
By Charlie Thomas
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A man never looks better than when he’s wearing Black Tie. The most elegant of dress codes, it invites the wearer to embrace a bygone era of elegance and sophistication, clad in a barathea dinner jacket with grosgrain facings and covered buttons, a fine voile evening shirt and, more often than not, silk bow tie to match. But despite the moniker, it’s a common misconception that Black Tie must by default be black. In fact, it’s often better if it’s not.

When it comes to evening dress, the world’s best known Black Tie aficionado, Ian Fleming’s 007, often chooses to wear anything but black, both in the books and the films. In 1962’s Dr No, the first scene in which we see a celluloid Bond, Sean Connery wears a midnight blue shawl collar dinner jacket – setting a trend for many non-black Black Tie appearances for Mr Bond. Twenty years earlier still, in 1942, another dark-haired, mysterious figure can be seen breaking Black Tie convention on the silver screen. What is more, he wears what is perhaps the most iconic eveningwear ensemble in movie history.

Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine, the lead in the Oscar-winning romance Casablanca holds, without question, the title for the best Black Tie appearance in all of cinema. And he did it while wearing ivory. Bogart was not a tall man. Listed at only five-feet six-inches in height, he was hardly blessed with an intimidating physique and often his female co-stars would tower over him, yet in Casablanca you’d never know it, thanks to his ivory dinner jacket.

A “two-by-four” double-breasted design, with two buttons to fasten the jacket and four on-show, it buttoned just above Bogart’s hip-line. This allowed its elongated shawl lapels to sweep across the chest and abdomen, creating an optical illusion and lengthening Bogart’s figure. The jacket was also cut to a relatively short length, showing plenty of trouser, so his legs looked longer than they really were. This combination results in an elegant silhouette that defies his short stature in the film, helped further by some creative cinematography. This lends him a domineering air, suited to his rough-and-ready character. A five-foot-six arms dealer? It just doesn’t sound right, does it? Well, that’s the power of good tailoring.

Beneath the jacket, sits another star of the show; the perfect white dress shirt. Bogart spends the film with his jacket buttoned-up, so we only see so much of his shirt, but those flashes of detail we do get reveal his superior taste level. The shirt’s collar is cut close to the neck with deep points that help his black satin bow tie to stand proud on the neck; it’s an usual shape, which helps to slim down the face and blend the shirt into his jacket’s length shawl lapels. Moreover, peer closely and you’ll see that the shirt itself is almost translucent, so fine is the cloth he’s sporting. Whether a voile or zephir, it’s impossible to tell, but we can say in all confidence that Bogart is cool as a cucumber thanks to his wise choice of featherweight shirting, even in the heat of a Moroccan summer (or a Californian summer, where the movie was filmed).

Finally, his shirt is trimmed with a French placket on its front, with white mother-of-pearl buttons on show – an unusual touch. Often, a dinner shirt will be cut to wear with dress studs, or else with a covered placket, but the simplicity of this design works perfectly with Rick’s off-white tuxedo.

Why so? Well, said jacket does away with silk facings and covered buttons, which reduces its formality. In fact, it’s relatively minimal, with two simple jetted pockets up front and a ventless back, the only adornment being a matching ivory pocket square. The shirt and bow tie combination are simple too, but perfectly executed. It’s an iconic ensemble, this, made to look easy by one of the all-time masters of menswear.

You don’t have to be a master to try it though, and if you want to stand out among a sea of black penguin suits, ivory remains a suitably debonair and daring option.

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