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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

On dinner dates, dress codes and donning formal attire

Courtesy Photo

I love dressing up for a night on the town.

I don’t mean nice-shirt-and-slacks dressing up; I mean the kind involving gowns and tuxedos.

Case in point: last week, my wife and I attended the Atlantic Cape Restaurant Gala. It was the site of our first date, lo these many years ago, and—COVID-19 postponements notwithstanding—we have made an effort to attend just about every year since.

It’s a black-tie affair, and we take that dress code very seriously: stunning gown for her, and a tuxedo for me.

(With black-tie events, the tie doesn’t strictly need to be black; as long as it’s not white—those are reserved for white-tie events—they can be any color. Good thing, too, as I traditionally match my tie and pocket square with Robyn’s gown; in this case, emerald green.)

What amazes me, though—and I suppose I should issue an incoming snobbery alert—is how many people either don’t know or don’t care what “black tie” means.

Though the vast majority of attendees do arrive in black tuxedos (one year I turned many a head because I wore a white jacket with my black tie, but modern convention says that such attire is acceptable), I’m always amazed how many people wear light-colored suits, sport coats with khakis or—perhaps worst of all—polo shirts with no jacket or tie whatsoever.

I understand that renting a tuxedo for one night can be considered a frivolous way to spend one’s money, particularly since you’re wearing clothes and shoes that have been worn by who knows how many people before you, but if you’re attending a black-tie event, look the part.

I once had a conversation on this topic with a friend of mine who, understandably, was not a fan of renting tuxedos. I said that I just had to pull mine out of the closet.

“Wait; you own a tuxedo?” he asked.

“You don’t?” I replied.

In other words: go buy a tuxedo.

I know how that sounds, but hear me out, and I’ll let you in on my secret.

Many moons ago, when another friend was getting married, we looked into the cost of renting a tuxedo versus buying one. At the time, JCPenney was actually running a sale, so the entire bridal party bought theirs for far cheaper than the price of a rental.

That tuxedo served me well until I lost a considerable amount of weight; once it looked like I was a child who raided his father’s closet, I reasoned it was time to buy a new one.

My wife—whose catchphrase is “Robyn doesn’t pay full price for anything”—had a stroke of genius: choir tuxedos.

There are plenty of websites that offer value tuxedos for choir members, and they look good. I mean, they’re not Armani, but nobody’s going to give it a second glance. The aforementioned white jacket (also a choir tux) notwithstanding, a properly fitted and well-worn tuxedo will blend into a sea of black jackets, with nary a second thought about designers or lack thereof.

That’s a good thing, too, because, unless you’re the guest of honor at a black-tie event, you don’t want to stand out because of your wardrobe.

(Gowns, however, should be eye-catching and thus are a different matter altogether, but, because I am nowhere near as well-versed on the proper etiquette associated with such, I’ll kindly keep my mouth shut on the topic.)

Now, I’ve got formal attire for virtually every occasion: black tie events, white tie affairs and even Dracula cosplay (though I haven’t bit the bullet to get a jacket with tails yet).

I own several tuxedo jackets (in black, white and a rather snazzy silver that some of you may have noticed in a prior “Blueberry Skies” episode) and trousers (my waist fluctuates between winter and summer, and one never knows when the invitation to a black-tie affair will come in the mail), along with vests, ties and pocket squares in a variety of colors—and none of it broke the bank.

Truth be told, I’m reasonably certain that the combined total of my formalwear is less than what I paid the last time I actually bought a good suit.

Finding an event where such attire is required can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s rewarding, because dressing to the nines is fun. In my day-to-day, I went from farming blueberries to digging graves, so I’ll gladly snatch any opportunity to clean myself up and step out with my baby.

Now if I could just find an event where I can wear my top hat...

Joseph F. Berenato holds a Master’s in Writing from Rowan University and has been writing for The Hammonton Gazette—to varying degrees—since 1997. He is a trustee with the Historical Society of Hammonton and a caretaker at Oak Grove Cemetery. You can email him at or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.


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