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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Black Tie Only

Of all the cities in the world that host an international film award and have formal social gatherings, Taipei probably has the least number of tuxedo per capita. The modern day dinner jacket or the American tuxedo has been in existence for over a hundred years, but it has never caught on with the men in Taipei. In Taipei, if the invitation to an event says "Black Tie Only" and you show up wearing a tuxedo, you might be the only black tie at the table.

I don't know why men in Taipei are so anti-formal. Perhaps one day a sociologist will be able to explain the rationale to me. Our society has deep cultural roots with many traditions, and cares greatly about giving respects to others. But we have thrown formality in clothing to the wayside. Most men simply don't care to dress appropriately for the occasion. It is not a question of style, but a complete lack of desire to make any effort.

Recently by chance, I watched the broadcast of the Golden Horse Awards. I was appalled by the clothing of the men who attended the award ceremony. Most of the men didn't show up in any kind of formal wear; they projected a sense of I don't give a damn about this award and I'd rather be elsewhere.

This year's show opened with a tribute to the director Edward Yang 楊德昌 and his movie, A Brighter Summer Day 牯嶺街少年殺人事件. An old image of the elegant young director dressed in a tuxedo was projected on the stage.

But the people, mostly men, who worked on the film twenty-five years ago paying tribute to the director were sloppily dressed. Of all the men on stage, there was only one black tie. A few men were in jeans and t-shirts and looked like they just dropped off their kids for a weekend play date and on their way to brunch. Golden Horse Awards invited jury members from abroad and is an opportunity for Taiwan to display its soft power, yet this is the image we project to the rest of the world?

The image also shows the discrepancy between men and women. Most women, not all, were dressed for the occasion. With the awards show in Taipei now following the format of the awards show in the U.S, women know they are the focus of attention. Many actresses sauntered down the red carpet in garbs sponsored by designers. Overall, none of the dresses had the wow factor, and I didn't like some of the outfits, such as the Vera Wang dress worn by Ariel Lin. However, while the dresses didn't dazzle, the women put in a lot of effort. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the men.

The appearance, I don't think we can call it fashion nor style, of the men at this year's award ran the gamut. In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, screenwriter Chang Yung Hsiang went with the business suit and the power red tie. He even followed the the new U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's style by extending the tie way below the belt.

The three men who accepted the award for Best Visual Effect didn't really care about their own visual effects. Three men in three different color suits. They looked like they were accepting some awards at their local Rotary Club lunch gathering.

Best Art Direction went to Chao Shih Hao who accepted the award dressed in a red turtleneck, long hooded zipper jacket,  and baggy jeans. Perhaps he thought he was accepting an award in Silicon Valley. Unless you are a billionaire and a founder of a global internet company, wear a tuxedo.

Many men showed up in suits but in an half-hearted manner. The last award of the night went to the director Zhang Dalei of Summer is Gone. Tieless with an open collar white shirt, the two adults looked like they just finished work at a funeral home. Of all the three people on stage, only the ten-year old took the Golden Horse Award seriously. Most people didn't see the broadcast and wouldn't remember the content of the winner's long-winded speech, but would probably see the image on the day after as it was transmitted throughout the Mandarin-speaking world.

Every half hour or so during the broadcast, I would come across a few men dressed in tuxedos. However, many of them were actors from Hong Kong or Korea, such as Michael Hui and Song Seung Heon. Visitors treated the Golden Horse with the respect it deserves while local participants didn't.

Tuxedo makes a man look good as it hides the faults and elevates his stature. While men's formal wear is not as interesting as women's ball gowns, there is still a large number of subtle variations that can express a wearer's personality and style. The best examples are the different dinner jackets worn by the actors playing James Bond. Just compare Sean Connery in Dr. No in 1962 and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale in 2006: midnight blue or black; grosgrain or silk; shawl collar or peak lapel; studded or concealed placket; pleated or plain front; diamond pointed bowtie or straight butterfly. The beauty of the tuxedo is that it never goes out of style.

When the Taiwanese director Ang Lee accepted his Academy Award he wore a tuxedo. Imagine if he had accepted the award wearing a pair of jeans and t-shirt, what kind of message about the people of Taiwan would that send to the world? As a resident of his home country I would be embarrassed.

Formal wear does not necessarily have to be a tuxedo. For people who are uncomfortable with wearing a tuxedo or fear of being accused of cultural appropriation, do what Jackie Chan did at this year's Academy Awards; go old school and wear a traditional long robe. The alternative is the Zhongshan suit. Both options are better than a tie-less suit.

The writer Feng Menglong (1574–1645) in the Ming dynasty wrote, 佛是金裝,人是衣裝, roughly translated as, Just as the Buddha needs gold paint, people need to wear clothes. In the west William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote in Hamlet, For the apparel oft proclaims the man. Both men made observation about the importance of clothing at around the same time. While the world of fashion has evolved and the society has become increasingly casual with clothing, the West still dresses for the occasion. Dressing up is not just about looking good but about showing respect to the host and the occasion. Regrettably the men in Taipei has mostly forgotten the importance of clothing. 


  1. You very rarely get it wrong. You are so right, I need to write a story about this too. Thanks for the entertainment and insight. jules

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