Tuxedo alternatives

Variation and unique twists redefine the standard Oscar uniform

Male fashion at the Academy Awards is predicated upon the tuxedo, not an easy foundation for individual style. It is, though, an elegant workhorse — consistently appropriate, and in the right hands, ingeniously expressive. Stars have been depending on and redefining the tux for years.

Basically a uniform, the tuxedo has found variation in its fabrics, silhouettes, lengths, colors and detailing. In 1953, Frank Sinatra made a stylish impression in his very silky sharkskin tuxedo when he won his best supporting actor Oscar for “From Here to Eternity.” Sammy Davis Jr. changed the standard tux design with his black velvet Nehru jacket and love beads at the 1968 Academy Awards. When Daniel Day-Lewis picked up his actor award for his work in “My Left Foot” in 1989, he dramatically took the tuxedo back in time, wearing an Edwardian frock coat, velvet vest and floppy bow tie.

Many of the unique twists we have seen at the Academy Awards over the years have come from designer Giorgio Armani, who works with actors to design distinctive tuxes.

“It is always interesting to see someone incorporate something personal into his ensemble,” says Armani. “I enjoy the process of collaboration to come up with the perfect blend that allows an actor’s personality to be the focus, rather than the outfit.”

Samuel L. Jackson has worn longer, colorful velvet tuxedos to the Oscars the last two years, both collaborations with Armani.

“Jackson wears clothes so well with his frame and his stature that he is able to carry off things that would overwhelm other people,” says Armani. “The long tuxedo coat he wore at the 2001 Academy Awards was inspired by the sleek masculinity his character possessed in ‘Shaft.’ ”

Many personal touches have an interesting background. Mel Gibson researched his family’s tartan and wore a vest made of it to the Oscars in 1996, displaying familial pride and slyly referencing his movie “Braveheart.”

“What an actor wears on a big night such as the Academy Awards should make him feel comfortable and reflect the image he wants to project,” says Armani. “Sometimes a certain role can inspire the clothing he wears for an appearance, or it can be something in his personality or even his beliefs, as in the case of Woody Harrelson’s tuxedo made from hemp fiber. It is a very individual process with no set formula.”

Fashion faux pas

But there is always the danger of creating a fashion stalemate instead of making a fashion statement.

“One of the mistakes that I see happening a lot at the Oscars is that many celebrities have advisers who pushed them to wear designer’s clothes that don’t have the best fit for their bodies,” says Stefano Tonchi, creative fashion director for Esquire magazine. “You must have the personality and the body to wear them, the right attitude if you decide to go for something that is not classic.”

Kevin Spacey’s white Armani tuxedo, worn to the Academy Awards in 1996, didn’t work in Tonchi’s eyes. “It was not something that I would recommend,” he says. “You can always get confused with somebody who is serving drinks. You have to be very careful with white tuxedos.”

Tonchi is predicting more changes this year: “I forecast some people wearing short jackets with tails. At many of the shows in Europe, designers like Gucci and Ralph Lauren presented those. It’s a new jacket, a new take.”