The very point of dinner dress - that it represents an adherence to rules, the man being the blank canvas against which his lady companion shines - is evolving.
'Tying up my white tie, brushin' off my tails' sang Fred Astaire, and though he might have shuddered in his patent lace-ups, it would seem the modern age's emphasis on the power of the individual, and the need to broadcast that individuality, is seeing those rules come under fire.
‘Creative black-tie': the mode of thinking that has become the new norm, dividing the classicists from the experimentalists.
They call it 'creative black-tie': the term employed since celebrities first started appearing at red-carpet events having taken the invitation's dress code literally and worn a black tie, rather than dressing in black-tie.
Like it or not, this is the mode of thinking that has become the new norm, dividing the classicists from the experimentalists. Consider the recent Golden Globes by way of example.
The experimenters all looked sharp in their way - Clive Owen's black trousers, white dress shirt, standard black-tie and green velvet evening jacket struck the best chord between respectful and distinctive - but they also fuel the debate as to how diluted black-tie can become before it no longer reflects the term. Aside from whether they leave those who are dressed in something Astaire would have approved of feeling as though they look frumpy rather than impeccable, it encourages a kind of tuxedo arms race - who will push the rules hardest? The Oscars will undoubtedly show us the good, the bad and the positively misguided.
1956 heralded 'supersonic separates', the 1960s greeted the continental cross-over tie; by the 1970s, black-tie rebellion was in full swing.
Indeed, if such rules are there only to be broken, it might look as though the red carpet is heralding the end of black-tie altogether. But the fact is, while we imagine traditional dinner dress to be fixed à la Cary Grant, it too has always evolved: 1956 heralded what Esquire dubbed 'supersonic separates', matching black trousers with space-age metallic jackets in neon and ice-cream shades; the 1960s saw the advent of the continental cross-over tie, a silk strip overlapping and buttoning where the knot used to be; and by the 1970s, black-tie rebellion was in full swing.
Back then, a better-seller called Dress Right advised that, as long as a guest wears 'something formal,' black-tie actually means the 'style or colour is beside the point.' Enter Edwardian jackets, flouncy cuffs, even crushed velvet. As they say, there's nothing new in fashion - not even on the red carpet.