Husband Patrick sings all day long -- in the shower, in the car, in the front yard on the way to the mailbox. He even bursts into song in the middle of stores and restaurants. And it's not easy-listening tunes or pop ballads but full-fledged opera arias. The amount of singing he does created a singer out of our toddler who can sing in gibberish "Vesti la giubba" from the opera Pagliacci . (Think sobbing clown.) Other times the kids are not as pleased with the entertainment and yell, "too loud!" But he never hears them. Turns out that crying clown act has paid off for Patrick. At a family party a few years back, he jokingly stood up at the piano and had his professional musician brother play that difficult piece for him. He sang it well, and the family encouraged him to take lessons, which he did. Today, he has four seasons with the opera chorus under his belt, and numerous solo concert appearances. He dreams of singing in the great opera halls of Europe. My dream is to find him a tuxedo. He has grown out of the tux he bought five years ago, and next week he will be singing in a concert in Pasadena. I know we'll end up $500 poorer if I send him out to buy one. Salesmen smell blood when Patrick walks into a store. So I've taken the job on myself.
I started my search with a call to A Nite on the Town in La Jolla. Lana, a saleslady, told me, "Men wear tuxedos for many types of formal events, anything from a prom, to a wedding, to a charity ball, a black-tie affair, debutantes, all kinds of occasions."
When I was growing up on the East Coast, morning suits were strictly worn before noon, tuxes only worn after high noon. Apparently that's not the case here in San Diego. "Oh no," Lana said, "tuxedos are worn all day, anytime."
Lana laid out the differences in tuxes. "The classic tux usually has the standard notch collar lapel with two or three buttons. The coat is not too long or too short, hitting about seven to nine inches down from the waist, a classic cut that will fit most men. Other more contemporary coats are longer, hitting about two or three inches above the knee. Some coats have no lapel and have a Nehru cut collar or no collar or buttons at all. Those are very contemporary."
What about tuxedo trends?
"The look now is more for the shirt," Lana answered. "Instead of a wingtip collar, men are wearing a lay-down collar with a regular tie. Most guys are wearing what they call four-in-hand ties, which look like a regular tie, not as wide as a cravat. Bow ties have fallen by the wayside as of late. They will come back again."
What colors for tuxedos, shirts, and ties?
"The shirts mostly are ivory, white, and black. The ties and vests come in all kinds of colors. Often men will just go with the classic black or silver tie. Some tuxes come in colors, a few pastel shades like blue, green, and beige as well as white or ivory."
Though Patrick is one to wear color [he has a mustard-yellow pinstriped suit], I would rather he stick with the classic black tux.
A Nite on the Town only rents tuxes (average price is $99 for everything except shoes), and Patrick needs to buy a tux since he wears it so often. My search continued and led me to Bridal & Tuxedo Galleria. "Right now a lot of people are going for the Mirage tuxedo," offered the saleslady. "It doesn't have buttons, nor a lapel, it has a standup collar. It's open and men wear a cravat with it.
"Pinstripes are also coming in," she added.
She offered some fitting guidelines. "The pants are normally worn at the hipbone, and should hit the heel, not touch the floor. The arm of the jacket, when his arm is down, should hit where the thumb is. The tux should be fitted but not tight."
Tuxedo rentals start at $54.95, including shoes and cufflinks. To purchase a tux, pricing starts at about $175 for the coat, pants, shirt, bow tie, and cummerbund.
"A lot of the kids wear sagging oversized clothes," said Daniel Bess, manager of Tuxedo Discounters. "You don't do that with a tuxedo. It's supposed to be a proper fit."
Tuxedo Discounters occupies a second-floor warehouse on Fifth Avenue, just below Broadway. It's not a glamorous shop, but it's got 200 feet of racks jammed full of tuxedos, shirts, shoes, and accessories. "These are all formal rental tuxes at Men's Wearhouse," Bess explained. "A lot of people have to wear tuxes for work. A lot of the service industry uses everything except for the coat, and some of them even use a coat. Our main business is to schools across the country for their performing bands, orchestras, and choirs."
Tuxedo Discounters is open to the public, and the prices are lower than I hoped for. "We sell a seven-piece tuxedo outfit, 100 percent wool, which includes the coat, the pants, the shirt, a vest or cummerbund, tie, studs, and cufflinks for $99 and tax."
Patrick already had all the accoutrements. All he needed was pants and coat. I sent him down to Tuxedo Discounters, and he got them both for $70 . Because there were so many to choose from, he found pants and a coat that were already the right length for him. No extra tailoring expense.