Just Saying

Black tie for the Oscars? Suits me just fine

But I am renting a tuxedo for the event as buying and keeping one is a sad reminder of past glamour

So there I was, pants around my ankles, looking up at Professor S. Jayakumar and Mr Goh Chok Tong.

I was in a dressing room and they were in photographs just above my head. They were wearing suits that were tailor-made, literally, for them.

Jimmy the tailor was also in the pictures, looking very proud. He made the tuxedo I was in the process of putting on. With the leaders looking down on me, I felt under a lot of pressure to look as resplendent.

Despite the trouble of fittings and formality, I was pleased to be asked to put on black tie and join the ranks of other men who have done so: Nobel Prize awards attendees, classical musicians and James Bond.

My occasion is the Oscars, an intimate event which I and about 2,000 other journalists will be covering.


Stage craft artist Rick Roberts giving Oscar statues a fresh coat of paint in preparation for the 89th Academy Awards in Los Angeles today (tomorrow, Singapore time). PHOTO: NYTIMES

Even if I was going to be in another building, away from the theatre where the stars were gathered, men have to be in black tie because those are the rules. No exceptions (unless you are a star comedian or famously eccentric singer, then you can come wrapped in bacon for all they care).

"You should get a Vietnamese tuxedo," said a friend.

I was puzzled, because I had never heard of such a thing. I thought it was slang, like South African necktie or Sicilian shoes. No. What she meant was that instead of renting, I should go get a suit made in Ho Chi Minh City, which should cost the same as renting, or less.

But I had the feeling that the Oscars would be my first and only black-tie event.

Purchasing a suit, no matter how cheap, seems like a bad investment. It would sit in my cupboard, a sad reminder of past glamour, as well as a silent rebuke for not doing enough with my life to warrant another invite to a posh ball.

Also, there was no time for a tailoring jaunt to Vietnam. I had to go with a rental from Jimmy's business in Orchard Plaza.

His place is bright and spotless, in contrast to the rest of the building. You know a structure has gone past the tipping point into decay when a certain number of tattoo parlours and phone repair shops move in.

Besides, just in case I am asked that well-known red carpet question, "Who are you wearing?", I can reply, "Jimmy, of Orchard Plaza." No one in his right mind would ask me that, but at least I have a tweetable joke.

When I first put on the full regalia, I noticed how much velcro there was on it.

 
 

The old men stitching and cutting at the back of the shop had the foresight to sew it on for men for whom formal wear was as alien as an astronaut suit.

The bow tie is stuck on with velcro, as is the cummerbund, the ruffled fabric that goes around the waist. Its wonderfully slimming effect on the belly is why men's fashion decided to keep it around, when things like hats and pocket squares have gone extinct.

It's the male equivalent of high heels.

So now I have a highly specialised piece of clothing which will travel halfway round the world with me, be worn for a few hours, then returned, from Los Angeles to Singapore, back into Jimmy's hands.

I really should try to get my money's worth before he gets hold of it.

I've never been accused of overdressing for the occasion, but it's time I brought a touch of class to the office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Black tie for the Oscars? Suits me just fine'. Print Edition | Subscribe