Imagine how the fashion pundits would respond if an actress dared to wear the same gown twice on the red carpet, or, when asked what she was wearing, replied, "My underwear," as Ralph Fiennes once told a fashion reporter. Four years ago, George Clooney had stepped out in the same Armani tuxedo enough times that Giorgio himself noticed the fraying on his HD screen. The designer immediately sent the A-list actor a fresh tux with instructions to wear it or stop the red-carpet shout-outs.
Clearly, men in Hollywood, while dressing better than ever before, still need a few pointers. "Being well-dressed is one of the easiest ways to stand out and set oneself apart, and the earlier in his career a man does this, the better," says designer Tom Ford, who most recently dressed Steven Spielberg and Bradley Cooper for the 2012 Golden Globes. These days, leading men can afford few mistakes -- your look can define your image forever. Even if your film isn't up for an award, it pays to look your best. "Awards shows and the events that surround them are high-profile environments, and while deals aren't made on the red carpet, they're made next to it," says Brooks Brothers vp global PR Arthur Wayne.
When picking out a tux, think about the look you're trying to convey, and consider having two or three in your closet for different events. Leading men such as Brad Pitt, Colin Firth and Tom Hanks favor Ford's classically styled tuxedos that are part Cary Grant, part dashing 007. A timeless Armani tux remains the gold standard for Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise and industry executives Kevin Huvane, Bob Iger and Jim Gianopulos. If you're as trim as Matthew Morrison, try a slim-cut version by the likes of Dolce & Gabbana (his favorite label), Gucci, Prada, YSL and Lanvin. A couple of hip new labels at a more approachable price point are Shipley & Halmos and the Parisian brand Ami, whose 31-year-old designer Alexandre Mattiussi gained experience at Dior, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs before launching his own menswear collection in the fall. For those with no financial ceiling, Barneys New York in Beverly Hills introduced London's Saville Row-based Rake Lounge collection this winter. The elegant tuxedos are a contemporary take on preeminent English tailoring ($4,000 and up).
Specifically, jacket style is the element with the most impact when it comes to determining your look: A peak lapel has a sleek retro feel; a notch is classic; a shawl collar is extremely formal; and a double-breasted jacket conveys confidence and requires a commanding presence (which Josh Brolin, in Ermenegildo Zegna, had in droves at last year's Oscars). Neiman Marcus men's fashion director Matthew Singer recommends a peak lapel for men hoping to get mileage out of their investment. "It allows for some drama but keeps you looking classic," he says. "You don't want to get too elaborate unless you're an A-list celebrity" -- or Samuel L. Jackson, who can pull off head-to-toe purple, or Johnny Depp, who wore a green tux vest with flair at this year's Globes. But know your style limitations: Witness Kevin Spacey, who got a scathing reaction to the white tuxedo jacket he wore to the Oscars in 1996 (the year he won for The Usual Suspects). Another white-tux fail would be Joel McHale's at the 2011 Emmys -- not a Community you want to join.
A midnight blue or dark-green velvet jacket is this season's essential update. "If one invests in a beautiful, classic tuxedo, the look can be refreshed every few years by adding a jacket in a different color -- I personally love velvet evening jackets," says Ford.
Finding the ideal tux really boils down to fit (and, in this town, where you can get a VIP discount). "It has to be tailored perfectly in the shoulders and in the waist, and the pants need to be hemmed the right length," says Saks Fifth Avenue men's fashion director Eric Jennings. "I see a lot of really beautiful tuxedos on top, and then the pants are hemmed way too long so that they're all clumped up at the bottom, and it's a big mistake." Shorter men like Al Pacino, Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen aren't taking any chances: They get their custom-fit tuxes at Jimmy Au's for Men 5'8" and Under on Rodeo Drive. Brooks Brothers' Wayne notes that even tall guys make the mistake of buying a tuxedo one or two sizes too large -- which looks sloppy. For a tux that's too long or boxy, a tailor can make a few adjustments to modernize it before Oscar night. "The trend right now is to make everything smaller. You can have a tuxedo taken in all over and the jacket shortened and the legs slimmed, and it's like brand-new," says stylist George Kotsiopoulos, who recently had his Costume National tuxedo nipped and tucked.
The remaining black-tie rules are no straight ties with shawl collars ("You have to wear a bow tie," says Kotsiopoulos -- and that goes double at Cannes, where bow ties are de rigueur), no everyday dress shirts and, "Whatever you do, don't wear office shoes for black-tie," cautions Barneys New York general merchandising manager and executive vp men's fashion Tom Kalenderian, who recommends having on hand event shoes such as British Crockett & Jones black velvet slippers ("fit for a king") or Arfango loafers. Belgian Shoes' simple $375 patent slip-ons are always stylish, or, if you're looking for something one-of-a-kind, London cobbler George Cleverley, who crafted Kenneth Branagh's footwear in My Week With Marilyn, makes bespoke patent shoes (up to $3,500) that are available at the Leather Soul shop in Beverly Hills.
And finally, don't be afraid to ask for help with your bow tie. "More than a few men have run into the Rodeo Drive store on their way to an awards show to have their bow tie tied," says Wayne. Most hotel concierges will do it, too. Band of Outsiders' Scott Sternberg, a former CAA agent, is simplifying things for a few lucky nominees -- he sent clip-on bow ties to Pitt, Clooney and Woody Allen. For fun, Sternberg packaged them in engraved wooden boxes with fortune cookies reading: "He who wears Band of Outsiders bow tie wins important award." And by all means, splurge on a new tux if you need one between now and the big night. The consensus on the shelf life of formal wear is five years, or as soon as the fabric starts to look shiny from too many trips to the cleaners. "Designers change the lapel widths and the jacket length about every five years," says Saks Fifth Avenue's Jennings. Other telltale signs: if the one you have has a three-button jacket -- or came with a ruffled shirt.