Last year I was invited to a dinner at which the dress code was black tie. It was the first time in about a decade that I’d been to one and I had a major freakout before the event. I first wore black tie when I was at university, and in that social context it was marked as something fun, just a bit of dressing up while getting ludicrously drunk. But it isn’t just fun, and I was so concerned about having to wear it last year that I vowed never to do it again.
Black tie – the coming together of a black suit with silk lapels and a black bow tie – is the uniform of the imperial ruling classes. It was formalized by the Edwardians, in a dark period of bloody imperial overreach (rather like the one we live in now, under the American empire). When we read those two words, ‘black tie’, on an invitation, we should be aware of its undertones: only men count (women’s dress isn’t specified, though they’re expected to wear something that emphasizes their bodies), and the rigid separation of men and women is to be insisted on with full ideological force in a performance of separation into intellect (men, all blandly and identically dressed, so that the qualities of their mind in their conversation can be observed the more keenly) and body (women, there to simper, delight, and arouse). It is no more politically neutral to slip into black tie than it is to have a Brits-and-Zulus party with pith helmets. Continue reading