It’s no secret that there's an overwhelming number of galas on New York’s spring party circuit. And with so many of them having “black tie” dress codes, the question becomes: How does one wear black tie over and over, without getting bored? And what does "black tie” even mean in 2016, a time when athleisure and streetwear feel more immediately relevant than runway collections often do?
Take the American Ballet Theater’s Spring Gala on Monday. A black-tie ballet fundraiser at Lincoln Center is about as old-school, old-world New York as you are likely to find in 2016. Misty Copeland danced Stravinsky’s Firebird, it was a perfect spring night, the society ladies like Jean Shafiroff and Gillian Meltzer Miniter were out in full force. This is not the type of black tie where you want to necessarily be taking risks. Instead, paying homage to the history of the ABT and to the history of philanthropic New York is the way to go here. Perhaps the brightest star to shine was one of the evening’s co-chairs, Ariana Rockefeller. The designer and equestrian wore a dusty pink Katie Ermilio gown and borrowed an overwhelming vintage Verdura diamond bracelet for the occasion. “Isn’t it incredible?” she said, leaning in a little closer and whispering, “It was Mrs. Astor’s.”
On Tuesday night, the Whitney Museum Gala presented by Louis Vuitton was quite possibly the hardest dress code of the week, with the invites specifying nothing more than to simply “dress up.” A rep confirmed that the event is traditionally black tie, but because of the number of artists in attendance, “dress up” is generally a better way to convey the evening’s attire. “Have you noticed how black tie doesn’t mean black tie anymore?” said designer Tamara Mellon. She’s right—at least when it comes to the Whitney Gala. Cindy Sherman wore a teal leather Louis Vuitton dress. Vanessa Williams wore a short Louis Vuitton dress. Julian Schnabel wore a silky pajama shirt. Artist Dan Colen wore a deep teal tie that was particularly sharp against his tux—technically not black tie, though. “I just got back from Point Reyes,” Colen told us of his recent vacation to northern California. “I just got so overwhelmed with Frieze and the shows and doing business…I needed to get away.” A surprise performance from none other than Seal kept guests partying until well after midnight.
The most exciting gala in terms of fashion this week was the Museum of Art and Design party, underwritten by Roger Vivier and held in a Park Avenue mansion on the Upper East Side. The co-founders of La Ligne—Molly Howard, Valerie Boster and Meredith Melling—all looked deeply chic in their own variations of their brand’s signature black-and-white stripes. Other guests included Sofia Sanchez de Betak, Casey Fremont Crowe, Leandra Medine, and Jen Brill. But it was a trio of models in their own takes on black tie who stole the show—Martha Hunt, Maria Borges and Britt Maren. Maren, in a sequin Saint Laurent Le Smoking jacket and black pajama pants, told us, “These pants are so comfortable—that’s the best part.”
So after a week on the circuit, where does this leave us? Black tie in 2016 isn’t about pleasing Emily Post. It’s about finding the looks that work best for your style, suit the occasion, and help make your own moment happen.