You’ve made the shortlist and prepared your acceptance speech (and your loser’s smile). If your number comes up, be sure your eveningwear won’t let you down
On 18 February the annual Bafta awards will bring together the great and the good from the world of film and television. The starry line-up will confirm the event as a key date in the international calendar; the Golden Globes kicked things off last month, the Oscars hove into view in March. Anyone under 40 might be forgiven for thinking the Baftas have always attracted the biggest names in Hollywood. During the ’90s and ’00s, however, the Baftas had a distinctly Sunday-night feel. Post-Antiques Roadshow, they were to be enjoyed with a mug of cocoa and familiar injokes from an equally familiar host. The American A-listers rarely came, choosing instead to send a message or, if they were genuinely top tier, dispatching a relevant D-lister to pick up any gong on their behalf. So, what changed? Put simply, the more-ness of showbiz, the insatiable nature of an industry whose content boom has accelerated further with the rise of streaming platforms.
The Baftas have, to be fair, successfully bucked the trend that, to paraphrase Kingsley Amis, more means worse. Less tacky than the Golden Globes, not as showy as the Oscars, the Baftas are a sober affair characterised by a certain – let’s call it British – reserve. Bafta or, to give its full title, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, was founded in 1947, when the head honchos from the British film industry convened in a back room of the Hyde Park Hotel. The organisation’s first chairman was David Lean, for whom an average directorial outing was of the epoch-making kind; The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India. Of the Academy’s subsequent chairs, Richard Attenborough is one of the few household names.
Bafta’s official home is 195 Piccadilly, although the awards ceremony itself takes place at the Royal Festival Hall. This year’s edition, the 77th, will be presented by David Tennant, although hosts and hosting have proved a mixed bag for the Academy. Of the first 19 editions (1949-1967), only one featured a host, Vivien Leigh in 1956. Since then the responsibility has fallen to titans of the art (David Frost, Michael Parkinson), as well as those less storied (Frank Bough and Selina Scott). Unlike the high-wire fronting of Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, Bafta tends towards safe pairs of hands. Hence Terry Wogan, in 1985; Stephen Fry did five on the bounce (2002-2006), passed the baton to Jonathan Ross, then returned for another six years.
Nowhere is the event’s elevated status better reflected than on the red carpet, where who-wore-what has taken on more significance in the age of social media. One man well placed to comment is Gareth Scourfield, a veteran celebrity stylist who has dressed clients for all the major awards ceremonies including Daniel Craig, Ben Whishaw and Freddy Carter.
‘The best-dressed stars are those who wear a look with total confidence,’ Scourfield says. ‘They own their look without apology, be it for the red carpet or a round of TV interviews.’ Regardless of era, Scourfield says there have always been some basic rules to eveningwear. ‘Remember the three Fs,’ he advises. ‘Function, fabric and fit. Think about the event you’re attending. I also love playing with textures in similar tones as this can elevate an outfit. Finally, always get the fit right, as getting it wrong is a deal-breaker. Invest in the right size and find a tailor who can make small adjustments; to sleeve lengths, trouser breaks or an ill-fitting shirt collar.’ (Alternatively, invest in Thomas Pink, with the perfect Fs for every occasion.)
‘Getting to know your body type is an education,’ Scourfield adds. ‘It often happens through trial and error but for those of us not in the public eye it won’t end up going viral. We all have our own body hang-ups but clothes can help hide your insecurities. Understanding your proportions is the best information you have. Not just tall or short but do you have broad shoulders, large athletic thighs or a pronounced seat (big bum)? All need accommodating.
Fortunately, Thomas Pink has fits to work with all body shapes. Take the white evening bib front Oxford cotton shirt. Available in Tailored and Classic Fit, it features include a hand-pleated bib front and a sumptuously soft fabric. Or the white Slim Fit evening bib front cotton poplin shirt, also available in a Tailored Fit.
Style-wise, modern Bafta men tend to split into two camps. First are the traditionalists, those with a preference for classic eveningwear. The vibe here is continuity, attire based on the time-honoured standards (tux, shirt, bow tie). The “trads” are represented by the likes of Hugh Grant (obviously), an assortment of Toms (Holland, Hollander, Hiddleston) but also Taron Egerton and Bradley Cooper. Some trads, of course, are less traditional than others, as a quick spin through last year’s Bafta class demonstrates. The sort of chaps who take convention and gently dial it up, such as man-of-the-moment Barry Keoghan’s striking red Alexander McQueen suit at the 2023 ceremony. Bad Education star Layton Williams was another to favour bold choices in a theatrical cropped blazer and white ruffle shirt with fur-trimmed palazzo trousers, while Eddie Redmayne turned heads in a slinky tuxedo jumpsuit.
‘If you do want to push the trad look,’ says Scourfield, ‘I’d keep the foundation of the tuxedo suit; maybe go for a white tuxedo or a deepblue, green or burgundy velvet. Perhaps opt for an open-neck silk shirt, as they’ve made a resurgence on the red carpet in recent years. I’d never try and add more than three colours into a look. An edited palette keeps the look tighter and more considered. Throwing in more pattern and colour starts to look like you’ve won big at the village jumble sale.’
The rising prestige of the Baftas has brought with it more unconventional eveningwear. ‘It’s all about persona,’ says Scourfield, ‘creating a character as a form of artistic expression.’ Which helps explain why Olly Alexander turned out for the 2022 Baftas as a pantomime Maleficent, complete with flowing cape and platform boots. If you are determined to go rogue, what would be Scourfield’s advice? ‘Rules are there to be broken,’ he says, ‘but you have to start from a point of knowledge. The traditional black-tie tuxedo has been played around with in recent years. We’re seeing more jewelled, coloured velvets, shirts without ties and silk T-shirts under tuxedo jackets. Alternatively, short bolero jackets with wide trousers and boots instead of patent shoes. These different manifestations of a black-tie look can work if you understand that fit and proportions still need to be flattering and that fabrics should be luxurious.’