How Do I Wear a Family Heirloom Without It Looking Like a Costume?

First, congratulations on your wedding. These rituals are gestures of faith in the future and optimism in what often seems like a very gloomy world. Wearing one of your father’s favorite garments is a lovely twist on that whole “something old/something new/something borrowed/something blue” adage.

But I know what you mean about the risks of an embroidered vest looking like kitsch theatrical garb rather than elegant fun. It’s the association in our lizard brain. Gwyneth Paltrow in her “Shakespeare in Love” guise as a boy is hard to ignore. It was Polonius, after all, who declared, in “Hamlet,” “apparel oft proclaims the man.”

Yet while clothes may be the costumes we don for everyday life (which is “but a stage”), and fancy clothes what we wear for our own personal paparazzi moments, that doesn’t mean we want them to make us look as if we are about to eat the scenery. Even if love does look “not with the eyes but with the mind.”

I’ll stop with the Bard references now.

Given that, I asked Arianne Phillips, the costume designer behind “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “A Single Man” (among many other films), as well as a stylist who is trying to change how we all think about the red carpet, for her advice. If anyone knows how to keep dress-up clothes from looking as if they came off the Warner Brothers backlot, she does.

She had two words: “Go tonal.”

OK, to be fair, she had a few more. What she suggested was getting a shirt (or having one made for you), ideally in a fine cotton or cotton pique, “lifting one of the colors from the waistcoat, preferably the predominant background base color.” If you can’t match it exactly, Arianne said, keep it in the same family. Add dark, slim trousers in black or midnight navy. (She suggests you skip the tuxedo side stripe.) And keep your shoes dark for consistency of line.

Then you will be more than ready for your — well, next act.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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