Even the most fearless of men break into a cold sweat when they see the words “black-tie dress code” on an invitation.
What if you don’t wear the right thing? You want to look like James Bond in your tuxedo, without the fear that you will look goofy instead.
Take a deep breath. We’ve got you covered. Learn the how’s and why’s of black-tie events here, and you will have enough confidence to put 007 to shame.
Introduction to the Black-Tie Event
A black-tie event is one of the most elegant events you will ever attend in your life. They are strict and reserved only for very formal occasions.
It is this strict adherence to a dress code that is what makes it so intimidating. But it can also be what makes it so easy. The rules are clear, and you just have to know what they are.
The term “black-tie dress code” may overwhelm and intimidate you at first. Expectations are high, and one may only ever attend a few of these events in their life.
It isn’t as though black-tie fashion is taught in high school. But many expect us to know how to pull off this look.
What is the Black-Tie Dress Code
Black tie dress codes are typically found only at formal events. Formal events can take place any time of day; however, black-tie is worn only for evening events.
The most likely place you would encounter a black-tie invitation would be for a formal wedding. Not all weddings are black-tie, so pay close attention to the wording on your invitation.
In the rare event, you get invited to a gala or a ball; those are other likely places that would require a black tie.
A tuxedo is the most identifiable component of this dress code. Keep the tux simple; still, you must consider each piece carefully for your ensemble.
A black suit and tie will also work in a pinch, but you need to add some flourishes to meet black-tie standards.
Black-Tie vs. White-Tie Dress Code
Black-tie is not the most formal of all possibilities; that honor goes to white-tie events. However, you are much more likely to attend this event than ever attending a white-tie one.
Whit tie is the ultimate in formal wear. It is so formal that it is very rarely used; you have very little chance of ever needing to dress for a white-tie event.
Prior to World War II, the white-tie dress was not very uncommon. It fell out of fashion after the war and is not reserved for very high levels of formality.
Not only is this dress code more formal than black tie, but it has even higher standards. For as little wiggle room as a black-tie dress code leaves, a white tie dress code leaves zero wiggle room.
White-tie dress is very exact, leaving very few choices for a person to make. A black-tie dress code allows a person some small measure of self-expression.
A tuxedo is central to both dress codes. A white-tie tux, however, has a tailcoat instead of a dinner jacket.
A waistcoat is optional for a black-tie, but a white vest is a standard part of a white-tie ensemble. The waistcoat must have a particular fit, as well.
The final major difference between both dress codes is given away in the name; the formality determines your tie color. There is minimal, if any, deviation from your tie color choice.
Men’s Attire for Black-Tie Dress Code
You have a general idea of what to expect when attending a black-tie event. Now it is time to go over the specifics for each piece.
Getting each separate component of your formal outfit just right is crucial to pulling off this look. As they say, the devil is in the details.
A black tuxedo is like the artist’s canvas in formalwear. It is the basic building block for the rest of your formal outfit. Use this as your base; worn correctly, everything else falls into place.
A tuxedo is, of course, ideal, but a nice black suit is also acceptable. The suit must be in impeccable shape, with no stripes or extra flourishes.
The jacket should be black and single or double-breasted. There may be vents, but they are only permissible on the sides of the jacket. In fact, most tuxedo jackets don’t have vents.
A vent in the back of the jacket is too informal. Not only does a back vent lower the level of formality, but it makes the jacket bunch up oddly when you sit. Business suits have back vents, but not dinner jackets!
Recessed pockets are dressier than pockets with flaps. Flaps make the jacket casual. If your jacket has pockets, be sure there is no flap enclosure.
Let’s talk about lapels. There are three lapel styles on jackets, and you need to put thought into which one works best for your formal look.
Peak lapels are most common for a black-tie look since they tend to appear very formal and flatter almost any body shape. They add the illusion of height and are slimming for the wearer.
Peak lapels are a head-turning look, quite fashion-forward. If you choose a double-breasted suit, these are best for that style.
Shawl lapels have a rounded edge. They are found exclusively on tuxedos and dinner jackets; you would never see one on a business suit, per se.
Shawl lapels are a special variation of a lapel, perfectly suitable for a black-tie event. They can be on either single-breasted or double-breasted jackets.
If you want to dress as formally as possible, go with a peak lapel. For a more relaxed look, you might want to choose a shawl lapel.
Formal trousers have a single satin or silk stripe along the outer seam of the pants.
Tuxedo pants do not have belt loops; instead, they have side tabs for adjusting to the proper size. You may also wear suspenders.
Also, the trousers must be hemmed, and there should be no cuff at the ankle. That would make the trousers less formal.
White Dress Shirt
A white dress shirt is a non-negotiable piece of your black-tie suit. Since white is the most formal of suit shirts, just about any white dress shirt will be fine.
However, paying attention to certain details will greatly increase your elegance. For a truly sophisticated appearance, go with a wing collar, preferably detachable.
French cuffs are incredibly beautiful, so those are practically a must. Plus, they provide an excellent opportunity for accessorizing with cuff links.
A pleated front is another nice touch to raise the formality of your suit. Button studs raise the level of sophistication many points.
Black Vest (Optional)
A black vest, also called a waistcoat, is another option for creating your black-tie style. The vest needs to be single-breasted and looks best if you wear a jacket with a peak lapel.
These are entirely optional, so you can decide if that is the look you want to create.
Naturally, you need to wear a black tie. That is the name of this dress code, after all!
A solid black necktie with a Windsor knot is sufficient for most occasions, especially if the event has the sign “optional” next to the black tie.
If you are attending a classic event, however, then you must wear a black bow tie.
A clip-on tie is never ok for a grown man. Your bow tie needs to be hand-tied. If you’re unsure which style to choose, go with the standard one or the jumbo butterfly.
The bow tie material is traditionally the same as your lapel, but these days there is more flexibility on this.
Black, patent leather shoes are the number one choice for a black suit. There are a few options in style, though Oxford lace-up shoes are the classic choice.
Derby shoes are also acceptable, though they are not as traditional and are slightly less formal.
In lieu of a waistcoat, you can decide to do a cummerbund if you like. It is a pleated sash worn around the waist, pleats facing up.
You cannot do both pieces together; it is strictly one or the other. You can, however, opt to wear neither piece. Just your plain dress shirt and tie are suitable.
Cufflinks are a wonderful way to accessorize your black-tie ensemble. Metallic cufflinks add a touch of sparkle to your appearance and can look very classy.
To maximize their effect on your formality, you can add gemstones. Since men don’t wear much jewelry, cufflinks are a great way to add a personal detail.
A handkerchief in your breast pocket is another way you can add a touch of personality to your formalwear. You should keep the color subdued, although some small print can make for an interesting visual.
Although there are many beautiful and sophisticated watches, a tuxedo is not an appropriate outfit for most of the watch types.
The only appropriate watch-type to accessorize your formalwear is a dress watch. However, you need to make sure that you choose a minimalistic and simple one.
Wrapping it Up
Taken piece by piece, it is not too difficult to put together the ideal black-tie outfit. Start with your basic unit, the black suit, and add to it.
Follow these guidelines and carefully choose each item you add to your ensemble. If you do, you will feel confident about heading out to your formal event!
Hi, I’m Alex, and I’ve studied and specialized style in Rome. Through my writing, I want to help men dress well and learn the purpose and significance of suits and other formal attire. My final goal is to make men more confident in their wardrobe choice and life in general.