If you are being invited for an event that requires “Black Tie” then you should know how to properly dress for the occasion. This tutorial on Black Tie Attire will teach you everything there is to know, such as: What it is, the history of this formal dress code, alternatives to black tie dress, and how to add a more personal character to this somewhat uniform looking dress code.
Traditional Black Tie consists of a black tuxedo jacket, white tuxedo dress shirt, either a cummerbund or a waistcoat, a black bowtie, and polished black shoes. Most tuxedo jackets these days are single breasted. The lapel you choose is personal preference. Most popular is the notch lapel, but peak or shawl lapels are also common choices. As far as the dress shirt is concerned, the biggest difference lies in collar style as well as a pleated or non-pleated front.
The type of shirt you choose dictates, at least to some degree, if you should wear a cummerbund or a waistcoat. If you choose a pleated front dress shirt, then the cummerbund is a better choice. If this is the look that you are going for, then you may also want to add black studs in place of regular shirt buttons. It is the small detail that will add elegance and a touch of sophistication to your overall look. For non-pleated dress shirts the waistcoat is usually a better choice.
Besides pleats or no pleats on the dress shirt, think about what collar type best suits your outfit. Most common is the turn-down collar – which looks just like the collar on a regular dress shirt. Besides this collar style, the wing-tip collar is also popular. The wing-tip collar stands up around the neck, and only the tips at the front are folded over. The wing-tip collar looks best when worn in combination with a waistcoat instead of a cummerbund. Finally there is the mandarin-collar which is an around-the-neck stand-up collar. This type of collar is not worn with a bow tie, but with a larger stud-button used to also close the top of the shirt. In addition the sleek cut of this collar is best combined with tuxedos that have a shawl lapel.
If an invitation reads “Black Tie Optional” then this usually means that the host would like men to dress up in a tuxedo and women in an evening gown, but doesn’t want to enforce it. Should you own a tux then you should wear it to the event! If you don’t, and don’t want to rent one, then a dark gray or black suit, white dress shirt, and elegant solid color tie (best are black or silver) will be a good alternative.
If you are invited to a formal “Black Tie” event that occurs during the day, and/or in warm weather then the black tuxedo jacket is often times exchanged for a white one. Everything else will stay the same.
Although “Black Tie” might look quite uniform without much room for interpretation there are plenty of ways to add a more personal character to the look. The key is in the accessories, and in those little details you choose. Below are accessories commonly chosen for black tie events.
Cufflinks & Studs:
Wearing cufflinks instead of regular shirt buttons is a great way to add more personal character to the look. Traditionally the studs are black in color. Cuff links on the other hand can be chosen with much less restriction. Almost any style, design, and material will do as long as the colors match the black & white theme.
For Black Tie regulars, handkerchiefs are almost a must-have. The white handkerchief is chosen almost exclusively although colors such as silver, cream, tan, and ivory are picked as well. Keep in mind that if you choose an off-white color, then your shirt should be in similar color. Otherwise the white dress shirt may make the ivory handkerchief look like a “dirty white”. To learn how to best wear a pocket square, please visit our guide: How to Fold a Handkerchief.
The opera shawl is another accessory that is best chosen for night-time black tie functions. The shawl is not tied around the neck, but loosely worn hanging down from each shoulder. Traditionally the shawl was meant to be offered to women during opera intermissions to help stay warm. Most opera shawls are made from either silk, merino wool, or finest cashmere, they are white or ivory in color, and are typically decorated with fine tassels on each end.