Guide to Men’s “Black Tie” Dress Code

If you are being invited for an event that requires “Black Tie Attire” then you should know how to properly dress for the occasion. This tutorial on men’s black tie dress code 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.

The Black Tie Gold Standard

Want a quick cheat sheet on black tie dress? Then this is all you need! For more detailed information such as different jacket styles, waistcoat options, shirt cuts, as well as popular optional accessories, please read on...

What is Black Tie Attire?

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. Although black tie is a relatively strict dress code, there are many subtle options for personalized styling. Below are different jacket cuts, waistcoat and cummerbund options, dress shirt styles, footwear options, as well as a look at popular optional accessories.

Different Black Tie Tuxedo Jackets

The most common style is the single breasted cut featuring notch lapels. Thus, 9 out of 10 times this is the style you will find at tuxedo rentals. Peak lapels and shawl collars are great ways to give your look some personality. Double breasted jackets are also an excellent pick for anyone looking for something unique. Just make sure the jacket is tailored correctly - something that is even more crucial for the double breasted cut. The white tuxedo jacket is common for so-called “warm weather black tie” that is worn at daytime.

Cummerbund VS Waistcoat

Black tie attire requires either a cummerbund or a waistcoat, but never both. cummerbunds are black in color and feature pleats that are worn with the pleats facing upwards. Hence they are sometimes called “crumb catcher”. Waistcoats come in single as well as double breasted cuts. They typically feature lapels but waistcoats without lapels are a slightly less formal acceptable alternative nowadays. Last but not least, waistcoats are made with either closed or open backs. The style you choose is personal preference, although it is worth mentioning that open-back waistcoats are more comfortable to wear in warm weather.

Formal Dress Shirt Options

here are several styles of formal dress shirt options when dressing for a black tie event. The main difference lies in the pleated vs non-pleated front, as well as the collar style. The style you choose is a personal preference!

Formal Bow Tie Styles

Traditionally, the “black tie” bow tie is solid black in color - although dark midnight blue and burgundy are considered acceptable alternatives. Since variation in color is less of a choice, the cut of the bow tie is the biggest differentiator. Typically you want to match the size of the bow tie to your width of the lapels on your tuxedo jacket. Thus, double breasted tuxedos featuring a wider peak lapel style are best paired with a larger butterfly bow tie. Modern cut tuxedos with a slim shawl or notch lapel on the other hand look excellent with batwing or pointed bow ties. Most black tie bow ties are made from satin silk, although velvet is a great unique alternative that looks superb on oversized butterfly bows.

Formal Black Tie Footwear

Black tie dress shoes are always solid black in color, either made from shiny patent leather or polished calfskin. Although lace-ups are most common, formal pumps are an alternative option. Lace-ups are either cap-toes or balmoral styles, but never brogued nor wing-tipped.

Other Black Tie Accessories

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.

Opera Shawls:

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.