Whether you’re the one hosting a black tie event or simply a guest, nailing the dress code is essential to enjoying your evening. Although a black tie wedding can be an anxiety-inducing formal dress code, the truth is that it’s not so hard to master. Once you understand what you’re expected to wear, you’ll be clamoring to knot your bow tie and fasten your dinner jacket.
In this article, we provide a full explanation of the pieces required to put a black tie outfit together. We’ll also explain the differences between other dress codes, like white tie and black tie optional, to help you better understand the nuances.
Before giving a full run-down of how to dress for black tie events, it’s important you understand which events fall into this category. You can expect to see a black tie dress code at…
If invited to a black tie event, keep the words “sophistication” and “elegance” in mind. A jacket, a white dress shirt, and tailored trousers should all be cornerstone pieces of your formal dinner jacket outfit. Accessorize with a black bow tie, polished black leather shoes, and either a cummerbund or a waistcoat.
So what specific pieces make up this dress code and its quintessential outfit, and what should you look for in each?
The dinner jacket, also known as a tuxedo jacket, is the focal piece of a man’s black tie ensemble. For that reason, it’s worth investing time and money in choosing one that suits (no pun intended) your style and body type.
Let’s start with the materials first. Some super-high-end jackets are made from a silk blend, but you’re much more likely to find a dinner jacket made from wool barathea. A common fabric for suit jackets, wool barathea, is breathable, flexible, and sturdy. With their soft fabric and slight sheen, velvet suit jackets are another sleek option. Just keep in mind that they can be quite toasty.
Many jackets feature silk or satin lapels. Both materials have a shiny surface that catches light well, creating a focal point. Dinner jackets usually feature a shawl lapel, a continuous piece of fabric that runs from the collar to the buttonhole. You might encounter other lapel styles, such as notch or peak, on more modern jackets, but these aren’t the norm.
As far as color is concerned, the name pretty much says it all. Dinner jackets tend to be black. That said, traditional black tie attire started as midnight blue, not black. This hue looks darker than black in artificial lighting, so feel free to sport a blue tux instead of a black one if the mood strikes you.
There are many things to consider when selecting a dinner jacket, but thankfully, choosing a pair of pants is much simpler. All you need is a pair that matches the jacket and flatters your shape. That means selecting a pair that is neither too clingy nor too loose. It also means they should have a natural taper and be long enough to hit the tops of your shoes. While some pairs may feature a satin or grosgrain strip along the side, go for a plain pair if you prefer a more understated look.
While traditional black tie etiquette dictates white winged collar dress shirts with pleats and cufflink holes, these guidelines are not set in stone. Feel free to deviate from the norm by choosing a winged or standard collar, as both pair well with bowties.
If you choose to wear a cummerbund, nix the pleats in favor of a plain-fronted shirt. Pairing pleats with a cummerbund looks busy.
On the same note, cummerbunds look best with black buttoned shirts, whereas white buttoned shirts look best with waistcoats.
When it comes to shoes, opt for a shiny black pair of derbys or oxfords. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, velvet slippers are another acceptable option. As for socks, stick to a basic black pair.
Black bow ties are the most important accessory you’ll sport when attending a black tie event. That said, you can play around with the color if you want your personality to shine through. White is the only color you can’t wear, as it’s reserved for white-tie events.
A cummerbund or a waistcoat is optional, but both give a sleek look to your overall appearance.
Cummerbunds define the waist and give the outfit a cohesive look. Black is an obvious color choice, but dark green, burgundy, and plum pair well.
Waistcoats lend a sophisticated air to your ensemble by emphasizing the deep ‘V’ of the jacket. They’re meant to complement the jacket, so choose one in black. Whichever option you choose, make sure you select one or the other, not both.
Last, but not least, is jewelry. Cufflinks should be simple and elegant. Moreover, they should complement the rest of your outfit, not distract from it. If you wear a watch, choose a gold one with a thin band.
By now, you should have a pretty clear idea of how to dress according to a black tie dress code. Still, looking at other dress codes can help you understand which pieces do and do not belong at a black tie event.
A white tie dress code is a step above a black tie in terms of formality. As you might have guessed from the name, a white tie event demands a white bow tie. No other colors are acceptable. The jacket must be waist-length and have two tails that fall to the length of the man’s knees. A white waistcoat must also be worn under the tailcoat.
This dress code is meant to encourage guests to wear tuxedos if financially possible, without excluding those who can’t afford them. If you fall into the latter category, a dark suit and black tie are acceptable.
This one is tricky as it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Once again, if you can afford a tuxedo and enjoy wearing one, then by all means, break it out for a black tie optional event. If not, wear a black, dark blue, or charcoal gray suit and a conservative tie.
Whether or not you inject a little color into your formal attire depends entirely on the event. If it’s something super-formal like a gala, then wear black from head to toe (i.e., bow tie and socks). However, if the event is less formal, a subtly-colored bow tie or socks can be a fun way to stand out.
Although the rules about pairing a bow tie with a tuxedo were once pretty strict, the modern black tie dress code for men is more flexible. A slim white or black necktie can add an interesting twist while respecting the occasion’s formality. The only times you should stick to a bow tie are when you’re a groomsman or when you’re unsure how formal an event is.
If you don’t own a tuxedo, wear either a black or navy blue suit with a dark-colored tie. Alternatively, you can wear a statement dinner jacket in an interesting hue like emerald green or burgundy. Whichever color you choose, pair your jacket with black suit pants.
Navigating the world of wedding clothing can be complicated, confusing, and expensive — but here at The Groom Club, we aim to simplify your wedding preparations as much as possible. In fact, helping men understand wedding etiquette is one of our main motivations. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed about what to wear, then be sure to check out our complete wedding outfit guide.