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Dec, 22 2023

Avoiding Fashion Faux Pas: What Not to Wear to a Black-Tie Event

Three men in black suits on a rocky beach

When attending an event with a strict dress code, it’s important to follow the rules and wear something appropriate. Otherwise, you risk looking utterly out of place. The black-tie code is one of the strictest of all, and it’s a code that a lot of people have issues with. Many men and women are unsure of the rules regarding what to wear and what not to wear to a black-tie event.

It’s especially difficult if you’ve not been invited to many (or any) black-tie occasions before. You might be concerned about being over- or underdressed. Either way, Generation Tux is here to help. Below, we’ll cover all you need to know about what not to wear for black-tie weddings and events to help you avoid any fashion faux pas.

Understanding Black-Tie Dress Code

A man in a midnight blue tuxedo sitting on a stool

Before we dive into the key “do’s and don’ts” of the black-tie dress code, it’s first important to understand what black tie refers to. Once you know the basics of the dress code, you should immediately find it easier to narrow down your outfit options and pick the right attire to match the occasion.

So, black tie is one of many dress codes. Others include the formal dress code, white-tie, semi-formal, and casual. Many people have questions about these codes, like what is formal wedding attire? Or how does black-tie differ from white-tie? Fortunately, even though these codes and concepts can seem confusing at first, they all have their own specific rules and requirements.

In the case of black tie, for instance, this is one of the most formal dress codes of all. It dates way back to the Regency Period of the 1800s, and it has long been considered one of the most elegant forms of formal dress for special occasions. It’s changed a little over the years but has generally retained the same key elements and ideas.

In brief, black tie is all about elegance and sophistication. Black-tie wedding men’s attire includes tuxedos, black bow ties, and smart dress shoes. For women, floor-length gowns are the standard, and invitees of either sex should try to wear the smartest and most refined clothes they can find.

Common Mistakes Men Make

Men in tuxedos surround one man sitting in a chair

For men, black tie is quite a simple code to understand. The go-to option is a tuxedo, and as noted in Brides, wearing a tux “simplifies the process of cultivating an appropriate outfit piece by piece and automatically ensures you’ll fit in with the other guests or wedding party.” However, it’s still easy for mistakes to be made.

Here are some common examples, and how to avoid them:

  • Wearing a suit – The unwritten rule of black-tie attire is that men wear a tuxedo if possible. While a black suit may have some vague similarities with a tux, it’s not the same thing. If you're curious, we have a separate article discussing the differences between a suit and a tuxedo. If you attend an event in a suit, you risk standing out (in a bad way) if all other male guests wear full tuxedos.
  • Wrong accessories – Many men invited to black-tie events for the first time mistakenly assume that “black-tie” refers to a black necktie. In reality, a black bowtie is the only suitable tie option for an event like this. You should also avoid too many other accessories, outside of an optional cummerbund and set of cufflinks.
  • Poor fit – A proper fit for a suit is crucial if you want to look the part at your black-tie gathering. If the tux is a little too loose, the pants don’t fit right, or the jacket sleeves are a little on the long side, the entire aesthetic can be ruined. If you’re going to dress up in black-tie finery, make it worth it – visit a tailor and get the best possible fit.
  • Anything too casual – As stated above, black tie is a very formal dress code. You don’t want to overdress with a white-tie outfit (a tailcoat, white waistcoat, and white bow tie), but you also don’t want to appear undressed. Try to avoid anything that may appear too casual. Opt for black dress shoes over loafers, for instance.

Common Mistakes Women Make

Men aren’t the only ones who can make mistakes when it comes to black-tie and formal dress, in general. Typically, women should wear a floor-length formal gown for such an event, although elegant midi dresses and even very formal, refined jumpsuits may be accepted. Here are a few more mistakes to watch out for:

  • Wearing a cocktail dress – While a cocktail dress can be considered formal to a certain degree, it’s not quite formal enough to fall into the category of black-tie attire for women. Try to avoid a cocktail dress if at all possible, as you may appear out-of-place when among other female guests all in their finest long gowns.
  • Bright colors – In general, darker colors are the safest, smartest choices for black-tie occasions. As explained in Corporette, “Even if it’s not black-tie, buy a black dress or another muted color – although color is acceptable to wear at some events, this can vary greatly from event to event.”
  • Short or revealing attire – As noted in Soxy, “A black tie event is a formal occasion, so it’s important to dress modestly. Dresses that are too short or revealing can be inappropriate and may make others feel uncomfortable.” It’s best to opt for longer dresses with sophisticated styles, rather than anything too revealing.
  • The wrong footwear – Regarding footwear, elegance is the order of the day. “When it comes to footwear, have some fun, but keep it classy and chic... Crazy platform pumps or lace-up-to-the-knee sandals should be left at home,” explains celebrity stylist Sarah Nearis in Who What Wear.

The “Optional” Confusion

A black cufflink, belt, and bowtie laid on a black suit

How about if your invite has the phrase “black-tie optional”? Well, that can be a little complicated. Essentially, black-tie optional usually means that the event hosts would be happy to see you in a black-tie outfit, but they won’t be mad or upset if you turn up in slightly more relaxed, but still formal attire.

So, at a black-tie optional event, men can feel free to wear crisp dark suits without feeling like they don’t belong. Women, meanwhile, can opt for elegant midi dresses or jumpsuits, or even potentially a very fancy cocktail dress. But, ideally, you should still try to pick out a black-tie ensemble, if you can afford one.

Wedding-Specific Faux Pas

If you’re invited to a black-tie wedding, there are even more rules and ideas to take into account. You need to think about the theme and venue of the wedding, for instance, to make sure you fit in, as well as picking out an outfit that won’t upstage the bride or groom. Here are some wedding-centric mistakes to avoid:

  • Upstaging the happy couple – Ultimately, every wedding is about the couple who are getting married. They’re the stars of the show, and they’re the ones who should be wearing the most eye-catching, attention-grabbing outfits. Avoid anything that could upstage them, like white dresses, overly glitzy accessories, or clothes that are very colorful.
  • Off-theme attire – Most weddings have a theme, and the theme can give you an idea of what to wear to a wedding. It might mention a specific color scheme or vibe, for example. Always make sure you pick out an outfit that not only matches the dress code but also fits in with the wedding’s theme.
  • Underdressing – Many couples opt for a black-tie wedding because they want the event to be elegant, harmonious, and memorable in all the right ways. If you wear something casual or semi-formal, you could ruin the entire aesthetic. Avoid underdressing by picking out a smart, formal, black-tie outfit to honor the big day.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Accessories

Black dress shoes, a watch, bowtie, and cologne on a chair

Accessories can provide the perfect finishing touches to your black-tie outfit, but they might also ruin it. You have to choose carefully. Ideally, men will need a black bowtie, and GQ also recommends a slim, golden dress watch, along with some simple, refined cufflinks. Meanwhile, women can opt for their finest jewelry, like diamond earrings, bracelets, and rings, but smaller items are best.

In general, the big “don’t” of black-tie accessories is wearing too many of them. Just a couple of subtle accessories are all you need to finish off your look. The idea is to not be too glitzy or covered from head to toe in accessories. Instead, opt for a couple of items and let the rest of your outfit, like your tux, gown, and dress shoes, speak for itself.

The Color Conundrum

A steel blue color swatch in front of other color swatches

While “black” is in the name of black-tie, you don’t always have to wear black at a black-tie event. Other options are available, although it’s best to opt for colors like black or navy, and you won’t want to wear white, except for your dress shirt. Bright and bold colors like yellow, red, and pink should typically be avoided, but you can go for navy, midnight blue, and dark gray.

When Less Formal Is Too Casual

A man in a black tuxedo

As this guide has repeatedly stated, black-tie events are formal gatherings. Such a formal occasion demands a certain level of sophisticated attire. That’s why you’ll typically see the vast majority of black-tie formal event guests wearing tuxedos and grand gowns, all dressed up in their very best outfits.

Less formal wear, like men’s casual cocktail attire, simply doesn’t fit the vibe and can negatively impact the general air and ambiance of the occasion. This is why it is so crucial to stick to the rules of black-tie any time you’re invited.


Ultimately, black tie is a relatively simple dress code to understand. It’s all about formality, and if you’re in any doubt whatsoever, simply pick out a tux (if you don’t own one and aren't yet ready to invest, you can use Generation Tux to rent a tuxedo online) or an elegant gown. And be sure to keep these common mistakes in mind to stay on-topic and in line with the code at your next big formal gathering.

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