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Dec, 27 2023

Black-Tie Dress Code: Our Comprehensive Guide

A man in a black suit and black bow tie preparing to attend black tie event

Getting an invitation to a black-tie event is exciting, but it may send some chills down your spine. Why? Black-tie occasions often follow a strict dress code, demanding you go a step beyond the regular attire. To that end, black-tie formal men's attire includes suits or, often, the tuxedo, as well as select accessories.

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Yet, when it comes to the exact details of the attire for a black-tie event, men don’t always know what that’s supposed to look like. That’s precisely why we put together this comprehensive guide to black-tie dress codes.

What Is Black-tie?

A close up of a white boutonniere on a black suit

When talking about the black-tie dress code, it’s easy to overlook one simple matter: not everyone knows what black-tie means. Luckily, the concept is quite straightforward. When an event card calls for a black tie, invited people need to follow a certain dress code that used to include exclusively tuxedos. But why is the dress code called black tie?

The answer comes down to convention and tradition.

Since the 19th century, semi-formal events called for tuxedos, which were black as a rule. The tux was paired with a white shirt and, as you might’ve presumed, a black bow tie. This was the foundation of the dress code that became the standard of men’s evening wear.

Although black tie became almost synonymous with tuxedoes, it’s worth noting that a tux isn’t the only choice of apparel for this type of event. For instance, you can rock a suit at a black-tie event, although you’d need to dress it up a bit. Also, modern tuxedos may feature quite different designs from traditional models, giving you more freedom of choice. Naturally, this means there are clear guidelines on what not to wear to a black-tie event, too.

The crucial thing to remember is that black-tie events are formal, but they’re not the most formal occasions out there. In other words, while there is a dress code in effect, it doesn’t need to be overly strict. Let’s see which events usually call for a black-tie dress code.

Black-Tie Events and Occasions

A man wearing a black suit sitting at a piano

While black-tie attire is considered semi-formal, it’s important to understand what formality means in modern dress codes. The most formal event you could imagine today would be a white-tie event, which is reserved only for occasions at the highest instances. However, black-tie has replaced white-tie on many occasions about a century ago, broadening the selection of events where this dress code is appropriate.

Firstly, black tie is also known as evening wear, meaning it’s suitable for many occasions taking place after sundown. This includes events like a dinner, ball, or wedding party. Other examples of black-tie events include proms, gala promotions, fundraisers, and cruise ship events.

There are certain examples of black-tie being worn at opera houses and in academic circles. However, these events don’t require such apparel very often. On the other hand, the most common occasion when you might get an invite to a black-tie event is a wedding. As a wedding guest, you’ll find yourself in black-tie more often than not. Church weddings would be a common exception here since such events usually call for morning or loungewear.

Whichever black-tie event you’re attending, you’ll likely be in the right going with the tuxedo as a standard. Next, we’ll explore the tux as a common clothing choice in formal and semi-formal events.

The Tuxedo: A Closer Look

A tuxedo, suspenders, and dress shoes in a shipping box

When we talk about the tux, the first image that comes to mind is the iconic tuxedo jacket. It’s no wonder this outfit counts among the black-tie preferred wedding attire for many. Most commonly black, this jacket type is distinguished from a regular suit jacket in several regards. The primary difference is in the lapels.

Namely, tuxedo lapels are designed with special attention to detail and, most importantly, the signature satin facing. While this is the standout feature found in many tuxedos, it’s not the only area featuring satin. For instance, you can often find the same material on the tuxedo jacket buttons. Moreover, satin is present on tuxedo pants, too, which brings us to the phenomenon of the tuxedo suit as a whole.

Rather than just the jacket, you can wear a full suit, which also includes a tuxedo shirt and pants. In addition to this, several other pieces and accessories accompany the tux, but we’ll discuss those in more detail when we compare the suit and the tuxedo. The important thing here is to understand the tuxedo as a staple of men’s black-tie attire. This is also why you can find such a range of tuxedos for rent today.

Speaking of formal and semi-formal wear staples, we should explain more about the item that gave the dress code its name: the bow tie.

The Art of the Bow Tie

A black suit on a mannequin

As the name implies, black-tie outfits for men would be unimaginable without a black-tie. But the question is whether to choose a tie or bow tie, and the answer is relatively simple: If you’re attending a black-tie event, wear a bow tie and you can’t go wrong.

What makes a bow tie the ideal choice? It comes down to the overall style.

Firstly, a black bow tie completes that iconic image of a man in a tuxedo. In black-tie events, the bow tie will fit in perfectly with the line of your tux jacket and will compliment a dressed-up suit as well. The tux is meant to go with a bow tie exclusively and, in most cases, a regular necktie would go with it very poorly.

The mismatch between a tux and a tie is the other crucial reason why a bow tie is a must. However, the same doesn’t have to apply if you’re wearing a suit. Although a bow tie will still be a tasteful (and often expected) choice, the suit-tie combination can be just as classy.

Suit vs. Tuxedo: Know the Difference

Since we’ve mentioned suits, it’s worth exploring whether a tuxedo should be your primary choice when attending a black-tie event or if you could wear a suit instead. To answer that, we’ll need to outline the difference between a tux and a suit.

Firstly, a tuxedo is considered more formal than a suit, which can constitute casual cocktail attire for men. To that end, not all black-tie events will be the same and some may call for tuxedos specifically. Next, the main difference between suits and tuxes is that a suit jacket doesn’t include the satin highlights that are necessary for a tuxedo jacket. Even though modern tuxes may veer off from tradition and keep satin details to the minimum, they’ll still have those features while suits won’t.

Another difference between suits and tuxes is that color variants are more expected when you’re wearing a suit while the most common options for tuxedos are black or, occasionally, white. On the other hand, a navy suit black tie combination is one of the most popular apparel variants for semi-formal events.

Of course, wearing a black tie with a navy suit is far from the only acceptable option. Besides a navy suit, you could try out lighter variants or, for incredibly fashion-forward people, a bolder color like red. We’re not saying that tuxedos can’t be open to experimentation with colors, but suits have always been the more common testing ground.

The Right Accessories

A close up of a yellow pocket square on a black tuxedo

When it comes to black-tie accessories, there’s an entire arsenal of items that go along with a tuxedo or serve to dress up a suit. Certain accessories like a pocket square are practically a must on the same level as quality shoes, and you’ll often see studs and cufflinks in formal male attire combinations.

Some accessories are found regularly in tuxedos and suits. For instance, the mentioned cufflinks serve to add a flair to all black-tie apparel. However, you’ll find another accessory as a part of both tuxes and three-part suits: the waistcoat. This elegant addition brings the entire look together, especially when it comes to smoothing out the waistline.

But while waistcoats go just as well with tuxedos and suits, the tux has another, unique, accessory. This is the famed, albeit not as frequently used, cummerbund. This accessory is seen relatively rarely compared to the others, but it adds a unique touch as well as more formality to black-tie apparel. You won’t see cummerbunds often outside high-profile events. This detail is falling out of favor lately, although it’s not yet entirely off the table.

The Importance of Fabric and Color

A man in a midnight blue tuxedo

Fabric and color play a particularly important role in black-tie apparel. Fabric makes the difference between an everyday and black-tie suit, and a quality tuxedo will always be made of choice materials. Black silk is one of the common high-end solutions in this regard and, in tuxes, it combines very well with satin highlights.

Of course, this isn’t the only choice of material. For instance, a suit or tuxedo can be made from black wool, too. Furthermore, although we focused on black variants so far, other color options can come into play as well. For instance, a midnight blue suit or tux is quite fashionable, and a dark blue shade looks darker than black in certain situations.

As mentioned before, while darker shades are by far the most common, black-tie apparel isn’t limited to such colors. Depending on how formal the event is, you could experiment with colors to some extent, although formal and semi-formal occasions will prevent you from going too far. For example, overly lively patterns and textures will rarely – if ever – be welcome.

Footwear Fundamentals

A man in dress clothes tying his shoes

The dress shoe always goes hand in hand with black-tie apparel. The formality of the dress code largely informs what your footwear should look like and excludes certain types of shoes from the get-go. If you want to make sure your outfit is perfectly matched, there’s one option that will never fail: black patent leather shoes.

Patent leather shoes are considered the standard for a good reason. They have a timeless style that makes them ideal for formal and semi-formal events. Plus, patent leather is one of those materials that elevate every shoe design.

While black is the go-to color when putting together a semi-formal look, the color of your shoes will ultimately depend on your suit. Black can go with practically everything, but that doesn’t mean it will always be the best possible choice. Instead, footwear color should complement your suit or tux.

Modern Twists on Classic Black-Tie

Black-tie apparel has seen plenty of changes in modern times. Although classic black suits and tuxes never went out of fashion, there are numerous examples of black being done differently. Likewise, the modern black-tie dress code hasn’t changed too much from its traditional version in its essence. But, as in many matters, the dress code is no longer quite as strict as it used to be.

For instance, you can make various slight changes to the formula, like opting for a pocket square in the same color as your suit. Traditionally, the pocket square should be white against a black jacket. Next, modern black-tie allows for braver choices in terms of textures and prints. Note that when we say “braver,” we mean in the confines of good taste. In other words, you can have a subtle print on your jacket that doesn’t glaringly contrast the apparel as a whole.

Likewise, if you don’t want to wear a classic suit, you can even replace the shirt with a turtleneck. Naturally, all these variants will call for particular caution to ensure your complete outfit looks exciting and classy rather than as a missed attempt at originality.

Get Ready for Your Next Black-Tie Event

A man opening a garment bag with a black tuxedo inside

While the black-tie dress code is considered relatively strict – after all, it is quite far removed from casual wear – it leaves you with plenty of options to look sleek yet original. You can go the safe and standard route and rock a tuxedo or switch up your attire and try for a more modern variant.

Whichever option suits your style better, we’re certain this black-tie guide has provided you with everything you need to know about the dress code. Follow the advice here and you’ll be ready to shine in every black-tie occasion.

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