Black tie is the most common formal dress code. Besides its popularity many men still do not understand the requirements for a black tie ensemble. Below is a quick guide that will teach you how to properly dress for the next black tie function.
The Classic Black Tie Look:
Classic black tie for men requires a classic black tuxedo, white dress shirt, waistcoat or cummerbund, and a solid black bow tie. See below for more information on each clothing item that makes up a black tie ensemble:
A classic tux will instantly add formality. Typically tuxedos are solid black in color but a midnight blue tuxedo is an acceptable alternative. White tuxedos are only acceptable for a dress code referred to as “warm weather black tie” and are limited to a white jackets only, worn during the daytime and in warm weather.
Tuxedos come in different cuts and styles. What differentiate the cuts are the lapels as well as the jacket style. Most jackets are single breasted these days, but should you look for something more unique, then a well tailored double breasted tuxedo might be an excellent choice. The most common lapel style for formal jackets is the so called “peak” lapel. Slightly less common but equally formal, especially if made from fine satin or silk, is the so-called shawl lapel.
If black tie functions are a once in a lifetime occurrence, then buying a tux might not make sense. In most cases tuxes, and even entire black tie outfit, can be rented for $80-$120. Alternatively a classic black suit can be worn instead of a tux but before you opt for this clothing alternative you may want to read the invitation carefully or check with the host. Strict black tie functions must be met with a classic tuxedo. “Black Tie Optional” or “Black Tie Preferred” invitations on the other hand can be greeted with a black suit and formal necktie in place of a tux and bow tie.
The Black Tie Dress Shirt
The classic “black tie look” also required a formal dress shirt especially made for the occasion. The formal dress shirt is always solid white in color. Depending on your preference you will have several style options: Most black tie dress shirts have French Cuffs and are worn with cufflinks instead of buttons. The front of the dress shirt comes in many styles: pleated, with hidden buttons (known as “fly fronts”), as well as button-less closed with button studs that match the pair of cufflinks. Finally you will have some collar options. Most common is the wing-tip collar. Other alternatives are the classic turn-down collar as well as the mandarin collar – the later worn with mandarin jacket and a decorative stud in place of a bow tie.
The classic formal footwear must be black in color. Most common is the glossy patent leather lace-up oxford shoe. Also acceptable are well polished black calf skin dress shoes. Another alternative to the lace-up are pumps (a formal loafer style).
Waistcoat & Cummerbund
Whether you opt for the waistcoat or a cummerbund is a personal style preference. The waistcoat is worn with non-pleated dress shirts while the cummerbund can be worn with any shirt style. For classic black tie both should be black in color. The cummerbund typically has pleats that are worn facing upwards (hence they received the nickname “crumb catcher”). The waistcoat commonly displays fine patterns of birds-eye, herringbone, or pique. Although black is the traditional color for both many chose to wear waistcoats that matches the tie color. This variation is most common for weddings, proms, and formal daytime functions.
Black Tie Neckwear
Bow ties are the classic neckwear for black tie events. The classic bow tie is black in color. Acceptable alternatives are midnight blue and burgundy. Although most bow ties are pattern less, and made from shiny sateen silk, fine patterns such as ribs, pique and birds-eye are acceptable and will add a more unique touch. Other colors besides black are not part of traditional black tie dress but nevertheless common for wedding parties and high school proms.
Just like there are many shirt choices, bow ties also come in different styles. The true bow tie aficionado will insist on wearing a self tied bow while the majority of men opt of a more convenient pre-tied version. Most common is the so-called butterfly bow tie that has a spread of 2.5-3 inches. Batwing bows are narrower (1 ј - 2 inches) and bow ties with pointed ends have, as the name suggests, pointed tips – both are less common but very well accepted for black tie dress.
Cufflinks & Studs
Black is the color of choice for cufflinks and studs. The hardware is silver, platinum, or gold and should be matched to your wristwatch. Silver is the most common accent color for black studs and cufflinks.
Other Black Tie Accessories
Other excellent accessories for your back tie ensemble are pocket squares, opera shawls, and boutonniere. The pocket square is most commonly white in color and made from heavier Thai silk, pique cotton, and fine linens. The opera shawl is another accessory that is worn laying over the shoulders. Most opera shawls are white or ivory in color, have fine tassels on each end, and are made from silk or fine cashmere.