What Black Tie Means and How to Crack it

by Jamie Wilson

Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA

At some point in your life, you’ll receive an invitation from your best mate. This invite won’t consist of an ordinary evening playing the latest version of Halo and having a few bottles of beer. Instead, he’ll ask you to dress smart as he’s hosting a black tie event. And of course, this is the precise moment when every guy panics because he doesn’t know what it’s all about.

So, what does black tie mean? It’s a type of dress code which focuses on formalwear and the importance of the bow tie. If you’re a guest, you’ll be expected to wear your best tuxedo or suit, matching bow tie and formal shoes. If your invitation states black tie then you must turn up wearing your best pieces – no excuses!

Dressing in black tie can be lots of fun, once you know how to do it right. To help you prepare for your next big night out, we’ve compiled a style guide featuring all the top tips on how to achieve this style and how to wear it well.

Black Tie

Before we reveal all of our top secrets, we think that it’s important for you to know what black tie really means. And believe it or not, it’s actually refers to more than what you wear around your neck!

What Does Black Tie Mean?

We normally associate this term (black tie) with our smartest attire. It consists of all the styles and pieces that you’d only consider wearing for your most iconic occasions, such as your wedding day or even your Great Grandad’s 100th birthday! It’s all about looking smart when it really matters.

Also, there’s no limits when it comes to dressing up. You’re supposed to look sophisticated and dashing. So, the more fancy you look, the closer you are to achieving the real black tie style.

Black Tie Dress Code

We think that it’s easy to achieve the black tie style because all you have to do is follow the dress code. Yes, it’s that simple! Choose from these pieces (or pick them all) to help create your black tie style:

  • The dinner jacket (this can come from your tuxedo or suit).
  • Matching trousers.
  • Formal shirt.
  • Black bow tie (most important piece of all).
  • Black tie (on the rare occasion).
  • Black waistcoat (this piece is optional but we think it’s a great one to have).
  • Black socks.
  • Black formal shoes.

Black Tie Attire

When creating your black tie look, you should only ever opt for your most formal attire. Choose from your best tuxedo or suit as this is what your host will be expecting you to wear. Let’s start with the tuxedo. Cocktail anyone?

Black Tie Tuxedo

If you’ve ever seen James Bond (we’re sure that you have) you’ll already know about cocktail attire for men. It goes perfectly with your classic bow tie and it gives you the ability to make a mean cocktail (or so Bond tells us).

When Can I Wear It?

There are no rules to follow when wearing your cocktail attire as it suits every man. However, you must ensure that it fits you perfectly as this formal attire (whether it’s a tuxedo or suit) is all about achieving the perfect fit. Visit your local tailor if you feel unsure and ask for alterations if it’s needed.

How to Wear Your Tuxedo

  • When choosing your tux, always go for black. You really can’t go wrong with this colour as it’s guaranteed to match up nicely with other guests.
  • Remember that your tux needs a classic bow tie (particularly a black one), and then finish off your look with a pair of black formal shoes or go with this option by Dr Marten?

But what if your host prefers a suit? Well… we’ve got that one covered too!

Black Tie Suit

On the rare occasion, you might get the opportunity to play around with your look. We’re becoming more relaxed with our styles, so this is a great option for those who don’t want to dress up too much. Think along the lines of Ryan Gosling for this one.

When Can I Wear It?

Only wear your suit when it’s been asked by your host. You don’t want to turn up looking like Ryan Gosling while everyone else is dressed in cocktail attire like Daniel Craig. Awkward much?

This will be suited to your more casual/formal events. Say you’re about to attend a business lunch? A suit will be perfect for this occasion as it’s smart but relaxed. This look is bound to win over your new client!

How to Wear Your Suit

  • You can play around with the patterns and shades of your suit, but you must check with your host first. This blue suit from Selected can help to provide some colour. It’ll also look perfect alone or with the matching trousers.
  • Add style to your look with a crisp, silk tie. Of course, always match them up with your best formal shoes and you can’t go wrong!

Black Tie Events

When it comes to black tie, it’s always good to think about the event your heading to as it can determine which type of attire you will choose. It’s always important to start by looking at your invitation, so make sure you don’t throw it away (if you haven’t already!).


Unless you’re hosting an underwater wedding, you’ll surely be wearing this black tie style on the day. Finding the best wedding suit is important – we think it’s more vital than the wedding dress (don’t tell your future bride that we said that!).

What Should I Wear?

If you’re the groom, then it has to be a black tie tuxedo. You need to make sure that you stand out from the crowd and enjoy your special day. Although, some men may feel more comfortable wearing a suit, so this is always a good option too.

If you’re a guest at the wedding, always remember to ask about the required dress code. Some modern weddings are planned with a specific dress code, so unless you fancy fighting off bridezilla then you’ll want to be wearing the right attire.

How to Wear Your Wedding Attire

  • To all you grooms, forget about looking for a nice suit. You should be searching for the best tuxedo as this is the ultimate look for weddings. This is your prime opportunity to dress up, so opt for the classic black and matching accessories.
  • No doubt your new bride will be wearing white on your big day, so why can’t you too? This white blazer by Vito is perfect for those controversial grooms, as it gives you a chance to match your bride. Match it up with classic trousers, smart shirt, formal shoes and your bow tie, of course.


So, it’s clear that the black tie style is perfect for pretty much every special occasion. But what if you’re not hosting or attending a wedding? Can you still wear the black tie look? Yes – as it’s now become the popular choice for the more casual events.

What Should I Wear?

Are you attending a family engagement? (we really love weddings!) or maybe your best mate’s 30th birthday party? Some evening events such as birthdays, promotions and leaving parties don’t always require a dress code but this doesn’t mean you can’t still go dressed in black tie.

Instead, turn in your tuxedo for a classic black suit and tie. You can still choose to wear a bow tie if you wish, but an ordinary tie will still achieve the classic look. You can also play around with some colour too but remember, you still need to ask for the host’s permission first. Now, suit up!

How to Wear Your Evening Attire

  • If you get the chance, add some colour into your look as it creates a modern twist. Why not choose this suit from Selected? It’s a classic grey, so it’ll take you a step away from the traditional black but you won’t look too out of place.
  • Despite whatever colour you choose, always stick with black accessories as it’ll make your alternative colours stand out. Also, don’t steer too much away as we don’t want you to lose your traditional black tie look.

How to Fasten Your Bow Tie

The most significant part of your black tie look is your bow tie. It doesn’t matter how great your tuxedo/suit looks, your eyes will be drawn to your neck. Of course, there’s nothing worse than seeing a handsome man with a poorly tied dickie bow!

Watch this video and practice your skills in creating the perfect bow tie.

How to Fasten Your Tie

Modern black tie events are becoming (slightly) casual, so not all hosts will expect you to wear a bow tie. Of course, you should never go open collar, so we insist that you choose your most formal tie. Watch this video to learn (or refresh) your skills on creating the most perfect tie.

Black Tie Etiquette

The aim of the game (when attending a black tie event) is to give your host exactly what he or she wants. You’ll find these demands on your invitation and don’t worry, we’ve decoded them all to show you what they really mean.

  • Black tie means black tie required – you should always go straight for your tuxedo and bow tie. This is the time when you can really dress up!
  • Black tie preferred means black tie requested – this is another request for the tux and bow tie combo but it doesn’t exclude those who don’t own one. If you can’t wear a tux, go with a very dark suit and tie.
  • Black tie optional means casual black tie – you’ll follow this dress code for more casual events, such as a business lunch. Your traditional bow tie is optional but a classic tie will do the trick!
  • Creative black tie means black tie required (and get creative!) – this is a new term that not everyone is familiar with. It’s vital that you wear your bow tie, however you need to get creative by bringing something else to the table. Go with creative accessories for this one!
  • Contemporary black tie means casual suit and tie – another addition to the black tie lingo, where it’s not actually black tie. Instead, you’re simply expected to turn up and look smart!

Renting Vs. Buying

No matter whether your hosting or attending a black tie event, you’re always left with the same question. Should I rent or buy my formalwear? Are you ready to invest in yourself? Watch this video to see which option suits you best.

Your Quick Guide to Achieving the Black Tie Look

  • Know your event backwards: You want to learn all about your special occasion beforehand, so memorise your invitation.
  • Always follow what your host asks: Even if the host is your best mate, he’s still the guy in charge and you need to respect the type of dress code he wants.
  • Think bow tie first, regular tie second: You should always opt for the classic bow tie as this is what it’s all about. However, ties are becoming a popular choice so don’t rule them out yet.
  • Black tie is not just for the evening: You can wear the black tie style whenever you like, so don’t feel that you have to hide away your attire.
  • Enjoy your occasion: Once you’re all suited and booted, the pressure is off! So, enjoy your event and feel confident dressed head-to-toe in black tie.

Final Note

Black tie events are always fun but they do come with a lot of rules. Ultimately, the goal is to follow the dress code of the event, which will be decided by your host prior to the big night. Unfortunately, it’s all about them so you need to bite your tongue and just go with the flow.

Black tie attire has become the most popular choice of formalwear for men. It can make you instantly look good and it’s the one time when you’re allowed to dress up. Of course, the nature of your event can sway your choice between a tuxedo or a suit. However, if you have your trusty bow tie with you at all times, then you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Feature image from Pinterest

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