Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
Received an invite to a swanky party? If so, then you’re going to need to know what to wear. Although black tie events can be daunting, they’re not as scary as they first appear. So, here’s our black tie guide, with all you need to know about what to wear to a black tie event. Keep on reading and be prepared for any wedding.
You may think that a black tie dress is the most formal look you can wear. However, this is actually a white-tie dress code. Fortunately for you, not many people still wear white tie dress, which means that black tie has become the standard dress code for formal social events. Wearing a black tie can be a fun, but sometimes expensive, style to get right. So, carry on reading for all our best tips.
Black Tie Event
Very simply, a black tie event is a formal evening event or party that takes place after 7 pm and involves men and women wearing a specific ‘black tie’ dress code. Black tie events are social functions that are generally more formal than a run-of-the-mill party or business event. You wouldn’t wear the suit you wear to work to a black tie event for instance.
An example of a black tie event would be along the lines of a ball or a corporate business party. Unless you’re James Bond you probably won’t go to too many black tie events. However, it’s still important to know what and how to wear the black tie dress code, for those instances when you need to whack out the bow tie and spruce up.
Black Tie Event Dress Code
Many of you may be thinking “what is a tuxedo?” or “what is a black tie?”, well, the black tie event dress code, known as cravat noir in France, is a semi-formal evening dress code. It originates from the western, British, men’s evening wear of the 19th Century. You would usually only wear a black tie dress code at events that take place after 7 pm. A black tie dress code is less formal than a white tie dress code that involves a man wearing a tailcoat jacket with a starched shirt, waistcoat, and white bow tie.
The black-tie dress code, however, is more formal than business wear. It typically involves a man wearing a white dress shirt, a black bow tie, an evening waistcoat, a dinner jacket in which the lapels are a different shade from the rest of the jacket, and a pair of black oxford shoes. You may know a dinner jacket from its American name, tuxedo. It is often paired with cufflinks and worn with a wing collar to most formal events.
Today, the majority of us think of the black tie dress code as being very formal. However, when men first began to wear dinner jackets, in the Victorian era, it was originally a much less formal item of clothing in comparison to what upper-class men wore every day.
Therefore, it was originally a less formal alternative to a tailcoat. However, declaring it inappropriate to wear in mixed company, not many men wore black tie dress. It wasn’t until after the First World War that the dinner jacket became the principal form of evening wear for men.
What to Wear to a Black Tie Event for Men
The Dinner Jacket
Otherwise known as the tuxedo (or tux if you’re a little lazier), this is where a bit of investment is needed. The main thing that makes this different from your usual suit jacket is the contrasting material to the lapel (the long collar of the jacket), with a silk material or similar, so you won’t be able to wear your suit jacket to these events. Some guys even opt for velvet when it comes to formal dress codes.
Double Breasted Dinner Jacket
The double-breasted dinner jacket generally isn’t the norm when it comes to knowing what black tie attire is for men. More commonly seen in casual suiting, the double-breasted dinner jacket is a rare sight. However, a double-breasted jacket only suits a very slim amount of people as the two buttons can make you appear wider than you actually are. Smoking jackets such as this one are often worn to ceremonies, such as an award ceremony amongst celebrities.
The Dress Shirt
I’d stick to white here, no pastel colours or prints – it’s all about being understated rather than adding in too many vibrant details. If you’re working on a tight budget, I wouldn’t go spending a load on your shirt, it’s one of the main areas you could cut back on the spending. If you’re not working on such a tight budget, then you can go for shirts with a little more premium materials and finer details like smaller collars. You want that charming tuxedo jacket with a luxurious Tom Ford vibe, don’t you?
However, the downside of buying a wing-tipped shirt is the fact that you will only really be able to wear it when you go to a black tie event. If you go to a lot of black tie events, or you invest in a shirt with a detachable collar, then this shouldn’t be an issue for you. However, for the standard man, this may seem like an unworthy and extravagant purchase.
Fortunately, in the 21st Century, we don’t have such strict rules of dress etiquette. This means that it is now perfectly acceptable for a man to wear a normal collared dress shirt and bow tie. It can sometimes even look more stylish.
Black Tie Waistcoat
Probably not something you own already but a great addition to this dress code. This is where it’s possible to add a little more subtle detailing and, again, just work to your budget. If you’re working to a tight one, stick to more common materials, if you’ve got quite a lot to spend then go for silks or similar fabrics. Midnight blue silk and a white shirt are a must-do dream combo. Spice up your dark suit in a creative way, and with a creative black tie.
The waistcoat is about the only part of a black tie outfit where it’s acceptable to wear something that isn’t black or white. Therefore, it’s a great opportunity to experiment and bring a bit of your personality to your look.
A funny word to some, but the cummerbund is a piece of material, usually made from satin or silk, that sits around the top of the trousers and the bottom of the shirt. Knowing how to wear a cummerbund is simple as all you’ll need to do is tie around the bottom half of your waist and fasten it at the back. If you’ve opted for a bow tie in a different colour to black then your cummerbund should match.
The Bow Tie
This is another piece that makes this dress code what it is. Do you need some guidelines? Don’t worry, if you don’t know how to tie a bow tie, you can just buy ready-tied ones. It does mean you can’t hang it round your neck at the end of the night though – a pretty cool image made famous by many an actor over the years – particularly in Bond movies.
If you’re still finding bow ties confusing, then check out the video below for a step-by-step tutorial on how to tie one. Although it’s tricky in the first instance, once you get the hang of it, it’s not that hard.
To tie a bow tie, put a bow tie around your neck with one side longer than the other. Now wrap the longer side over the shorter side, placing the longer end over your shoulder. Now fold the shorter side in half and hold it at your neck. Once you have done this take the longer side and wrap it around the non-folded short end. Pass this long end through the hold now created at the back of the bow. Pull both sides to tighten and neaten your bow tie. This is what a traditional black tie shawl collar should look like.
Now, if you want to go really classic and traditional, you should check out our guide on what shoes to wear with a tuxedo. If you’re not looking to invest in a pair of tuxedo shoes then just make sure whatever you opt for has a high shine finish. It just looks more premium and suits this dress code a lot more than rugged-looking brogues or derby shoes.
When you’re wearing normal or high shine black leather shoes, it’s important that you know how to maintain and polish them. Black leather shoes are some of the most formal shoes a man can wear. However, if they get scuffed or aren’t looked after, they quickly won’t be.
To polish a pair of leather shoes you will need:
- Shoe Polish.
- A brush for applying polish.
- A clean brush buffs the shoes.
- Clean cloth to give the shoes a high shine.
Once you have properly polished your shoes, it’s important to make sure you maintain them. Purchase some crepe protect spray to give a layer of protective film over your shoes. This spray will protect the leather from any water or harsh weather conditions. If you’re wondering how to polish your shoes then check out the video below for all you need to know.
Black Tie Outfit
Now you’ve thought about how to wear all of these different pieces of formal men’s wear, it’s time to put them all together in an outfit. If you spend a bit of time and attention on getting your look right you will look stylish in no time.
Add your white dress shirt underneath for a slick and stylish contrast between black and white. To finish the outfit off, add a pair of black high-shine leather shoes and a black bow tie. If you want to add some accessories then think about adding a white pocket square in your jacket pocket.
Black Tie Dress Code for Men
- Think about the event(s) you’re going to. If you’ve received an invite to a function and you’re not sure if it’s black tie, think about when it is, who’s organising it, and the type of event it is. Or, even easier, just ask.
- Get a jacket and trousers to match. If possible, buy your dinner jacket and trousers as a set as they’ll match better.
- Invest in a wing-tipped shirt. Although you won’t be blamed for wearing a normal collared shirt, a wing tip collar is proper etiquette.
- Learn how to tie a bow tie. It can be tricky in the first place but isn’t hard once you’ve got the hang of it. If not, buy a ready tied one. You can also go for a shawl lapel to spice the look up.
- Get a waistcoat. The waistcoat is the perfect opportunity to bring a bit of extra detail to your black tie dress code.
- Polish and maintain you shoes. Black leather shoes can be extremely formal, but you have to look after them. Give them good polish and spray them with crepe protection.
On That Note
In the modern day, we don’t often get many opportunities to dress up formally. It can be a very fun experience and is therefore worth spending some time and effort over. Although you want to be careful not to break the bank when buying black tie clothing, it can be worth setting a budget and sticking to it. Ultimately, it’s not that hard to wear a black tie dress code. Just follow the tips and tricks in this style guide and you’ll be red carpet ready in no time.