Formal Wear: Identifying Your Options for a Black Tie Event


Planning to attend a fancy gathering? Black tie events can seem pretty intimidating, particularly if you’ve never dressed for one before. However, once you know a few things, they shouldn’t be all that nerve-wracking. We’ve compiled a brief guide to help you understand your options.

What Is a Black Tie Event?

A black tie event is nothing more than a formal evening gathering that takes place after 7 PM. It might be a party, or it could be a social gathering, such as a dinner or an awards ceremony. It will likely involve both men and women, and the dress code will be more formal than most other social engagements, so put away your work suit. You’ll need something different to match the black tie dress code.

Understanding the Black Tie Event Dress Code

Less formal than the now rare white tie dress code, the black tie dress code actually originated from 19th century England. It’s more formal than business wear, though, and generally involves men wearing a black coat with a different lapel color to the rest of the jacket, a white shirt, and a black bow tie. Perhaps the best example of this dress code is the tuxedo. While we think of black tie dress code as very formal today, it was originally less formal than a tailcoat that would have been worn to a white tie event.

Deconstructing the Black Tie Event Dress Code

So, what items go into making your black tie event wardrobe? There are several individual pieces that you’ll need to understand. We’ll run down your options here.

The most obvious part of your formal evening attire will be the dinner jacket. You’ll find tuxedos in two varieties – single breasted and double breasted, although double breasted options are rarer, and less frequently worn. Your jacket should be black or midnight navy blue, and should have a contrasting material used for lapel construction.

Under the jacket is the shirt. You’ll generally opt for a white, collared, button-up shirt. In most instances, you’ll want to avoid any color other than white to achieve the formal yet understated look the black tie dress code calls for. Look for a white shirt with a wing tip collar to work best with your bow tie. However, wing tip collared shirts can only be worn with bow ties and formal tux jackets, so you might choose to go with a normal collared dress shirt.

Next on the list of black tie event clothing items is the waistcoat. Waistcoats add style and flair to your ensemble, and they can be made from a wide range of materials. You can opt for black or white, but you can also choose a waistcoat in a different color to add a bit of personality and color to your outfit if you prefer.

Next, we have the cummerbund. This simple accessory should be worn if you opt not to wear a waistcoat, and sits at the bottom of the shirt, just above the top of your pants. It ties or hooks in the back, and should match the color of your tie, which brings us to our next topic.

The bow tie is an essential part of the black tie event dress code. In most instances, you’ll opt for a black bow tie, but there are other colors available to help you add a bit of spice to your night. Many bow ties today don’t need to be tied (they hook at the back of the neck), but some do.

Finally, you need the right shoes for your evening out. Tuxedo shoes are the best option, but you can also choose to go with any high-polished dress shoe if you prefer. Avoid wearing low-gloss shoes, though.

Ultimately, you only need the right jacket, shirt, waistcoat/cummerbund, tie and shoes to create a formal yet stylish look for your evening out on the town. With the right choices, you’ll be comfortable but polished.

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