Black tie is considered the créme de la créme of dress codes in Western culture. It is reserved for the most spectacular occasions when men and women are required to reach the highest standards of sartorial class and sophistication.
There may be only a few times in a man’s life where he will be presented with an invitation stamped with the words “Black Tie”. These invitations likely concern formal dinners, balls, galas, award evenings, milestone celebrations and other VIP events, where a man and women are expected to epitomize the level of glitz and glamour on display. The dress code signals to a man that he must wear a traditional tuxedo-style suit and, by default, a woman is expected to dress in a similar caliber by wearing a ballgown or cocktail dress.
There are a number of criteria that must be ticked by in order to achieve “correct” black tie that is in line with tradition, but this can be confusing. If you have received an invitation to a black tie event and are unsure of what it entails, and how exactly it differs to other dress codes, consider this your comprehensive guide.
Black tie: a brief history
The black-tie dress is steeped in history. It dates back to the 19th century when British and American upper-class aristocrats would wear the formal attire during evening events, typically commencing after 6 pm. Contrary to common assumption, black tie is actually considered to be “semi-formal”, coming in second in the measure of formality to the “white tie” dress code, which is typically reserved for royalty and very high-powered persons.
While white tie calls for tailcoats, top hats and white bow ties, black tie calls for a dinner jacket with silk lapels, silk-striped trousers, a white dress shirt with either a cummerbund or waistcoat and a black bow tie. On the feet, one is required to wear black patent leather shoes such as brogues. In this modern era, there are many variations to black tie dress code considered to be a luxury statement. For instance, Politix has eye-catching velvet jackets as a variation to black tie suits to make a mark.
Also, confusingly, traditional black tie tuxedos aren’t black, they are in fact a midnight blue shade. This is because midnight blue actually appears darker in dim lighting than black does, and therefore looks more sophisticated.
Black tie: how to get it right
To get black tie right, you need to comprise the right selection of pieces. To hit the criterion, follow the below rules.
The dinner jacket
The dinner jacket is at the heart of the black tie dress code. In accordance with tradition, dinner jackets and tuxedos should have silk shawl lapels.
The lapels on a dinner jacket are important because they complement the rest of the ensemble. There are three styles of lapel: a notched lapel, a peak lapel and a shawl lapel, and they all have different widths and depths. Shawl lapels are preferred on a tuxedo because they have no gorge or collar, meaning that they are one piece. Shawl lapels are also deeper than the other two variations and accentuate the V-shape from the dress shirt.
Getting the trousers right in a black tie ensemble is simple: they must match the dinner jacket by having a silk stripe on the outseam to complement the silk lapels on the jacket.
The hardest thing about getting the trousers right is ensuring that they fit correctly. If they don’t fit to perfection the whole look will be ruined, so visit a tailor and get them made to measure.
The dress shirt
The dress shirt is perhaps what sets a black tie ensemble apart from an ordinary formal ensemble. Traditionally, dress shirts and white, pleated, have a winged collar and holes in the sleeves for cufflinks.
The buttons can be either black or white, but to keep in line with tradition the rule is that white buttons should be worn with a black cummerbund.
A black-tie requires a man to wear either a waistcoat or a cummerbund over his dress shirt. A waistcoat buttons up over the waistline and is sleeveless, whereas a cummerbund is a thick black band that conceals the waist. Both accentuate the V-shape of the dress shirt created by the silk lapels, and while the waistcoat is more popular in modern men it is slightly less formal.
The finishing touches
Of course, no black tie ensemble is complete without the eponymous black bow tie. While it is not frowned upon to wear a boldly colored bow tie to inject a bit of contemporary style into the outfit, a black bow tie is most traditional.
Other accessories that should be considered are cufflinks, a boutonnière, a pocket square, an evening scarf, a bowler hat and a watch. Experimenting with accessories is an easy way to add your own personal style.
Getting suited and booted for a black tie event is very exciting, so enjoy the process! If you follow the above sartorial rules you will look and feel better than ever before.