Tuxedo, black tie, dinner dress, 007 duds, penguin suit…whatever you call the most formal of dress codes (and we certainly hope it isn’t that last one), odds are you will never look better than when you’re dressed in this smart ensemble.
In the 1860s, men of the British middle and upper classes began easing out of the stuffy fashion formalities that had long been the accepted standard in high society. Prim and proper day wear was replaced by casual suits, and the formal evening tailcoat gave way to a simpler, shorter version. Though perhaps controversial at first, the future of the tailless jacket was assured in 1865 when the Prince of Wales ordered a blue silk smoking jacket and matching trousers from Savile Row tailors Henry Poole & Co.
Men’s fashion has come a long way from the 19th century, but black tie has never lost its charm. Trends may come and go, but a tuxedo is forever. Unfortunately, with the 21st century’s lack of occasions to dress up to this degree, many men are at a loss for how to effectively execute the look. We think that’s a damn shame, so today we’re offering a crash course in the forgotten art of donning the black tie dress code.
Definition Of The Black Tie Dress Code (And Exceptions To The Rules)
From the Duke Of Windsor in the 30s to James Bond in…well…everything James Bond has ever been in, black tie remains the standard for formal attire – which means it’s essential to get it right. Conventions of the dress code have evolved subtly over time, but if you follow certain key guidelines, you can’t help looking good.
Let’s start with the basics: what constitutes black tie in the first place? Customarily worn only for events after 6pm, black tie is less formal than the white tie/tails combo but more formal than standard suits. The basic components of black tie are: a black dinner jacket with matching trousers, an optional black formal waistcoat or cummerbund, a white formal shirt, a black bow tie, black dress socks and black formal shoes.
At its most traditional, the tuxedo is made from black wool. Satin or grosgrain facings are found on the jacket’s lapels and buttons, and a stripe or braid in matching material runs along the outseam of the trousers. Of course, traditions are made to be toyed with, so these days you’ll find black tie that is no longer black. Midnight blue is a dapper alternative, and some gents are even braving other, bolder colours. Velvet is also a popular alternative to the classic tux.
The trick here is to blend personal expression with a healthy dose of caution. Just because it looked good on the red carpet doesn’t mean it will look good on you or be appropriate for the occasion. Dress to suit your body type, your personality and, most importantly, the event you’re attending.
Let’s break it down by the most essential pieces…
The jacket should be wool, with no vents and satin or grosgrain lapels. Both single- and double-breasted varieties are acceptable, but the former is currently more popular. A peak lapel is the most formal and traditional option, but a shawl collar can be a polished, chic alternative if you get the proportions right. A notched lapel should only make appearances on your more casual suits.
In general, opt for a turn down collar over a wing collar, which is better suited for white tie. The front can be plain for a clean-cut look, pleated, or Marcella (a subtly textured fabric made up of small diamond shapes). If you’re going the pleated route, make sure they’re tight and neat or you run the risk of looking like you’re wearing ruffles. Either a fly front (concealed buttons) or French placket (buttons on show) is acceptable. Cuffs should always be double.
You are a grown-up – master the art of tying a bowtie. There is no excuse for resorting to one of those clip-on abominations. As the name suggests, your bowtie should be black (break the rule if you dare). Matching the material of your bowtie to the facing of the suit is the best route for beginners, but sartorial superstars can pull off a mix of textures. Barathea silk, a matte-finish alternative to shinier silks, will add a more traditional, sharper finish to your outfit.
Waist covering – either a black cummerbund or a black waistcoat – is optional. If going for the cummerbund, make sure the pleats are facing up and that the material matches the bowtie and lapels. If going for the waistcoat, both single- or double-breasted styles are available. A low-cut evening waistcoat is the most traditional choice. A pocket square or silk scarf adds an extra something special to your formalwear, and don’t pass up the opportunity to tastefully bling-out your outfit with clean-cut, timeless, elegant cufflinks.
Black Tie: What To Wear On The Bottom
When it comes to your lower half, there are two essential elements to the tux…
Your trousers should be the same material as your jacket, unless you’ve opted for a velvet jacket. Matching velvet is a good look for no one. They should have plain hemmed bottoms – no turn-ups – with a single braid down the side. A higher waisted trouser is well-suited to wearing with a waistcoat, but is a more old-fashioned look. Those with contemporary tastes can find lower, slim-leg dinner trousers with stripes down the side in place of the braids. Pleats have largely fallen out of style in favour of flat fronts. Look for side pockets that are in line with the stripe/braid, as it looks neater, and no belt loops.
The traditional accompaniment to a dinner suit is evening shoes – pumps with a satin or silk bow on the top – but gentleman who can pull off that look nowadays are few and far between. Simple black patent leather lace-ups (no broguing!) are now the shoes of choice.
Expert Black Tie Tip
“There should be nothing more exciting to the fashionable male than receiving an invitation that requests ‘Black Tie’ – take the opportunity to invest in a high quality tuxedo in an exacting fit that will last for years to come – shawl collar models in slim fit styles are very much on trend.
If you are buying your first tuxedo, resist the urge to splash out on the velvet tux and opt for a virgin wool model with a small amount of elastane for stretch and comfort. Black is of course the quintessential choice however a midnight blue is particularly versatile and you’ll be surprised how many outfits can be created with this colour for other occasions.
Finally, don’t dumb it down with a necktie, choose a brilliant white shirt with a semi-spread collar, complete with a bow-tie in the same fabric as the lapel, choose a shiny patent leather shoe and tuck that invitation into your jacket pocket with confidence.”
– Matthew Keighran, Managing Director, HUGO BOSS Australia