What to Wear to a Black Tie Event

Laura Tolentino

If your invitation states “black tie optional”, this indicates that your hosts would prefer that you wear either a tuxedo or gown instead.

Black tie events call for an elegant, tailored appearance featuring a black dinner jacket and trousers, white dress shirt with cuff links, black four-in-hand or bow tie, formal waistcoat or cummerbund, as well as black socks and shoes.

Tuxedo

At black tie events, it can be daunting deciding what kind of dress to wear. For some, a classic tuxedo may be just the right outfit; consisting of well-fitted black trousers, dinner jacket and white dress shirt adorned with black bow tie; to complete this classic ensemble, elegant black shoes must also be added.

Though rules for wearing tuxedos may no longer be as stringent, certain considerations must still be kept in mind when donning one. A semi-spread or wing collar shirt ideally worn with french cuffs secured with cufflinks makes for a classic and elegant look; bow ties add further elegance. Colored shirts featuring patterns or fine stripes should also be avoided to complete the ensemble.

Tuxedos can either be single- or double-breasted. When worn single-breasted, one button should always be visible; when double-breasted two are visible. While cummerbunds are optional with their attire, most men opt for more modern looks without this extra detail. A bow tie is typically chosen as neckwear; some men opt for simple neckties. Alternatively, some may choose cravats with black bows for an opulent touch.

As for accessories, black patent leather or very dark brown shoes are required for this occasion, along with black socks which tend to be thinner than usual and black cufflinks and a slim watch in black hues. A pocket square is often worn to show their respect and show they belong in this situation.

The primary difference between a suit and tuxedo lies in their intended use: A tuxedo is designed for formal events and should only be worn for such formal functions; its use would not be suitable in everyday casual settings such as going grocery shopping. Conversely, black suits would not be appropriate attire at funerals or similar somber occasions.

Gown

Though black tie events may be less formal than their white tie counterparts, guests should still dress for them and observe any dress codes required by an important event, whether an awards ceremony, milestone birthday party, grandiose wedding reception, or exclusive ball. Men typically wear either a tuxedo or gown.

While a long evening gown is the traditional choice for this type of event, you don’t need to stick with black. Pastel hues such as powder pink or yellow could work beautifully or deep jewel tones such as emerald or sapphire could add depth. Furthermore, choosing an eye-catching neckline such as off the shoulder for modern appeal or boat neck for classic elegance is equally essential for success.

Women facing black tie events have just as many options available to them when it comes to dressing appropriately for formal events, from cocktail-length sheaths and ball gowns, to more modest options such as cocktail length sheaths. No matter what choice is made, however, all should feature elegant designs with fitted bodices and full skirts for maximum impact at every formal gathering.

Gowns can be worn with classic black patent leather heels and a polished dress shirt for a traditional feel, or modernized by adding sleek watch and conservative tie. No matter what shoes are chosen, just ensure they allow easy navigation of your venue without tripping or stumbling over your gown.

As far as accessories go, dainty earrings, necklaces and bracelets go perfectly with any gown. Bolder jewelery such as shimmery belts or headpieces that glimmer can also help elevate your look. Dainty cufflinks and pocket squares are essential additions. If opting for a cumberbund, pick one that doesn’t clash with either the dress or jacket you are wearing.

If you’re not sure how to approach a black tie dress code, ask the host for more details. It is perfectly acceptable to text or call ahead of time and inquire what attire is expected of you; additionally, look at other guests’ attires for clues as to the level of formality expected at an event.

Bow Tie

Bow ties offer an opportunity to inject some fun and playfulness into a black tie ensemble. When choosing one that complements your overall ensemble, choose something other than traditional black silk fabric – there are endless options!

Consider wearing a black velvet bow tie with gold, silver or bronze hues as a statement piece; Donald Glover and David Gandy have done this successfully.

When selecting the appropriate shirt to go with your bow tie, take note of its collar type and shape. Wing collar shirts are often popular among formal ceremonies; however, French or button collar shirts also work well. It is wise to avoid anything too short with an informal or rounded collar as this makes you appear less formal.

Once you’ve selected your shirt, the next step should be choosing your bow tie. Although pre-tied or clip-on bow ties might seem tempting, these lack the sense of personality essential when dressing in black tie attire. To tie one yourself, start with one end folded over another to form the first half of a bowed shape before taking the other end and drape it across its center to create the second half of its formation.

A bow’s width should also be carefully considered and should fit proportionately with your size. Too-wide bows may look awkward and create the same impression of clownishness as too wide of an opening in a clown nose would. An ideal bow width for people of different faces would be around 9cm dropped so as not to overwhelm or look odd against one side of their face.

As soon as you arrive at a black tie event, remember that it is an occasion worthy of respect. Be polite during speeches and refrain from using profanities with regard to the host; such behavior would only show your disrespect and should never occur at such occasions.

Accessories

If your dress code for an elegant black tie event requires the wearing of accessories to complete your look, such as suspenders, garment bags, socks, lapel flowers and tie bars; while these may seem like minor details they can make all the difference when creating an eye-catching formal look.

Men need a pair of cufflinks in their wardrobe – these decorative fasteners adorning dress shirt buttonholes should match or complement your tie and add style. A classic gold accessory works best, as its rich shades of black pair well. Cufflinks made of mother of pearl or onyx also help create a fashionable appearance.

Pocket squares are essential pieces for black tie events and should match or complement the colour of your tie, and folded carefully so as to not draw undue attention. Women may wish to pair delicate necklaces or reversible earrings with floor length gowns for added elegance and style.

Shoes are an integral component of black tie attire and must be in a dark shade of black. Patent derbies are recommended, while velvet slippers could serve as an acceptable – though impractical – alternative. Although not required, many people like to wear an accompanying belt to prevent their trousers from falling down during formal events.

Cummerbunds can be an ideal way to go for those who do not wish to wear waistcoats; just ensure it is black in colour! Or choose a matching waistcoat paired with bow tie and pocket square for a dapper ensemble.

An elegant boutonniere can add color and vibrancy to a monochromatic outfit, as per the Encyclopedia of Clothes. A boutonniere may feature white or deep red carnations as an appropriate choice; more exotic blooms should be avoided as these could prove distracting during dinner jacket events.