Black Tie Dress Code: How To Nail It

What is considered black tie attire?

Dress codes can be confusing. And they’re made even more confusing by the fact that people get them wrong all the time. Fortunately, the rules aren’t really all that complicated, and once you have them down you’ll be set for every occasion.

This time around, we’re looking at one of the more formal dress codes that will pop up in your life: Black Tie. This is the dress code for some of life’s fanciest events – formal weddings, galas, balls, even the Oscars.


Now, just by the inherent importance of such formal and fancy events, black tie is a dress code you really don’t want to screw up. Being underdressed for a dinner date is one thing, but standing out like a sore thumb at your best friend’s wedding is a whole other level. So where do you start?

The answer is actually pretty easy. When the dress code calls for black tie attire, wear a tuxedo. Specifically, a black tuxedo. More specifically, a traditional black tuxedo, which means peak or shawl lapels in satin or grosgrain, and matching trousers with a stripe down the leg. Most importantly, it does not mean any old black suit.


| BRIAN WEARS | Polo Ralph Lauren tuxedo and cummerbund, Ermengildo Zegna shirt, Barney’s New York bow tie, Brooks Brothers shoes | PHOTOGRAPHY | by Rob McIver Photo

And with that black tuxedo, be sure to hit all of the necessary and appropriate accompaniments. First, choose a bowtie that matches the lapels of your jacket. Obviously this means black, but it also means satin if you have satin lapels, and grosgrain if you’re rocking grosgrain lapels.

Next, pick a white french cuff shirt. You might be inclined to reach for something with a wing collar, but that style should actually be reserved for white tie occasions. For black tie, stick with a spread or point collar.


A true tuxedo shirt has a bib-front, usually either pleated or pique, and a hidden placket helps keep the space below your bowtie clean and sophisticated. However, it is not completely necessary. For cufflinks, feel free to inject some personal style, but keep things subtle and understated.

The part most men screw up is remembering a proper waist covering, preferably a cummerbund, which hides the unsightly triangle of white shirt that can peek out below your button stance and above your trousers. Theoretically, trousers with a high enough waist will do the trick, but a true black tie outfit isn’t complete without this accessory.


Finally, finish things off with black dress socks and black shoes. Patent leather oxfords are the most traditional choice, but high-shine calfskin works as well. Always avoid brogueing and open lacing to keep things as sleek as the rest of your getup.

At the end of the day, true black tie a pretty strict dress code – sometimes you can get away with a midnight blue tuxedo, or an off-white dinner jacket with black tuxedo trousers, but the tried and true look is straight up black and white.


That said, we’ll finish off by countering a common misconception – believe it or not, black tie is not the most formal of all dress codes. That distinction goes to white tie, which is a whole other level of formal and a topic for another day.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Adam Lehman
He Spoke Style


Chime In

  • Ben K H

    Great Article!
    Since you mentioned White Tie, which is hardly seen nowadays: I was wondering, if any of you have a Tailcoat.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Ben, I used to have a tailcoat as it was actually a sartorial requirement when attending music school. Of course, it didn’t fit me well and it’s gone now! When I have an orchestra gig these days – formal evening concerts typically require white tie (at least the BSO does – I actually end up borrowing a similarly-sized friend’s. I play these gigs so infrequently, I simply can’t justify the expense. Now, if I had more than the occasional reason to wear one, I’d certainly invest.

  • Brent Powers

    “The part most men screw up is remembering a proper waist covering, preferably a cummerbund, which hides the unsightly triangle of white shirt that can peek out below your button stance and above your trousers…a true black tie outfit isn’t complete without this accessory.”

    Yes, thank you! Nailed it.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Should also point out that a waistcoat is also more than appropriate. A personal decision. Thanks for the comment, Brent.

      • Forrest Howe

        A major problem for many waistcoats is the height in front. This creates a truncated triangle of white showing. Many “formal” waistcoats these days are just black business types.

        • Paolo

          Yes a low front 3 button waistcoat is required with a tuxedo if you don’t have a cummerbund. I couldn’t find one that fitted for a reasonable cost so bought a modern satin buttoned tuxedo waistcoat (5 button) and had it altered to give a lower and wider front down to a 3 button. Now I look the absolute business for 1/2 the cost ! Thank you seamstress’s of the world….

  • Jim Sears

    Looking sharp here! You being a such a wristwatch guy, I expected you to comment on the supposed customary rule that says a man should never wear a watch when wearing formal wear. Thoughts? And looking forward to the white tie article.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Thanks, Jim. That’s actually a post we’ve got in the calendar for this month!

  • Luis Martinez

    Brian, you should attend the Oscars sometime to show some of those celebrities how it is done, seriously! Looking very sharp by the way.

  • Luigi Saladini

    Brian, please advice. If I get a black tie invitation but do not have the tuxedo, can I wear dark navy blue suit with open lapels and the same colour bow tie?

    • Paolo

      Not really no. I mean you can wear what you want but to be ‘properly’ dressed you need the appropriate ‘tux-uniform’ in either black or mid-night blue with black bow and trims. many cheaper tux’s have open/cut lapels which are not correct however unless its the Oscars I am sure no one will notice that much !

  • Forrest Howe

    I know the expiry date for this discussion might have come and gone. However, I did want to ask your thoughts on wearing stiffer shirt with black studs for black tie. You seem to go for regular shirt front and regular buttons.

  • Noel

    Like black suits.
    Visit our Men’s Fashion site

  • Ivar

    great post.
    Visit our Men’s Fashion site

  • Guitar Collector USA

    Big, big mistake. The model is wearing a regular dress shirt. The buttons on a tuxedo shirt should never be the mother of pearl (or plastic) buttons you see on a regular dress shirt. The appropriate way to fasten the shirt is with studs. The metal of the studs should match those of the cufflinks as well as the fittings on the braces (suspenders). Never, ever wear a belt with tuxedo pants. Another acceptable alternative is the fly-front tuxedo shirt which hides the buttons (see Daniel Craig in Casino Royale). The author of this article has to go back and fix this enormous error or otherwise you’re going to have a bunch of people thinking it’s acceptable to wear a dress shirt or to leave the regular buttons intact.