Good Question: Can You Wear A Watch With Black Tie?

On wearing a watch with a tuxedo

The question of whether or not you can – or should – wear a watch with black tie attire is a contentious subject. In fact, we’d put it right up there with our infamous (and surprisingly ongoing) socks vs. no socks debate. It’s a great question and one that any men’s style aficionado worth his salt should know how to answer correctly.

However, there are always two sides to every story and it’s worth going over the arguments both for and against wearing a watch with a tuxedo. Let’s start with those who say it’s a sin.

Reasons to not…

There are two popular arguments against wearing a watch with a tuxedo. The first is quite simple: it just doesn’t look right. And to be honest, I think this is a somewhat fair point.

A tuxedo is very simple. It’s minimalistic in its simplicity and clean, elegant lines. I’d be lying if I hadn’t put on my tux and then added a watch and thought to myself, “You know, the watch peeking out from under my cuff just kind of throws the whole thing off balance.”

The second reason given to not wear a watch with a tuxedo is one concerned with etiquette and being a proper gentleman. If you are attending a black tie event, it is being hosted by someone. And wearing a watch signals that you are concerned with the time, which would be construed as an insult to the host. What, do you have somewhere else to be than this fancy party I invited you to?

Also plausible.

Hold on a second, though…

As we have established, black tie attire in its purest form is a pretty strict and fairly prescriptive dress code. There are certain elements that need to be present as well as those you are encouraged to stay away from. In this way, black tie is perhaps one of the ultimate style troll dress codes.

But, as we have seen, there are any number of alternative ways to do black tie. Black tie optional. Black tie creative. Cocktail attire. And a host of other black tie alternatives where a tuxedo is not necessary. So it only makes sense that some would entertain and embrace wearing a watch with a tuxedo.

wearing watch with tuxedo black tie optional

Plus, even though a rule book might say it’s something you shouldn’t do, the fact is that people are doing it. Take a look at some of the best-dressed guys on the red carpet.

And speaking of men’s style rule books, I think it’s apt that we consult Alan Flusser. The following relevant passage comes from Flusser’s seminal volume Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion:

“Simplicity should govern the choice of jewelry for formal wear. Studs and matching cufflinks can be made of plain gold, black enamel, or semi-precious stone. Mother-of-pearl, also handsome, is perhaps more appropriate for white tie. Fine sets of studs and matching cufflinks can be found in antique shops that specialize in old jewelry (the most interesting examples are those made between 1890 and 1930). You might also look for a gold pocket watch and chain…”

Here’s the money shot:

…If you choose to wear a wristwatch, remember that the thinner the watch, the more tasteful it is. Black bands are recommended.

And there you have it from the man who literally wrote the book on men’s style. You’ll notice that Flusser doesn’t seem to have any sort aversion to wearing a watch with a tuxedo whatsoever, and in fact, offers some guidance on how to do it.

So, what is correct?

In all matters in which the rules of style are invoked, we here at HSS turn to the one rule that we personally know to always be true. It’s our golden rule of style. And that rule is:

If it looks right, it is right.

You can know the rules better than anyone. You can read more books on men’s style than everyone else. But book smarts don’t always translate into real world successes. There’s something to be said about “going by feel” instead of making a decision based on what you’ve been told you “should” or “shouldn’t” do.

Best watches to wear with a tuxedo

Now that we’ve established that it is acceptable to wear a watch with a tuxedo – if that happens to be your prerogative – let’s talk about some of the absolute best watches to wear with that tux. Here are five of our favorites.

A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin

wearing watch with tuxedo black tie

Cartier Tank

wearing watch with tuxedo black tie

Piaget Altiplano Chronograph

wearing watch with tuxedo black tie

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

wearing watch with tuxedo black tie

Patek Philippe Calatrava

wearing watch with tuxedo black tie

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Brian Sacawa
He Spoke Style

A. Lange & Söhne and Vacheron Constantin photos via HODINKEE


Chime In

  • Gemma Tubbrit

    How about a pocket watch? this luxury timepiece may be the alternative to a wrist watch at such cocktail parties.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Unless you’re wearing a waistcoat, I would shy away from a pocket watch, unless it’s not being worn on a fob and is just kept in the pocket.

      • Gemma Tubbrit

        Oh yes the waistcoat is a must

  • Tom B


    Another great post and a fun subject to delve into. I’m also very happy to see that you’ve upped your taste in watches (ahem… you had a “learning curve” a few years back).

    BUT… there just had to be a but… I think that your audience would be better served with watch suggestions that don’t cost a month’s salary plus (and that’s for those of us making 6 figures). The Cartier is your only suggestion that doesn’t cost over 10K. Yes, I do appreciate and enjoy your “aspirational” articles – that BMW test drive! – but for these practical “how to wear a style” articles, I for one would like to see more affordable suggestions. For instance, for this look a mechanical Nomos Tangente would go quite well and still be very useful for daily dress-watch use. OK, enough editorial comment from me! Still love your blog, as always.

    P.S. For black tie, you can always go with a Rolex Submariner on a regimental strap… just kidding! ;-)

    • Brian Sacawa

      Good to hear from you, Tom. Point definitely taken. I think you’ve just added a task to the editorial calendar! Best watches for a tuxedo at various price points. Cheers, my friend. Always great when you comment.

      • Tom B

        Thank you for the complement, Brian. Yes, I’ve been keeping quiet, but still avidly following your work here. Life’s been a bit rough lately, health problems have had my mind elsewhere. You know how our grandparents are always saying “As long as you have your health, blah, blah, blah…”? Well, the old codgers are right (AGAIN)! Dammit! :)

        • Brian Sacawa

          I’m feeling it a little myself as I’m getting close to the big 4-0 this year. Hope things clear up for you. Always great to have a Tom comment!


    Brown wristband with black tuxedo??? Or are those just the available images?

    • Brian Sacawa

      That is something I would stay away from. Black leather or steel, sliver or gold bracelet.

  • Allan Eising

    I do agree about the remark about minimalist black strap watches.

    I, unfortunately do not own any of these very fine watches, but I purchased this Skagen dress watch some years ago, and I find it pairs very well with the black tie outfit.
    (Skagen 858XLSLB for those interested)

    Regarding pocket watches. I adore pocket watches, and find them wonderfully stylish in a very classic way, however it only works if you wear your black tie with a vest, I find.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Thanks for chiming in, Allan. A very simple design is what you’re after for something like this and that certainly does the trick!

  • Jim Sears

    I personally am on team no wrist watch for strict black tie. I can make an exception if your watch is provided by Q Branch. But, any event that is black tie optional/creative, I say go crazy. This is one of the most informative posts I’ve read on the subject, and it’s kind of difficult to argue with a guy who cites Flusser.

    • Brian Sacawa

      Appreciate that, Jim. Re Flusser, there are times to go there and this was one of them!

  • MarkinTex

    The idea that wearing a wrist watch with black tie is against the rules because it would be rude to be checking the time at a formal event is one of those absurd folk tales with no basis in reality. Consider that white tie, which is MORE formal than black tie, has always allowed the wearing of a pocket watch (but please, not with an Albert chain), and checking a pocket watch is certainly more conspicuous than a furtive glance at a wrist watch. No, the reason a wristwatch isn’t traditionally proper with black tie (or white tie) is that wristwatches started out as a very casual, informal accessory. They came out of the necessities of warfare, of being able to check the time to coordinate an assault with a sabre (or handgun) in one hand, glancing at a watch strapped to one’s wrist was a lot easier than digging a pocket watch out of one’s uniform tunic pocket. Since wristwatches started out as casual, rugged outdoorsy items, it made perfect sense that they were not considered elegant enough for semiformal or formal wear during the early 20th Century. Now that enough time has passed and wristwatches have become more elegant, there is certainly no functional or etiquette reason not to wear one with black tie.