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.
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.
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.