There are few occasions in a budding style aficionados life that elicit the same emotions as receiving an invitation to an event, and seeing those two often dreaded words: black tie. While you may be ecstatic to find yourself invited to a close friend’s wedding, speaking at a prestigious gathering, or simply looking your best for a date off-Broadway, you may also find that your elation is overshadowed by the fear of just not understanding what black tie means.
Fortunately for you, a black tie event is the easiest event to prepare for, from a sartorial standpoint. The rules and guidelines behind what constitutes proper black tie apparel are so firm that it’s incredibly difficult to muck it up. We at A.E.Westbrook know that you want to present your best self for such a formal occasion, and we want to give our bow ties the best opportunity to shine.
Black Tie means that you are expected to wear a tuxedo. No more; no less. Since you probably don’t own a tuxedo, you may want to contact the event organizer and ask them to clarify. Your buddy Steve may actually mean business formal when he says black tie. You don’t want to be the only person in a tuxedo surrounded by a sea of chinos and button-downs.
If you don’t know the event organizer personally, you may just want to go with your gut. If you’re the guest of honor and will be accepting an award, go with the tuxedo. If you’re being invited to a Bar Mitzvah, I’m sure your best suit will suffice.
While dressing your best is important, keep in mind this simple social faux pas: never dress better than the groom at his own wedding. If you know the wedding party will be in a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tie nowhere to be found, leave your best Bogart costume at home. It will be about as well-received as my Casablanca references.
There are dozens of guides to wearing a tuxedo online, so rather than to regurgitate the same information back to you that is already available, we’re going to give you the five rules you should always keep in mind when dressing for a formal event.
1. Always wear a black bow tie.
The first rule of wearing a tuxedo is that you should always wear it with a bow tie, which sounds like a pretty good idea to us! There is never an acceptable time to ditch your tuxedo’s bow tie in favor of a necktie. Since shirt studs are traditionally worn with black tie, the fabric draping clumsily from your neck would only obscure the appearance you’ve cultivated.
2. Leave the wingtip collar at home.
While the jury is still out on which collar type is the “correct” type, wingtip is generally considered to be the de facto collar choice for those wishing to attain peak formality. Unless you’ve been invited to the Correspondents’ Dinner by the President himself, you’re probably not ready for the wingtip collar (and should be wearing white tie anyway, which is a different article).
The other option is the turndown collar. This is the collar you’re most used to, and for this reason it is the collar that we most suggest for a first time tuxedo wearer. You’ll be more comfortable with your choice, and not look like you’re wearing your first tuxedo (hopefully).
3. Formalities are important.
Over your shirt, you will wear either a cummerbund or a vest. This is not up for discussion. Wear one or the other. Foregoing this formality is unacceptable and sloppy. Unless you’re Idris Elba, in which case, hello. We’re big fans, but seriously, wear a cummerbund. If done right, no one will even notice you’re wearing one, but they’ll notice if you don’t.
4. Don’t buy cheap shoes.
Most of us have rented cheap tuxedoes from our local chain suit store. These tuxedoes are usually poor quality and ill-fitting. The shoes that come with them are no exception, so make sure you’re not buying these shoes when it comes time to outfit your feet for your big event. Outfitters like Johnston & Murphy and Brooks Brothers have been providing black balmoral, plain toe lace ups to our nation’s leaders for years. With that kind of pedigree, why wouldn’t you spend a little more for a shoe that will not only look great, but last you a lifetime?
5. Accessorize (and bend the rules).
When dressing for a black tie event it is primarily about upholding tradition and formality, it’s important that you infuse some of your own style into your attire. Not only will this make the outfit uniquely yours, it will make you more comfortable in it. The primary way to add flare to your evening wear is through your shirt studs and cufflinks. There are thousands of choices online, from logos for your favorite sports teams, to Superman, to solid gold dollar signs (for helping you look like the million dollars you feel like).
While this list is important to keep in mind when dressing for a formal event, they’re in no way a strict guideline. It is becoming increasingly more common for these sartorial rules to be broken. We see outlandish style choices on the red carpet and in post-game interviews weekly. While we suggest keeping the reigns roped in, it’s never a bad idea to spruce your choices up a bit. Dark navy or deep red make great dinner jacket choices, and monk straps look just as good as balmoral shoes when you feel like stepping your shoe game up.
Most importantly, stay true to you.