Received An Invitation For A Black Tie Event?

It’s a pretty rare event for the everyday Joe or Jane, but what if you do? Perhaps you move around in the upper socio-economic circle, or maybe mingle around with the right crowd. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when you’ll be invited to such coveted social events. And some of these high profile events will require a Black Tie dress code. But hang on just a minute, what exactly constitutes a Black Tie outfit anyway?

Close up of a man tying his bow tie, finishing up his black tie ensemble.
Fully decked out for a Black Tie event. – Image designed by Freepic.diller /

What Exactly Is Black Tie Dress Code?

To understand what’s Black Tie, we first need to understand the different kinds of “dressy” dress codes. By that, we mean a sort of uniformed attires that conform to the various events for the upper level society. And by that definition, we can exclude all the casual outfit that most of us are familiar with. Below are the general classifications :-

(1) Social Formal (Morning) – Morning Dress

(2) Social Formal (Evening) – White Tie

(3) Social Semi-Formal (Morning) – Black Lounge Suit

(4) Social Semi-Formal (Evening) – Black Tie

These should not be confused with business attire, which is a whole separate category altogether. You can read about the business attire here, but for this article, we shall take a look at the less known, but equally important social event dress codes.

Most social events in the modern times are held in the evenings, which makes (1) and (3) less relevant. Unless you’re a regular at the Royal Ascot, a member of the British Royal Family or the Japanese Parliament, almost nobody regularly wears Morning Dress or Black Lounge Suits any more. Which leaves the two evening dress codes. And again, aside from members of the British Royalty and their official guests, the only other people who wear White Tie regularly are the members of an orchestra.

What’s left behind is the semi-formal Black Tie, which is a misnomer of sort, as it’s pretty formal in its own right. Think James Bond, and you’ll know exactly what Black Tie is…

What Constitutes A Black Tie Attire?

The attire described as Black Tie is known as the Tuxedo (Americans) or Dinner Suit (the rest of the world). While the Dinner Suit itself is pretty uniform, there are minor details that one can personalise to suit one’s taste. But don’t get too carried away. The whole purpose of a uniform look is for the gentlemen to look understated, and allow their wives/partners to shine. Social events like these are not the time nor place for peacocking.

So let’s take a look at the components that make up a Dinner Suit :-

(1) Dinner Jacket

The Dinner Jacket is the defining piece of the Dinner Suit. Generally black in colour, and sport cuttings that are more formal than the regular Business Jackets. Do take note that ivory coloured Dinner Jackets are equally correct, but usually geographically limited to the tropics, or in the heat of the summer months. If you wear an ivory Dinner Jacket, everything else remain the same.

A typical single breasted, black, dinner jacket, with a “less formal” shawl collar.

It can either be single or double breasted. For single breasted jackets, you can sport either peak lapel or shawl collar, but for double breasted jackets, only peak lapels are the norm. Lapels are usually faced with satin or grosgrain, to contrast against the jacket shell fabric.

Fabric covered jacket button, in the same satin fabric as the lapel / collar.

The traditional single breasted Dinner Jackets sport just a single button. Unlike the typical Business Jackets, Dinner Jackets display formality by using fabric covered buttons. The fabric of choice is the same one used for the lapel / collar facings, to contrast against the jacket shell fabric.

Jetted hip pocket to display simplicity, as well as formality.

Most Business Jackets generally sport flapped hip pockets, or sometimes even patched pockets for less formal jackets. Dinner Jackets, on the other hand, only have simple jetted ones.

(2) Dinner Trousers

The terminology “suit” denotes a matching pair. In our case of suits, it means a matching jacket and trousers, cut from the same bale of fabric. And just like the jacket, the trousers also have subtle difference from the “regular” suits to project its formality.

Black Dinner Trousers, cut from the same bale of fabric as the matching Dinner Jacket. Note the single piping of satin along the whole side of the trouser seam. Also note the button side-adjusters on the waist.

While the Dinner Trousers looks pretty similar to a regular pair of trousers, a single piping along the whole length of the trousers sets it apart from the “regular” Business Trousers. This piping is made of the same satin of grosgrain fabric in the lapel facing and the button cover.

Also, formal trousers like this Dinner Trousers, do not come with belt loops. In fact, belts are considered too “casual” for formal attire like Black Tie. You adjust the fitting of the waist with the button side-adjusters. And if necessary, you can also use braces to hold your trousers up too. Anything other than belts are acceptable.

(3) Dress Shirt

While the “suit” is complete, the rest of the ensemble isn’t quite so. The shirt for Black Tie is also pretty strict too. Based pretty much on the regular white shirt, the Dress Shirt also comes with unique traits that raises its formality too.

White Dress Shirt, fold down collar, double cuffed, with soft pleated front, and onyx studs.

Dress Shirts usually come with “decorated” front. It can either have a more formal pique front (stiff, and sometimes patterned fabric), or a less formal soft pleated front. Take note that “less formal” doesn’t put it on the same level as the regular Business Shirts.

(4) Dress Shirt Details

Note that this shirt has a soft fold down collar, instead of the more traditional wing collar. Purists will argue that wing collars are meant for the realm of White Tie, not Black Tie. Hence, it’s “more correct” to wear a Dress Shirt with soft fold down collars in this instance.

Soft pleated shirt front, closed with onyx shirt studs instead of buttons.

The Dress Shirt is closed with shirt studs instead of buttons, as a tribute to the traditional way of closing shirts. These studs are usually decorated with onyx (black) or mother of pearl (white). Any other colours are deemed too “casual”. You could also choose to have a fly-front placket too, for a “clean” looking shirt front. That way, you hide the buttons underneath the fly placket.

Onyx cufflinks, to match with the onyx shirt studs.

Just like how the shirt is closed with studs instead of buttons, the double cuffs are closed with cuff links instead of buttons too. And the decorations are usually the same as the shirt studs, either onyx or mother of pearl. Again, any other colours are deemed too “casual” to match with the formality of the overall outfit.

(5) The Black Tie Itself (And Waist Covering)

The definition of the dress code comes from this very important piece of garment – the black bow tie. Usually made of satin or grosgrain, the same fabric as the lapel facings.

Black, self tie bow tie, with a matching cummerbund.

Only self tie bow ties are acceptable. If you’re old enough to attend Black Tie events, you’re definitely too old to be wearing pre-tied ones. Plain black, either in satin or grosgrain to match your lapel facings. After all, it’s called “Black” Tie for a reason, not Rainbow Tie…

To finish up the ensemble, a matching waist covering. Generally, single breasted shawl collar Dinner Jackets are matched with a black cummerbund (picture above), whilst single breasted peak lapel Dinner Jackets are matched with a low-cut, horseshoe waistcoat. Either choice is equally correct. Double breasted Dinner Jackets do not need any waist coverings, as they’re worn buttoned at all times.

(6) Footwear

The traditional pump (court shoes) may seem a little too feminine for some. So the best compromise is a pair of black Oxford shoes. If you have a pair in black patent leather, that’ll be perfect. But a pair of regular black leather Oxfords are equally correct too. Just stay away from brogues of any kind. The simpler it is, the more formal it’ll be.

Plain toe Oxford shoes in black patent leather.

Getting Dressed Up For Your Formal Event

This is what a fully dressed gentleman should look like when attending a Black Tie event.

“Dressing Well Is A Form Of Good Manners.”

Tom Ford

Knowing how to dress the part isn’t about showing how knowledgable you are when compared to your fellow gentlemen. It’s about showing respect. Respect to the host organising the event, and also respect to the fellow attendees of the said event. Sadly, in this day and age, not many gentlemen really take the trouble to dress up, even when the occasion calls for it. But if you do want to learn how to dress and present yourself well, you can seek the help of Solarex Imaging, a consultant for both corporate and personal branding.

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

9 Replies to “Received An Invitation For A Black Tie Event?”

    • Thank you for your comments Charlene. I also know of many who’d like to attend Black Tie galas too, present company included. Unfortunately, such events are getting pretty rare these days.

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