I recently was invited to a black tie gala event. I was bewildered that the male attendees were wearing ensembles ranging from a full tux with tails to a regular suit with a straight tie. I contemplated with my group whether they did not know what attire category ‘black tie’ translates into or if they just decided that they were too “over it” to follow the rules?
Here’s the thing about the attire section of the invitation that people seem to increasingly not get… If the person who made the invite told you what to wear, it is disrespectful for you to completely disregard what they have asked of you. In certain circles it’s like flipping the bird to the people who have been so kind as to offer you a seat at their tables. Unless it is your intention to be exceedingly rude, maybe it’s time to figure out what those attire designations actually mean. That being said, there’s always fun and appropriate way for you to express your personality when you get dressed up. There are ways to bend the rules – but first you have to know what they are.
In its purest & simplest form, black tie means tuxedo, bow tie, and patent leather shoes. It may also include a cummerbund or a vest.
A traditional tuxedo differs from a regular suit is four significant ways.
- A satin facing lapel on the jacket. More traditionally a peak or shawl lapel, however the notch lapel tux jacket has become increasingly popular.
- A satin stripe down the side of the trousers.
- No vent in the back of the jacket although modern tuxs can have one vent.
- No belt loops. Traditionally tuxedo pants are made with side tabs to adjust for fit. Many people now opt to leave them off.
The fashion world continues to evolve so there is no reason you can’t have more fun with your dressy look. Individuality in attire can be greatly rewarded. If you want to create a more creative look there are some pretty simple ways to change-up your black tie ensemble without looking like you didn’t bother to read the entire invitation.
- Buy a blue or grey tuxedo instead of a black one
- Get a tux with a slimmer satin facing instead of the full size of the lapel
- Wear it with a straight tie instead of a bow tie
- Wear a dark shirt instead of a white one.
For those of you who truly wish to stand out from the crowd, try something completely out of the ordinary like one of these looks.
Jackets (LtoR): A velvet, double-breasted, and plaid jacket
Ties (top to bottom): Studded, white, triple, and silk knot bows
Shoes: Velvet slip-ons with emblem and velvet loafers
We’ve covered the jacket trousers and tie, but what about your shirt?
Traditionally, tuxedo shirts have a tuxedo (wing) collar and are worn with a full set of tux cuff-links (4 buttons and sleeves). That’s a lot of work, especially for a shirt you can never wear with anything else. A more modern take on an appropriate shirt to wear to a black tie event would be a flat front, covered placket shirt with a small collar and french cuffs. Feeling especially stylish? Try a dark shirt instead of a white one.
I have heard the question asked many times, “I don’t have a tux, can I just wear a dark suit?”
My answer to that is always,
“You really shouldn’t (please invest in a tuxedo in the future) BUT if you MUST, here is how to do it.”
- Make sure your suit is a dark color – black, midnight, or navy blue.
- Stay away from a patterned suit as it will call attention to the fact that you are not wearing a tuxedo.
- Wear a real bow tie, not a pre-tied one. While it is acceptable now to wear a straight tie with a tux to a black tie event, wearing a regular suit necessitates that you must put on a bow tie to make up for not wearing a tux. Otherwise you are simply not in black tie and run the risk of offending your hosts.
- Wear dark shoes. As much as nice brown shoes have a large place in the world, they do not belong at a black tie event.
- A suit with a peak lapel will look more in line with a dressy look that one with a notch.
Like all versions of suits, fit matters more that almost anything else. So as always, my advice is to have your tuxedo custom-made to fit you. Yes, I hear you saying that it would be too expensive. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, it is barely more expensive than renting a tuxedo in most large cities. Buying a tux can save you money if you have to rent one twice in your life.
When that next invite to a black tie event rolls in, be ready!
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