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Black Tie Dress Code - What Does It Mean?
Black tie is a rather strict dress code
Alright, here's the situation. You've been invited to a formal event, and you're told the dress code is black tie. You have no idea what that means. Relax. I'm going to show you piece by piece what the traditional black tie dress code is.
You might be surprised at the number or rules for black tie dress. Some people just assume it means wearing a suit and throwing on a black tie. This is wrong, and these people will look like fools if all the other men at the event understood what black tie means. They might as well wear jean shorts and a Budweiser t-shirt, because that's how out of place they'll look.
Even if they event you're attending is not going to have people who are that strict about black tie dress code, it's still better to play it safe and use a traditional definition. It's better to overdress than underdress.
Jacket for a black tie event
The jacket should be made of wool, and it should be either black or midnight blue. You'll generally only see single-breasted jackets, but double-breasted is making a comeback and it is also acceptable.
The lapels should be peaked (not notched) and should have a shawl collar. The facing of the lapel should be either grosgrain or satin.
The jacket should not be vented, which is something that is rather uncommon among suit jackets. Also uncommon is the flapless pockets that should be found on a black tie jacket.
Although one button jackets were the norm, it is now acceptable to wear a two button jacket. Remember the rule that only the top button should be buttoned, and not while sitting unless you're wearing a double-breasted jacket.
The pants are going to be hard to find separate from the jacket in a matching material, so you should probably buy them together. Also, black tie pants have specific features which make them rare as separates.
For one, trousers should have a braid along the outer seam that matches the lapel of the jacket. They should be uncuffed at the bottom and they should have be cut for use with suspenders, not for a belt. That means no belt loops and the pants should be sized to fit around the waist, not slung around the hips. This is one of the most common mistakes people make with black tie dress.
The Waistcoat or Vest
Although some men will wear cummerbunds, I recommend wearing a black evening waistcoat instead. It should be low cut and cover the top of your pants. You can skip this if you're wearing a double-breasted jacket. Also, it is fine if you don't wear any waist covering, it just tends to add more formality and style to your outfit.
The Dress Shirt
For a dress shirt, you should get one that's white and has french cuffs. This means you'll also need cufflinks. Find some that are silver or black and subtle.
I prefer a pleated shirt with eyelets for studs, which is commonly referred to as a "tuxedo shirt". Go with a turndown collar instead of a wing collar.
The regular tie with a four-in-hand knot has become more common at black tie events. I strongly urge you not to do this. Show off your gentlemanly traditionalism by wearing a black silk bow-tie. Only wear a self-tie bow tie, and learn how to tie it correctly. It's worth it. The tie should match the lapels.
This is probably the cheapest part of the whole outfit to buy, and it's also the most important. People's eyes will be drawn to the bow tie. This is why you shouldn't get one of those bow ties with the loop that goes around the neck and clips on. Everyone will know, and you'll look like a little boy.
Socks and Shoes
For socks, go with black silk socks that go over the calf.
For shoes, look for patent leather shoes (in black, of course). You can also use black leather pumps or oxfords, but you need to polish them... a lot. Shine them till you can see your face in them.
Find some white or black silk suspenders. Also, use a white pocket square. Fold it properly. Google "how to fold a pocket square" for further instructions. For the studs in the shirt, I prefer black, but mother of pearl works as well.
On a final note, remember that black tie is specifically for formal occasions. If an event invite does not say "black tie only" or "black tie optional", you should probably reconsider wearing the tux and tails and whatnot. A funeral or wake, for instance, generally isn't considered an appropriate time for black tie.