Cracking the Code: Black Tie

By: Brad Schultz

Tuxedo, black tie, dinner dress, 007 duds, penguin suit…whatever you call this formal dress code, odds are you will never look better than when you’re dressed in this smart ensemble.

Customarily worn only for events after 6pm, Black Tie is less formal than the white tie/tails combo, but more formal than the standard suit and little black dress.

Black Tie dress began in the 1860s when men of the British middle and upper classes began easing out of the stuffy fashion formalities that had long been the accepted standard in high society. Prim and proper daywear was replaced by casual suits, and the formal evening tailcoat gave way to a simpler, shorter version.

Today, while searching for an appropriate outfit you will discover that ‘black tie’ is quite broad and somewhat overwhelming. So much is now available to shoppers that in order to find the perfect outfit you need to have the ability to sift through layer upon layer of clingy polyester horrors categorized under ‘black tie’ by the retailer. Follow these guidelines to help you navigate what to wear to your next swanky wedding, event, or gala…


For women, it’s customary to wear floor-length gowns, but exceptions can be made for today’s modern Black Tie occasions.

If you don’t own a gown, and don’t particularly want to buy one for a rare occasion, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a cocktail dress you already own. However, if you do go this route, just make sure to keep the colors rich, so as not to look too casual.

Conversely, women can wear a floor-length gown in a lighter shade, since the silhouette is inherently dressy. Another acceptable option for black-tie affairs is chic separates, such as a silk blouse with a full satin skirt. Avoid wearing trousers when Black Tie dress code has been stated.

Also consider colors other than black that complement your complexion; for example, crisp pastels, jewel tones, chic metallics, and deep reds and plums.


While seeing “Black Tie” on an event invitation can be intimidating, the good news is that getting black tie right isn’t hard! In fact, the strictness of the dress code makes it one of the easiest outfits you’ll ever plan.

Traditional Black Tie signifies the need for the attendee to wear a tuxedo. The typical tuxedo jacket has a single button and is single breasted with a satin peak lapel and no vent. A black bow tie and black patent leather oxfords are a must. Optional additions to the basic tuxedo include a simple (usually white)  pocket square or an elegant opera scarf if you’re feeling a bit spry.

When attending a themed event, Black Tie Creative may be appropriate, and a way to add a bit of fun into your look.  Black Tie Creative is an opportunity to showcase your personal style in terms of color, accessories, and collar and lapel style. You may opt for the uncommon shawl lapel or a slim cut tuxedo in a dark saturated color like midnight blue or maroon. A colored jacket, colored wingtip shoes, or a brightly colored bow tie are all fair game in this category. Even going with a black shirt instead of white can add subtle creative flair.

Although Black Tie Creative offers flexibility, it is important to keep in mind that if the event is “Black Tie” at all, no matter how festive or creative it is, it is a formal event and your sartorial modifications should still honor the formal atmosphere of the event.

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