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Black Tie Dress Code: What To Wear To A Black Tie Event

by | Feb 19, 2024 | Blog

Navigating the black tie dress code can be daunting, as it epitomizes the pinnacle of formal attire for special occasions that call for an extra touch of elegance. Whether attending a gala, a formal wedding, or a sophisticated soirée, understanding the nuances of black and white tie attire is essential for making a polished impression.

We break down the essentials of both men’s and women’s black tie outfits, from the classic tuxedo and evening gowns to the finer details of accessorizing. Embrace the tradition and grandeur of black tie events with confidence and style as you learn to adhere to this prestigious dress code while adding your flair.

Men’s Black Tie Attire Essentials

The Tuxedo

When you’re picking out a tuxedo for a black tie event, the classic dinner jacket with satin lapels is a must-have. You’ll usually find it in barathea wool, and while black’s the standard, midnight, emerald, maroon or dark blue can give you a richer look under artificial light, sometimes appearing even darker than black.

The lapels are key, with three styles to choose from notch, peak, and shawl. With its smooth curve, the shawl lapel is the most traditional and adds a touch of elegance to your outfit.

A white tuxedo can make a bold statement, but it’s best to go for an off-white shade with black lapels to keep things formal. Your trousers should always be black, regardless of the tuxedo jacket or color. If you aim to turn heads, consider velvet tuxedos in different shades, like those you’ve seen on fashion-forward celebrities.

A well-fitted double-breasted suit jacket can also be a stylish option, though less traditional.

The Formal Shirt

The foundation of your black tie look is a crisp white dress shirt, ideally with a Marcella front and a wing collar to complement your black bow tie. Double cuffs are a must for cufflinks, which let you add a bit of your own flair. Button choices can vary, especially if you’re throwing a cummerbund or waistcoat into the black dress mix; black buttons can visually break up the shirt’s white when paired with a cummerbund.

Some modernists have even embraced the turtleneck as an alternative to the classic dress shirt, offering a sleek and contemporary vibe while still fitting within the black tie’s most formal dress code.

Bow Ties and Neckties

The bow tie is the go-to for black tie attire, and mastering the art of tying one yourself adds to an authentic and polished appearance. While black is traditional for black tie weddings, you can play with other colors as long as they stay within the formal palette and don’t step on the white reserved for white-tie events. The ‘air tie’ look, which skips the tie altogether, has been picked up by some trendsetters, though it does veer away from the classic style.

Waist Coverings

The silhouette that wearing a black tie creates is part of its charm. A waistcoat or cummerbund is used to hide the waist, creating a sharp V-shape that flatters your figure. Remember not to wear both simultaneously, as they serve the same purpose.

A waistcoat with a deeper U-shape can keep your suit looking distinguished. On the other hand, a cummerbund offers a traditional and sleek choice.

Footwear and Socks

Your shoes for a black tie event should be top-notch, with black patent leather being the ideal pick. Velvet slippers can also work, adding a personal twist to your look. Avoiding regular office shoes is essential, as the occasion calls for something more special.

Your socks should be black and made from fine material, often called ‘evening socks,’ to prevent any unwanted skin show. Choose slightly thicker socks for comfort and to ensure they fit well in your shoes. While some might go for colored socks, tread carefully, as it can become a focal point and drift from the traditional black tie standards.

Black-Tie Green Velvet Suit

Women’s Black Tie Outfits

Evening Gowns and Cocktail Dresses

For women, a black tie event is an opportunity to showcase elegance and grace. A full-length evening gown is the most traditional choice, designed to enhance your silhouette with various necklines that cater to personal preference and physique. An off-the-shoulder or boat neckline can lend a modern or timeless appeal.

While long gowns are the norm, cocktail dresses may be suitable for less formal occasions or when specified by the host. Nonetheless, erring on caution with a floor-length gown is often wise. For those who prefer pants, a chic trouser suit can be an acceptable and fashionable option, marrying formality with a contemporary edge.

Appropriate Fabrics and Colors

Selecting the right fabric is essential for achieving the desired level of sophistication. Fabrics such as silk, chiffon, satin, velvet, or lace are preferred for their luxurious texture and elegant drape. These materials contribute to the overall impression of opulence and propriety.

Darker hues like black, navy, or deep jewel tones are traditionally chosen for their classic allure. However, lighter and more vibrant colors have found their place in contemporary interpretations of black tie. Selecting a hue that instills confidence and contributes to a cohesive ensemble is crucial.

Jewelry and Accessories

The right accessories are crucial for enhancing a black tie ensemble. Striking earrings, a shimmering bracelet, or a prominent necklace can elevate your attire. These embellishments should complement the dress, providing just the right amount of sparkle. Simpler jewelry may be more appropriate with a colorful gown.

Consider an evening wrap for added warmth and refinement in cooler conditions. A stylish clutch is essential, serving both practical and aesthetic purposes.

Shoes and Hosiery

The choice of footwear is significant, with high heels typically preferred to complement the outfit’s formality. However, the event’s location should influence your selection. For challenging terrains or long durations of standing, prioritize comfort with a sensible heel or elegant flats.

The decision to wear hosiery is personal and should be based on the season, the outfit, and your comfort. If chosen, ensure it is of high quality and matches your shoes and gown.

When attending a black tie event, it’s important to honor the dress code while factoring in your own comfort and style. When in doubt, consulting with the host or fellow attendees about the level of formality can be helpful. The aim is to balance dazzling and tasteful for any prestigious event.

Woman In Evening Gown

Accessorizing Your Black Tie Look

Cufflinks and Studs

Cufflinks and studs are indispensable for adding a touch of elegance to your ensemble. Consider cufflinks crafted from precious metals such as yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, or platinum to exude sophistication. For those willing to invest more, options with diamonds or other precious gems like emeralds, rubies, or sapphires can enhance your attire.

Alternatively, semi-precious stones such as onyx, hematite, or dark mother of pearl can offer a refined yet understated charm. Double-sided cufflinks are recommended over the more common t-bar style for a more polished look. Black silk in over-the-calf length for socks ensures a seamless and comfortable fit.

Pocket Squares and Boutonnieres

A pocket square can add a personal touch to a dinner jacket while maintaining formality. A white linen pocket square with machine-hemmed edges offers a crisp finish. In contrast, silk pocket squares can introduce a subtle texture or pattern.

Boutonnieres should be placed on the left lapel of the dinner jacket. A white or deep red carnation remains a classic and timeless choice. However, they should not be worn with medals or other insignia.

Watches and Other Jewelry

The decision to wear a watch is a matter of personal preference and the specific etiquette of the event. If you opt for one, choose a slim, simple design with a black leather strap.

The watch should be discreet, with minimal markings, and preferably without a second hand. Metal accents on the watch should be coordinated with the metal of your cufflinks. Rings can be included in a black tie ensemble. Still, they should be selected with restraint to preserve the outfit’s overall elegance.

Evening Bags and Clutches

For women, the right evening bag or clutch is crucial to completing their formal look. A small clutch with a bit of sparkle is ideal for the event’s grandeur. Classic purses with pearl or crystal details in subdued colors like black, white, navy, or beige are most suitable for white-tie affairs.

The handbag should be small enough to be appropriate for the dress code yet capable of holding the essentials. For black tie events, choosing a small, elegant handbag that complements your attire is advisable.

Man Putting On Cufflinks

Etiquette and Tips for Black Tie Events

Arrival and Conduct Norms

Punctuality and poise are paramount when attending a black tie affair. The sophistication of such events necessitates conduct that reflects their significance. Engage with fellow attendees courteously, with a warm demeanor and mindful interactions.

Refrain from boisterous behavior or attempting to overshadow others. During formal presentations or speeches, silence is a sign of respect. Any form of disruption or discourtesy, such as raising one’s voice or causing commotion, should be avoided.

Managing Dress Code Expectations

Adhering to the dress code is crucial. Men’s attire should include formal trousers with a braid or satin stripe and a dinner jacket with matching satin features, traditionally in barathea wool. Women should opt for a full-length gown in a fabric appropriate for evening wear, with cocktail dresses being acceptable for semi-formal events. Pantsuits are also a stylish alternative. Ensuring that your outfit is suitable for an evening of elegance is essential.

Handling Wardrobe Malfunctions

In the event of a wardrobe mishap, address the issue with composure and seek a subtle solution. A compact sewing kit can be a quick fix for minor problems. For more significant issues, retreating to a private area for repairs may be necessary. The key is to remain composed and keep the mishap from overshadowing the event or your experience.

Black Tie Optional vs. Strictly Black Tie

Understanding the distinction between ‘black tie optional’ and ‘strictly black tie’ is important for choosing appropriate attire. For the latter, adherence to traditional attire is expected. However, ‘black tie optional’ allows for some flexibility. Men can opt for a dark suit and tie, and women can choose a formal gown, cocktail dress, or elegant separates.

While personal style can be expressed within these parameters, it should be done considerately. Observing tasteful variations by public figures can inspire a distinctive yet appropriate look. Avoid casual interpretations that might be perceived as disrespectful or lacking in effort.

Man In Black-Tie Formal Wear

Dressing to Impress

Choosing the right outfit for a black tie event should feel less like a chore and more like an opportunity to shine in your finest attire. Whether you’re suiting up in a classic tuxedo or draping yourself in an elegant gown, remember that the devil is in the details.

Accessorize with intent, respect the traditional roots of black tie dressing, and don’t shy away from adding a touch of personal style. As you step out, exude confidence, knowing you are impeccably outfitted for an exquisite evening. Now, make a statement, and enjoy the night with graceful sophistication.


What Not to Wear to a Black Tie Event?

For gentlemen, leaving casual items such as denim, T-shirts, and athletic shoes at home is best. Light-colored suits and busy patterns on neckwear or shirts are also inappropriate. Women should avoid attire that is overly short or too revealing. Excessively bright garments and flashy accessories may detract from the event’s elegance.

Does Black Tie Mean Tuxedo Only?

While the tuxedo is the quintessential black tie garment for men, alternatives like a velvet jacket paired with appropriate trousers are acceptable. The key is to maintain the formal aesthetic that the occasion demands.

Can I Wear a Normal Suit to a Black Tie Event?

Standard business suits fall short of the black tie standard. “Black tie optional” events permit a well-tailored dark suit. However, a tuxedo or a comparable formal attire is expected for unequivocal black tie events.

What Exactly is a Black Tie Event?

These gatherings are characterized by a high degree of formality, with a dress code to match. Men are typically expected to wear tuxedos, while women’s attire ranges from floor-length gowns to very formal midi dresses and elegant jumpsuits in certain contexts. The color palette is traditionally dark, and accessories should be selected for their subtlety and elegance.

Melanie Williamson

Melanie Williamson


Melanie has been working at Onstage for 17years  with her love and passion for all things entertainment and events. Prior to Onstage, Melanie worked in Hotels and Venues in various roles which gave her a strong knowledge in how all things work for events. Her entertainment  product knowledge combined with her event skills, makes her a highly sort after Stage and Events Manager (just as recently contracted for events overseas).

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