Black Tie: Men

Black tie dress code, which is less formal than white tie, is the most frequently encountered formal evening wear, worn for dinners (both public and private), parties and balls, as well as some Season events. It may also be described as ‘dinner jackets’, ‘DJs’, ‘dress for dinner’ or, in America, as ‘tuxedos.’

Black Tie consists of;

  • A black wool (barathea) or ultrafine herringbone dinner jacket, single-breasted or double-breasted with no vents, silk peaked lapels (or a shawl collar) and covered buttons. White dinner jackets were traditionally worn in hot climates but not usually in Britain, even in the summer.
  • Trousers are black with a natural taper, and a single row of braid down each outside leg.
  • A white evening shirt, with a marcella collar, bib and double cuffs, with a turn-down collar (not a wing-collar), worn with cufflinks and studs. A plain silk shirt with buttons may be worn but any kind of ruffles or frills should be avoided. Alternatively, a fly-fronted shirt, where the buttons are concealed, is acceptable. Adults should avoid novelty shirts and ties.
  • Studs may be black or decorative.
  • A black hand-tied bow tie (avoid ones which are pre-tied). The size of the bow tie should be proportionate to the size of the wearer.
  • Black highly polished or patent lace-up shoes and black silk socks.
  • Cummerbunds are not considered essential but may be worn. A matching tie and cummerbund in a non-conventional shade (pastels rather than burgundy and black) should be treated with caution.
  • Waistcoats may be worn although they are not seen very often. They would always be considered a smart option. A waistcoat and cummerbund are never worn together.
  • A white handkerchief in the left breast pocket is a classic detail.

Variations on Black Tie

In the country for dinner parties with neighbours, and especially in his own home, a man may wear a velvet smoking jacket, usually navy blue, burgundy or dark green, with a black bow tie, dinner jacket trousers and evening slippers. While this dress is acceptable for the host, it would not be right for a guest to wear this for an event with the dress code black tie actually stated on an invitation, which effectively means a dinner jacket.

Evening slippers, sometimes monogrammed or crested, may be worn and are more often found in the country.

Unless national costume is specified the usual form would be ‘when in Rome’ but in practice smart equivalent dress from a person’s home country – for example an Indian Nehru jacket or Arabian robes – may be acceptable.

A fashionable interpretation of black tie, when a black tie instead of a bow tie is worn with a dinner jacket, is often referred to as ‘Hollywood black tie’. For most formal private black-tie events in Britain this would look unsuitable.

Black Tie: Women

Women should wear an evening dress or skirt; long, or at least not very short, is usually best. There is a difference between a formal dinner and a dinner dance; avoid wearing voluminous dresses for a dinner because they’re not practical. However very tight ‘red-carpet’ dresses or those with a dramatic split, while stunning when making an entrance, can be uncomfortable or inappropriate at a formal event that involves both a reception and a sit-down dinner.

If not wearing a long dress, then a cocktail dress – a fitted dress to very slightly below the knee and with a little décolletage – is an option. The fabric should be suited to evening such as silk, crepe or chiffon.

Evening trousers are an option, but it is better to go for a palazzo cut, rather than tight-fitting. Flowing, ethnic-inspired tunic tops with trousers may be worn if the event is at the less formal end of the spectrum. If in doubt, consult the hostess.

Although the dress code is ‘black tie’, dresses need not be black. Equally, wearing black does not ensure the right level of formality:

  • Tights should be worn, black or sheer.
  • Fine or costume jewelry is appropriate, but not tiaras.
  • An elegant evening bag should be used.
  • Ideally, an evening coat should be worn, as for white tie.

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