We all love an invitation to a ‘black tie’ event. After all, not only is it a fabulous opportunity to get dressed up, but the sometimes challenging decision about what to wear has already been made for us.
So far so good.
We’re pretty much au fait with the definition of ‘black tie’; that is dinner jacket, white shirt, black trousers and black bow-tie. But do we really know what’s what when it comes to the more traditional etiquette of black tie attire?
Derived from costume conventions of the 19th century and traditionally worn only for events after 6pm, black tie is a semi-formal mode of evening dress – that is, less formal than white tie, but more formal than informal!
According to Debrett’s – the highly-regarded source on British social etiquette and style – traditional black tie for men consists of:
- Black wool or ultrafine herringbone dinner jacket; single breasted with no vents, silk peaked lapels and covered buttons.
- Black trousers – slightly tapered – with a single row of braid down each outside leg.
- White evening shirt with double cuffs and a turn-down collar (not a wing collar), worn with cufflinks. A plain silk shirt with buttons may be worn. A fly-fronted shirt, where the buttons are concealed is acceptable.
- Black bow-tie must be hand tied; avoid the pre-tied type.
- Cummerbunds but may be worn but are not essential.
- Highly polished or patent black lace-up shoes.
- Black silk socks, long enough to ensure that no leg will show between the trouser leg and sock when seated.
- Waistcoats may be worn and may be considered a smart option; a waistcoat and cummerbund are never worn together.
Top tip: a white handkerchief in the left breast pocket is a classic detail.
- A smart dress, (such as a cocktail dress) is appropriate. It can be long or short, as long as it’s not too short. It doesn’t need to be black.
- Evening trousers are an option, but it is better to go for a palazzo cut, rather than tight fitting.
- Tights should be worn; black or sheer
- Fine or costume jewellery is appropriate, but not tiaras.
- An elegant evening bag should be used.
- Ideally, an evening coat should be worn.
Of course, some rules have relaxed a bit over the years; no-one is going to check whether your socks are made of silk or your bow-tie has been hand-tied. Remember comfort is key, and as long as there’s room in your suit to enjoy an exquisite dinner before taking to the dancefloor, you cannot go wrong!