The ABC’s Of Black Tie: Rules of Formalwear Explained

Traditionally reserved for events and evening affairs scheduled past 7pm, the term ‘black tie’ has become synonymous with most formalwear occasions in today’s society. We’re here to help you navigate through all the rules and regulations by better illustrating what makes, or breaks, black tie dress code in addition to when (and where) it's ok to break, or at least bend, those formalwear fundamentals

What began by order of the Prince of Wales as a less formal alternative to the traditional cutaway tailcoat, the dinner suit (or tuxedo as it was so aptly named by an American resident of Tuxedo Park, New York) became part of mainstream formalwear culture following World War I.

Tuxedo Coat & Trousers

The original tuxedo coat differs very little from those most often worn today. Traditionally, the coat would be ventless with besom (jetted) style pockets; while modern, updated styling allows for lower flap pockets and a double vented back for better range of movement. The classic styling details of a one-button front, peak or shawl collar lapel with black satin or grosgrain facing in a black wool or mohair blend fabric is still the most prevalent choice. Trousers should be plain front with a matching facing/braiding along the pant outseam and, if preferred, also at the waistband; a tuxedo trouser is never cuffed nor has belt loops. We recommend a peak lapel tuxedo with a grosgrain finish facing, similar to the style we stock from Hickey Freeman, as it’s both the most classic and elegant approach while also remaining the most proportioned on the majority of body types.

Tuxedo Shirts

The tuxedo shirt has by far seen the most iterations over even just the last few decades, with everything from ruffled and pleated fronts to wing and fully removable collar. Although styling and fabric choices can seem almost endless here, we are most times of the ‘less is more’ philosophy as more recently, a streamlined sensible approach to tuxedo shirtings has triumphed. A medium spread collar, similar to most dress shirts, with a clean or fly front style, french (or ‘turn back’) cuffs, in a simple white luxe twill or Marcella diamond weave fabric are your best bet. Although there has recently been a reintroduction of pleated front shirts, it's more often done in a tighter, more minimalistic approach versus the excessive styling of years past.

Traditionally, tuxedo shirts come with a removable four button tape on the shirt front, allowing for a stud set to be inserted and the remainder of the shirt be covered by a vest or cummerbund. However, as more guys are moving away from the cummerbund option to braces/suspenders, we’re able to custom make a five-button removable tape front style and offer a five-piece stud set, giving guys both a slightly more modern feel to their formalwear look without feeling like you missed a stud somewhere along the way. We always suggest a matching set of cufflinks to coordinate with your stud set; however, if you've been willed or gifted a pair, sentimental value or a great story always trumps tradition.

Shoes & Furnishings

First things first: not every black dress shoe makes the grade as a formal shoe. A proper evening shoe is worn only with black tie, often a plain toe, well-shined set of patent leather shoes or a pair of slip-ons in velvet, satin, or even a kid suede. Black socks, traditionally in a silk or cashmere, are worn with lace ups; slip ons require only a set of well-manicured feet.

As mentioned above, formal braces have found their way back to the forefront of black tie furnishings and require only a quick addition of suspender buttons to your tuxedo trousers (they come standard in our tuxedos), and you're off to the races. We keep a myriad of options available in shop. If you prefer the classic cummerbund style, you can't go wrong with a matching black grosgrain or satin although we like a classic pindot, glen plaid, or black watch design to help set yourself apart from the crowd without drawing too much attention to oneself. The same goes for your bow tie selection; traditionally, you want to match your bow tie to your cummerbund and/or the facing on your tuxedo lapel.

A tuxedo and its accoutrements can certainly be an investment not at the top of every guy’s priority list. However, by bearing these few guidelines in mind, you can rest assured that when you're ready to pull that formalwear trigger, we’ll make the process painless and protect your investment by steering you down the path of formalwear that's sure to stand the test of time.

Interested in appropriate alternatives to the classic black tie tuxedo? Want to know when you can break out that white or velvet dinner jacket, what a midnight navy tux is all about or what separates black tie from white tie or full dress? Keep a lookout for our follow up journal post on formalwear where we delve further into the variations of formalwear or stop by the shop and we’ll walk you through all the options.

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