Black tie is one of many styles that make up a complicated code of formal dress, or evening wear. In this illustration, the black tie is pictured on the left, distinguished by the shorter jacket and the black bow tie. This is what is referred to as a tuxedo. White tie is on the right, with the long tailcoat and white bow tie. Before the first and second World Wars, the rules for formal dress were rigid and followed closely by upper class society. It was a way of distinguishing oneself from the other classes, and it was the only acceptable manner of dress for evening social occasions. After the wars, and in the years sense, traditional dress codes have been followed less strictly.
The full history of the tuxedo and code of formal dress is interesting, but long and nuanced. We will not attempt a full history or explanation here. Unless you are going for a period look, this knowledge is not strictly necessary. We'll focus on the modern interpretation of the tuxedo, respecting the traditions without going overboard.
For more information on formal wear, The Black Tie Guide by Peter Marshall provides a detailed explanation and a full history of formal dress.
Formal wear, or more specifically evening wear, started as a means of brushing off the dirt of the day before beginning the night's social activities. Today, it's a method of dress reserved for special occasions. This is why we put so much emphasis on the 'event' and the 'focus' in our Black Tie Guide. Taking the time to get dressed properly is a way of showing respect to the occasion and those in attendance.
The tuxedo can be though of as the gentleman's uniform. With the men dressed sharply in black, the spotlight can be focused on their companions, whether a bride in her wedding dress, or a date in her ball gown. By dressing alike, the gentlemen politely take a step to the side. Again, we can see how important it is to consider the 'event' and the 'focus' when getting dressed.
As with any uniform, there are rules. We've already said the rules are not as strict as they used to be, and we're not going to dwell on them, but the basic kit, done the traditional way, just looks so good. It's simple, classy, and just the right mix of proper and playboy.
Study up on the basics, then head over to step two in our Black Tie Guide for help on pulling together the perfect ensemble. We provide tips for guys on any level of personal style, whether you are just starting out (apprentice), experienced (journeyman), or on that next level (master).
Here are the basics:
Jacket and trousers
Jackets can be peaked lapel, double breasted, or shawl collar. Notch lapels are also found, but we find them underwhelming. We offer both peaked and shawl collar. Here are the other things to keep in mind:
- Jacket and trousers should be in black or midnight blue wool with black lapels.
- The most distinguishing feature of the tuxedo jacket is the black silk on the lapels. The lapels can be either satin or grosgrain; ours have satin.
- The traditional jacket has a single front button. Two-button jackets are also seen, but we feel the single button is more distinguished.
- Jackets come with either no vents or side vents. We like the look of a vented jacket, so ours have side vents.
- The trousers should have a matching silk stripe or braid down the outside leg seam.
- The trousers should have an adjustable waist or buttons for braces (suspenders), no belt loops.
- Trousers should also have a plain hem; no cuffs.
Shirt, shoes, and accessories
Other than nailing the fit, getting the details right is what is going to set you apart from the crowd.
- Shoes should be black patent leather oxfords, or formal slippers in patent leather or black velvet. We offer both velvet slippers and patent oxfords.
- Black fine gauge wool or silk socks.
- White shirt with a pleated, bib, or fly front, and french cuffs. Our shirts are french cuff with a fly front; a placket that hides the buttons.
- Black or mother-of-pearl cuff links and studs (if your shirt requires studs).
- Black silk bow tie. A long necktie is an option, but not traditional.
- A black vest or black cummerbund (not both) is optional.
- A white linen, cotton, or silk pocket square.
A note on mixing colors into a tuxedo.
When and where is it acceptable to add colored accents, like a vest or bow tie, to your tuxedo? The easiest answer is never. Unless executed with extreme caution by someone with exquisite taste, it's a certain failure. If your prom date insists on matching colors, she better be really good looking. If your fiance is considering it, we'll try to talk her out of it. A good compromise is a simple boutonniere, or perhaps a subtly colored pocket square.