What Does a Black Tie Event Mean?

man in tuxedo with red tie

You check your mailbox and there it is. A decorative envelope holding a lavish invitation card, cursive letters, gold leaf, all the trimmings. You’ve been invited to a black tie event. However, if you don’t know exactly what that entails, there’s no need to freak out. This article will tell you all you need to know about it, and it might actually be simpler than it appears at first.

We say simpler, but surely it can’t be as simple as wearing a black tie if you are a man? Well, there is more to it than that, of course, but it’s nothing you can’t come to grips with. Simply put, the term black tie denotes the level of formality your attire needs to meet. Naturally, it applies to both women and men. But what might come as a bit of a surprise, the rules for men are far stricter.

The Expression Black Tie

In layman’s terms, black tie, also known as cravate noire, simply means you’re going to a fancy event and you will not want to dress like you accidentally wandered in there on your way to the nearest supermarket. It is actually only the second most formal type of dress code, behind white tie. We will not dwell on white tie here because such events are pretty rare nowadays.

Traditionally speaking, black tie is an evening dress code. This means you should not wear it before 6 or 7 p.m. Consequently, the occasions which might require this type of attire will not be scheduled in the morning. The one exception would be weddings, but more on that in a bit.

Quite a few events can be classified as black tie, depending on the venue and the intentions of the organizer. Receptions and galas, openings of art galleries and museums, award ceremonies, movie premieres, and many others. The opera and the ballet are also traditionally considered black tie. However, it does not need to be a public affair. A private party can also require black tie if the host deems it so. And of course, there are weddings.

bride and groom standing on the grass and holding hands

Black Tie for Men

No matter what black tie event you’re attending, the dress code rules are largely the same. We already mentioned those rules are stricter for men, but that does not have to be a bad thing. We actually think this makes matters easier – you simply follow the guidelines and you’re all set.

For men, black tie includes the following elements:

A White Dress Shirt

Also known as a formal shirt. There are some variations you can choose from, but we wouldn’t worry about that for now. Just ask for a white formal shirt and you’ll be fine. Since it is considered inappropriate to remove your jacket, nobody will see much of it anyway. Just remember you’ll also need a set of cufflinks.

A Dinner Jacket

Also called the tuxedo. What differentiates a dinner jacket from a regular business suit jacket is the lapel. The lapel is made from a material which contrasts the rest of the jacket, usually silk. The color should be black, but you can also go for midnight blue, though we recommend sticking to black, particularly if you only have one tuxedo.

The jacket should also have a breast pocket. In it, you can wear a white pocket square (a purely decorative handkerchief). It is not mandatory, but we highly recommend it. It’s a small touch that adds a lot of class.

Formal Trousers

When you’re buying the jacket, also get the pants that come with it. This way you won’t have to worry if they match.

A Black Bow Tie

The eponymous tie refers exclusively to a self-tie black bow tie which matches the lapel. You can get a pre-tied one, but it’s really not necessary. Simply watch an online instructional video, it’s not rocket science.

Waist Coverings

Here, you have two options. A waistcoat is the more popular choice. A black low-cut waistcoat is a safe bet, but you might be able to get away with a different color if you want to add some flair at the expense of formality. For your first tuxedo, go with black.

The other option is what’s known as a cummerbund. It is a wide sash worn around the waist instead of a waistcoat. Its material should match the bow tie and, once again, black is the safest option.

Formal Shoes

Once more, you have a couple of alternatives, but we recommend you simply stick with leather oxford shoes. Always black and without brogueing (punch-hole patterns). And don’t forget to polish them.

And that’s all there is to it. Follow these rules and you’ll be fine.

Black Tie for Women

Unlike with men, black tie for women covers a much larger range of options. The rules aren’t anywhere near as firm and they also change to match the current fashion trends. Men need to adhere to form, women simply need to dress elegantly. The choice of color is also wide open.

About the only element which is set in stone is that ladies should wear a pair of evening shoes. Other than that, anything which isn’t too casual can do the trick.

A floor-length gown is encouraged but far from mandatory. If you do wear a gown, you can complement it with a shawl and a pair of gloves.

However, if you don’t want to wear a gown, or don’t have one, a nice cocktail dress will do just fine. Even the ever so popular “little black dress” is acceptable, provided it’s not so short to be inappropriate and uncouth.

One final note for women. You’ve probably heard something along the lines that the only woman who should wear white to a wedding is the bride. While there are no formal rules to enforce this, it might be best to err on the side of caution. You don’t want anyone to think you’re trying to one-up the bride with your gorgeous white gown. Consequently, it’s probably best to save it for another occasion and wear a different color to a wedding.

Wrapping It Up

Hopefully, we’ve managed to dispel any doubts you might have had about black tie functions. Men can simply follow the guidelines, while women can generally just go with their favorite dress. Ladies can also take a look at any recent red carpet event in search of inspiration – as long as it’s not way too casual, it’s really hard to go wrong.

Rebecca B. Lawrence

About Rebecca B. Lawrence

Rebbeca has been writing about weddings, jewelry, and fashion for years. Her favorite place to hang out, aside from this website, is Pinterest. She loves Art Deco Jewelry, beach-themed weddings, and anything related to the British Royal Family.