Dress to Impress: Your Guide to Black Tie Attire for Men

So, you get an invite for an event and it says the dress code is black tie. Great, now what do you do? Well while black tie does give you a clue, it doesn’t really spell it out much!

A black tie is much more versatile than you might think, however, that doesn’t mean you can wear anything. It is still a dress code after all. Let’s take a closer look at black tie attire and see exactly what it means.

In this in-depth look into black tie attire for men, we’ll be examining what men can wear at black tie events, look at the common (and uncommon) FAQs, and even examine the history of black tie attire.

So, without further ado let’s get down to it and examine everything you need to know about black tie attire for men.

man's outfit for a black tie event

What Should I Wear To A Black Tie Event? 

Male fashion is often misunderstood. While it isn’t quite as varied as the women’s market, there is still a lot to think about and consider. One of the main issues with black-tie attire is that many men often think it’s much more limited than it actually is.

To be fair the name doesn’t really help, as it implies black tie fashion is going to be your basic formal, professional event attire. But while this is part of traditional black tie event attire, it is actually much more varied than you might first think.

Let’s begin our look into black tie event attire by examining the classic options when it comes to black tie event fashion for men.

What Should I Wear To A Black Tie Event? 

Classic black tie attire can be broken into four main components:

  1. a suit jacket
  2. a dress shirt
  3. trousers
  4. a bow tie

But it isn’t quite that simple! With your classic traditional black-tie event attire, the dinner jacket should be either an ultra-fine herringbone dinner jacket or made from black wool (this is known as a barathea). If you want to follow tradition then the jacket should feature no vents and silk peaked lapels.

You don’t have to wear black either, as black tie dinner jackets can be white as well. The shirt should be white and feature a turn-down collar and be worn with cufflinks. The trousers are a much simpler matter. You simply need a smart pair with a natural taper.

Read also: Men’s Formal Wear Colour Combinations

Now, when it comes to the actual black tie you’ll need a sleek bow tie which should be styled to an appropriate size. The bow tie should be black (hence the name black tie) and traditionally the outfit is finished off with a white handkerchief neatly folded into the jacket’s pocket.

There is also some cultural variation around black tie attire. For example, if you live in America then the traditional choice for a black-tie event for men would be a classic tuxedo. In Europe, however, a dark dinner suit might be more appropriate.

If you are ever unsure or just want to play it safe then opting for a tuxedo is probably a safe bet in most circumstances. Yes, to some guys it might seem a bit like a teenager’s first prom outfit, but the tuxedo is a classic choice for a reason and can look very smart and elegant.

It’s important to note that this is just an overview of the traditional black-tie event attire for men. Nowadays there is actually a lot more to think about and consider as well as different versions of the classic black tie attire.

So, let’s continue our look at black-tie event attire for men.

Can You Wear A Normal Suit To A Black Tie Event? 

Man on a suit

Many men’s reaction to seeing black tie on an invitations dress code is likely to be: just dress smartly in a suit. This is understandable because over time the classic three-piece suit has become the standard answer to most men’s fashion queries. But as you now know, classic black tie attire doesn’t mean simply wearing a suit!

So, can you wear a normal suit to a black tie event? Unfortunately, there isn’t really a clear yes or no answer to this question and there are a few things you need to consider.

First, it really depends on the suit in question.

A black or dark navy suit if paired with a bow tie, cufflinks, and waistcoat would be a good stand-in for a classic tuxedo in most circumstances. It isn’t strictly proper black tie attire but would be a close approximation for most people.

However, if your suit was grey and you just wanted to wear it with a normal tie, then it wouldn’t really fit the vibe of a regular black tie event.

It also really depends on the nature of the event in question as well.

If you are going to a friend’s wedding that is proclaimed to be a black tie event, then they likely won’t mind too much if you wear a dark suit.

But if the event is something like a dinner or movie premiere, then the dress code is likely fixed and you may not be allowed entry if you don’t fit it. You might have some leeway to wear a suit, but it shouldn’t be naturally assumed that you can.

What Does Black Tie Optional Mean For Men?

Let’s imagine you see a black tie on an invitation’s dress code. This will likely cause a few people to panic, but the phrase “black tie optional” is going to make most men very happy. But before anyone gets too excited, it’s worth clarifying that this doesn’t mean you can simply wear anything.

“Black tie optional” is a nice way of saying we would like people to dress smart and wear a traditional black tie outfit if possible, but if you can’t then just dress formally in a smart outfit.

For the vast majority of men, this will mean wearing a suit instead of a classic tuxedo-style outfit. The standard outfit of choice for a black tie optional event is a dark formal suit with a tie, although some men may opt to wear a bowtie instead.

Black tie optional is a way of offering a bit more variety to men so everyone isn’t going to be dressed in a similar manner. So, if you see a black tie as optional you will have a little more room for personalisation when it comes to choosing your outfit.  

Do You Have To Wear Black To A Black Tie Event?

This may seem like a stupid question after all the name does say black tie, doesn’t it? But if you have been reading through this guide then you would have noticed that black tie attire doesn’t strictly mean you have to be wearing black!

However, that doesn’t mean you can just choose any colour you feel like. You need to ensure your suit still looks formal, professional, and smart,t so choosing colours needs to be done carefully.

Opting for darker colours will often be the preferred choice for men. You could opt for dark blue (navy), dark green, plum, or maroon/ burgundy. However, white is also a popular choice when it comes to black tie attire for men, with a white jacket and pants combo being seen as a classic choice in some countries.

Man wearing a tuxedo for a black tie event

What Colour Tie Do You Wear To A Black Tie Event?

Man's elegant outfit

In this section, we are examining what is arguably the most important component of your outfit: the tie. Or to be more precise the bow tie.

Traditional black tie event attire means you will need a bow tie. But what colour can it be? Black is once again going to be the traditional option and the most commonly seen colour. However, that doesn’t mean it is your only option.

In general, the rule to follow when choosing a colour for your tie is to try and get it to match your suit jacket. If you can’t, then opting for black is the best option.

However, if you are wearing a white jacket then you can ignore this rule as wearing a black bow tie will create an effective and stylish contrast with your white dress shirt and jacket.

What To Wear To A Black Tie Event If You Don’t Have A Tux?

Let’s finish up our look into black tie event attire by examining your tuxedo alternatives in more detail. While the tuxedo is arguably the best all-around and classic option, let’s face it – not every man will have one ready to use in his wardrobe.

We’ve talked a little about your options when it comes to opting for something a little different from the classic tuxedo, but let’s finish up our guide into men’s black tie event attire by laying out the rest of your options.

Dark Suits

If you want an alternative to black tie event attire, then opting for a dark-coloured suit is your best option. Dark blue, green, and burgundy are great colours, and even a darker grey can work quite well.

Dark suits can be paired with cufflinks and waistcoats easily to give the appearance of more classic, traditional black tie event attire. But they can also sometimes be worn with a standard smart tie as well.

Dinner Jackets

In some countries, a dinner jacket is actually a proper part of the traditional black tie outfit. But even if it isn’t in your culture, a smart and sophisticated dinner jacket can still make a great alternative for people who don’t have a tuxedo.

When opting for a jacket you should pair it with some smart dress/suit trousers and a dress shirt. You can then pair the jacket with a tie or bow tie for a more traditional black tie look. Just be sure to choose a dinner jacket that is an appropriate colour scheme for the event.

Velvet Jackets

Velvet jackets make a fine alternative for a black tie outfit, as they have an undeniably sophisticated edge to them which makes them quite stylish. While they might not be to every man’s liking there is no denying that a stylish dark-coloured velvet jacket can make a good alternative for any black tie event.

Remember these are just to be used as a guide if you’re ever unsure ask the event organizer.

Before diving into the history of black tie attire, let’s recap the most common FAQs that we answered in this post.

Read also: Cocktail Attire for Men Explained

The History Of Black Tie Attire

The History Of Black Tie Attire

Black tie attire is used all over the world for many different events, but where did it really originate? Let’s take a quick look at the history of black-tie attire.

Black tie attire first originated in the 1860s due to the growing popularity of outdoor activities. These activities, which were usually done by the middle and upper classes, led to the introduction of casual lounge suits.

Casual lounge suits were designed to be an alternative to formal wear like frock coats. Essentially, these suits acted as tailless coats and were usually made of silk. The introduction of more relaxed loungewear led to the creation of more formal wear including the smoking/dinner jacket.

It was from this that the tuxedo was designed, and it was at first considered a more informal outfit. During the Victorian era, the style was known as more fashionable and formal wear for the upper classes and was generally worn as everyday evening wear.

While it was designed as an alternative to a tailcoat, the tuxedo was worn with many of the same accessories. These included matching trousers, waistcoats, bow ties, and formal shoes. Black tie attire didn’t really become the standard for special occasions till after World War II. Before this period, it was seen as the more traditional choice for general evening wear.

It might surprise you to learn that black-tie attire was actually once much more colourful as well. During the 1950s a number of designers experimented with patterned jackets to try and bring more flair to traditional black tie attire. Colourful cummerbunds and bow ties were also popular during this period.

During the 60s and 70s, this experimentation with colour and patterns continued before returning to the more traditional darker colours in the late 80s and early 90s. Nowadays, black tie attire is the most commonly used dress code for formal occasions for both men and women.

For men, a black tie almost always means black jackets and trousers, alongside a white dress shirt and black bow tie. Cufflinks are also a very commonly used accessory and sometimes a cummerbund is used as well. Basically, if you want a classic black tie attire outfit for men then you will usually choose a tuxedo.  

There are variations to this classic, traditional design like opting for a white jacket instead of black. However, the colourful experimentation of the 50s and 60s is not often seen these days.

What is black tie attire for men?

Black tie attire for men is a formal dress code that typically includes a black tuxedo, a black bow tie, a white dress shirt, and black dress shoes.

Can You Wear A Normal Suit To A Black Tie Event?

It really depends on the nature of the event and the suit in question.

Is a black tie event always a formal event?

A black tie event is generally considered to be a formal event, but it can also refer to a semi-formal event. It is always best to check with the host or invitation for clarification.

Can I wear a black suit instead of a tuxedo?

While a black suit may be acceptable in some cases, a tuxedo is a traditional choice for black tie attire. A tuxedo typically has specific features, such as satin or grosgrain facing on the lapels and buttons, that set it apart from a regular suit.

Are coloured bow ties allowed at a black tie event?

Traditionally, a black bow tie is worn with black tie attire. However, some modern variations allow for black tie attire with a different colour bow tie, as long as it is still formal and elegant.

Can I wear a cummerbund instead of a waistcoat?

A cummerbund is an alternative to a waistcoat and can be worn with a tuxedo, but it is not as traditional.

Are watches allowed with black tie attire?

Watches are allowed with black tie attire and can add a touch of personal style to the outfit. It is recommended to choose a watch that complements the overall outfit, and does not clash with it.

Can I wear a coloured dress shirt with black tie attire?

A white dress shirt is a traditional choice for black tie attire, but some modern variations allow for black tie attire with a different colour dress shirt, as long as it is still formal and elegant.


So, that finishes up our look at black tie attire for men. Next time you’ll see it in an invitation (and trust us you will), we hope you’ll know exactly what your options are when it comes to choosing your outfit.

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