How Do I Dress for a Black Tie Event?
Put away the red bow tie. Now. It doesn’t match the rest of what you’re wearing, in spite of what you think—especially not at a black tie event. However, a black tie event actually has just as much to do with your suit as it does with your tie, so as we go through a black tie event definition—and definitions for all styles of party dress—we want you to remember that you don’t have to remember it all. The only test is whether you wear what is right. To get that right, you just need to check before you dress. There’s no memorization required.
Black Tie vs. White Tie
Black tie events mandate a black tie-and that isn't your favorite Black Sabbath necktie, either. A black tie event means that it's time to break out the penguin suit. You wear your full tux-dinner jacket, trousers, tux shirt with wing collar, black bow tie, cummerbund, the lot. Some fashion historians and designers claim that midnight blue is an acceptable alternative. It's worth a shot, as long as you commit to it. When the event is a white tie event, however, it's time to get out even more than the full tux. Your tie must be white-in both cases, one that you tie yourself is infinitely preferable to a clip-on-as must your waistcoat or vest, a crucial addition to this look. As well, your coat had better have coattails (and it had better not be so short that your vest pokes out from beneath).
Preferred, Optional, Invited, Creative, or Just . . . ?
Often, your black tie event will have a tagline: black tie preferred, black tie optional, etc. White tie events are always ultra-formal. Don't expect to see "white tie creative" any time soon. As for the variations on a black tie event, however, each word means something different. Black tie preferred tips you off to the fact that if it's easier for you to get a nice suit than a tux-and we mean a nice suit-then take a deep breath, vote yourself confident, and do it. Don't let this be a cop-out for looking good. If you can wear the full black tie attire, you should. Black tie optional gives you a little more breathing room, but don't dress down further than you would for a formal wedding. When it comes to events labeled as "black tie invited," you are generally looking at a larger crowd with fewer restrictions. You will feel as at home in either a suit or a tux. If you can second-guess what the main guests will be wearing, you've definitely got a leg up on the fashion tower. When it says Creative Black Tie, or Black Tie Creative, it's just that-vary your black tie look a little. The Texas style wants cowboy boots and a Stetson (even denim jeans at times); usually, this means that a black shirt can be substituted for the white shirt, eliminating the need for the tie. If you want to break out the red tie . . . well, don't say that we let you do it. Usually, if you are going to that sort of event, you probably have a better expectation of it than we do anyway. And remember: if the only guideline is just "black tie," they're talking about a bow tie, so break out the tux.
Casual vs. Formal
If the invitation says that it will be a "formal" event, you can usually assume that they mean that black tie is required. Semi-formal or After Five is when the suits are allowed to come out. It's safest to stick to a dark suit, especially if the dress code is "business formal." Cocktail attire means the same as informal; however, you might get away with a lighter suit at an informal gathering. Dressy casual means that it's time to break out the khaki but it's still best to keep a sports coat on hand. Never, unless the event is specifically labeled as casual, should jeans or a t-shirt even be considered. Especially not at a Black Tie Event.