Black tie, in recent years, has become anything but. With bright, patterned jackets and vivid, vibrant spins on the classic style, fashion’s most suave, slick get-up has found itself splashed with colour. Over the course of the last decade, black tie has turned into fancy dress — fuelled by bombastic celebrities’ red carpet antics and restless fashion houses. But worry not; Gentleman’s Journal is here to remind you of the true meaning of black tie — and return everyone’s favourite formal outfit to its monochromatic roots.
After Henry Poole created the first dinner jacket in 1885, it was popularised over the pond in New York City’s classically cool Tuxedo Club. All-black, save for a white shirt, the deep V-shape of the black tie dinner jacket works to accentuate shoulders and slim the figure. Everyone from James Bond to Jay Gatsby have adopted black tie as their uniform of choice — so here we break down the dress code, and explain how to do it properly.
Your dinner jacket should be well-cut, very dark and simply chic
The jacket is the crowning glory of black tie. It’s got those sharp shoulders, cuffs made for shooting and the breast pocket that a quarter-inch of pressed white handkerchief should jut rakishly over the top of. But many of us still get the cut, style or colour wrong. So let’s start with the basics. Your dinner jacket should be black for black tie — although midnight blue is also acceptable.
It should have either notch, peak or shawl lapels — we prefer the latter. And it should be crafted from either traditional silk or a good quality wool. We also wouldn’t turn our noses up at velvet; so as long as it isn’t too flashy. And its one button should always be buttoned up when you arrive at your event — and only undone once you take a seat.
Prada Black Tuxedo
Tom Ford Midnight Blue Tuxedo
Richard James Black Velvet Tuxedo
The key to good black tie trousers is simplicity
If you’re buying a full tuxedo — and we’d suggest you do, it makes everything so much easier — then your trousers will be taken care of. But, to double check, make sure that they’re fitted without being too tight anywhere, that they have a clean break on your shoes and that they’ve got enough give in the waist for you to enjoy any food or drink that might be on offer.
If you’re going for separates — an admittedly dangerous game, but necessary if you’ve plumped for a velvet jacket — the key is simplicity. Go for deep, dark and completely plain black trousers. Bear in mind the fit as above but, past that, just pare everything back. And don’t even think about tartan.
Giorgio Armani Wool Tuxedo Trousers
Hugo Boss Black Tuxedo Trousers
Paul Smith Satin-Trimmed Trousers
You’ve got a little more leeway with your shirt
With proper black tie, your shirt is the only place you should be showing any individualism or character. And, even then, we wouldn’t advise going too wild. Firstly, your shirt should always be white to ensure maximum contrast with your dinner jacket. But you have a choice of a couple of collars. You could plump for the usual collar; a standard and reliable choice. Or you could go for a wing-collar — one of the only acceptable chances you’ll get to try the style out if you’ve been yearning for some alternative shirting options.
Aside from that, most other stylistic choices have been made for you by the dress code. You should have double cuffs fastened with cufflinks — another opportunity to show some character — and ideally a traditional pleated front. Button it all the way up and then reach for your bow tie…
Turnbull & Asser Cotton Tuxedo Shirt
Favourbrook White Tuxedo Shirt
Tom Ford Wing-Collar Shirt
Tie your own plain black silk bow tie
You know the drill; all black, satin or silk and very conservative. The classic look is the best when it comes to black tie, and this nifty piece of neckwear is the one thing that ties this dress code — both figuratively and literally — together. Invest in a good quality bow tie, and it could even become an heirloom passed down through your family, in the same way you may have inherited your grandfather’s vintage watch.
And, although this should obviously go without saying, don’t buy a pre-tied bow tie. Yes, it may save time and look smarter and more symmetrical than your own efforts, but a real gentleman doesn’t clip on his bow tie — as the name suggests, he ties it.
Turnbull & Asser Satin Bow Tie
Drake’s Grosgrain Butterfly Bow Tie
Emma Willis Barathea Silk Bow Tie
Keep your socks and shoes simple, shiny and — surprisingly — black
Your shoes and socks are the foundation of your outfit. And, whether your black tie event involves dancing the night away, shuffling around a ballroom of awkward minglers or jumping up to bid at a charity auction, your feet will be doing a lot of work. As such, it pays for them to be comfortable. Thankfully, you can follow black tie to a tee while keeping your kicks comfy.
Start with your socks. Go for long, black cashmere socks — no-one wants to see a flash of ankle that’ll detract from your all-black get-up. And then come shoes. Either go for the classic – patent black leather lace-ups – or opt for something a little softer; the velvet slipper. We’d recommend the former — but remember to get out your polishing cloth before you leave the house.
Crockett & Jones Overton Shoes
Pantherella Waddington Cashmere Socks
Ralph Lauren Collis Velvet Slippers
Ensure your shirt stays hidden with a waistcoat or cummerbund
Finally, you just need to retouch your outfit to make sure there are no unwanted spots of skin or white on show, breaking up your all-black ensemble. The socks should have taken care of any unfortunate leg on show, and we’ve already covered keeping your jacket buttoned up. Now, the only part of shirt that threatens to peep through is below your button and above your beltline. But we’ve got that covered, too.
Your choices are twofold in this department. Most opt for a cummerbund; a large, pleated strip of satin that sits around your waist and blocks off your shirt with black fabric. It’s tried, tested and traditional. But, if you’re looking to go for something a little edgier, why not button up a dress waistcoat? It does the same job as the cummerbund — but does have one unfortunate flaw: if you remove your jacket even for a second, you’ll turn into a waiter.
Turnbull & Asser Black Satin Cummerbund
Favourbrook Black Satin Dress Waistcoat
Drake’s Black Satin Cummerbund
Feel like defying us and mixing up your black tie? We’ll let you off — if you stick to these top tips…