The original thought behind black tie evening wear is that the lines should be as clean and uncluttered as possible giving a classic and elegant look. Here we dissect the classic “rules of black tie” and then you can choose whether or not you’d like to break them!
It probably goes without saying that your jacket should be black or midnight blue and the lapel should be either a peaked style or a shawl collar. It should have a satin or grosgrain facing and the buttons will be covered in the same fabric and your bow tie should follow through with this too.
Personally I love grosgrain as I think it looks expensive and a little retro. A notched lapel is considered to be a no-no as it resembles a regular business suit too much and the point of black tie is to be more formal. However you will find many like this available off the peg but if going for made to measure or bespoke, I’d suggest you avoid it. Not sure whether to go for a peak or shawl lapel? The following tips might help you decide:
– Peaked lapels are a good choice if you have narrow shoulders as it diverts your eye out towards your shoulders and gives the appearance of them being broad.
– Alternatively if your face is very square or shoulders are already very broad then choose a shawl collar which will soften the angles a little.
Single breasted dinner jackets usually have just one button, though 2 are acceptable. This is the best choice for a less than slender waist, but if you’d like to bulk up a bit you could go for a double breasted style.
Traditionally, the jacket has jet pockets instead of flap pockets and no vents at the back. These 2 details are widely ignored though and you’ll find that many current jacket styles will have both these “forbidden” details. If you do decide to go for vents, it’s preferable to choose double over single for a more classic, elegant look.
Your trousers should match your jacket and have a single satin or grosgrain stripe running down the side seam. Note that double stripes are for white tie, not black and some cheaper brands forgo the stripe altogether.
Remember black tie is all about covering all the seams and underpinnings of your outfit though and looking as sleek as possible and covering the side seams of your trousers is part of this. Following this rule, forget belt loops and choose side fasteners instead and no turn ups at the hem. Ensure they are tailored to the correct length with no puddling, just a slight break should do it.
You will need a Marcella pique front shirt or pleat front shirt with a turn down collar. Wing collars are for white tie or if you live in America, this seems to be the favoured look. The shirt should have double cuffs, so you can wear some simple cufflinks, and to further enhance the elegance, you could choose a shirt that uses studs instead of buttons. These will usually be in black onyx or mother of pearl. With the revival of seventies fashion at the moment, I’ve also spotted a couple with frill fronts, though I would avoid this unless you have a lot of confidence to carry it off!
Your tie should be one that you tie yourself not a pre-tied one. There are plenty of videos on YouTube to help you out if you don’t know how to do it. As mentioned before, match the fabric of your bow tie to the facings on your jacket, and correspond the size of your tie to your size – a very small bow tie on a very large man will look somewhat comical.
The waistband of your trousers should preferably not show so either a cummerbund or waistcoat can be worn to hide it. If wearing a waistcoat it should be a low cut single breasted style and often has a shawl collar.
-Cummerbunds are back on the map again, and if you do choose this option wear it with the pleats facing upwards – it used to be a handy place where you could store the stub of your opera ticket. It’s generally thought that cummerbunds work best with shawl collared jackets and pleat front shirts and waistcoats with a peaked lapel jacket and Marcella pique-fronted shirt, but this is not a hard and fast rule by any means.
-A white linen or silk pocket square may be worn in the top pocket or if you’re going for a more contemporary look you could try a subtle black and white spot.
-Your socks should be in a fine knit black rib and calf length so you’re not flashing any leg when sitting down.
-Wear a slim sleek watch and match the metal of your studs (if wearing them) cufflinks and watch.
Wear patent or high shine Oxfords to continue the sleek sophisticated look. You could also wear patent dress slippers with a bow, if you feel confident enough to carry them off. Avoid brogues, boots, or chunky soled shoes and avoid any colour other than black.
Thanks to Sarah @sartorialab for writing this article exclusively for Alexandra Wood.
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