Dressing for Black Tie Events: Formal Wear for Men

Learn About Dress Codes from White Tie to Casual

Man with two ladies

Once you receive an invitation to a dinner party, a gala, a soiree, a luncheon, or any other event for which personal invitations are sent out, then the host or hostess has probably also taken the time to inform the guests of what level of formality he or she is expecting. This information is usually relayed in only two words in the bottom right corner of the invitation.

I will first review all of the possible dress codes, then go into details for what you need to wear to a black tie event. Please promise me you will follow the recommended dress code for any party, and the next time you hold your own, add the appropriate dress code to your invitation.

Here are the possible phrases you'll see on your invitation in regards to dress code:

  • White Tie: The most formal attire possible. Women wear full-length gowns with a crinoline. Men wear black pants, a black tail coat, white tuxedo shirt with bow-tie and a top hat with optional white kid gloves. 
  • Black Tie/Formal: Second on the formal dress scale, this includes a straight gown for women and, for men, a black tuxedo with no hat.
  • Semi formal/Informal: This actually does not mean 'informal' in the way you or I would naturally use the word, but it is less formal than the first two options. The men are in black suits and the women in dark knee-length dresses. 
  • Cocktail: Men wear dark suits and women wear fun knee-length dresses, 
  • Dressy Casual: Men wear blazers or sports jackets, a white dress shirt and black dress pants, while the ladies wear skits and blouses.
  • Business: Men wear blazers or sports jackets with a colored shirt and khakis or dark denim. Women can wear skirts or dress pants. 
  • Casual: Either gender what they please, within reason. Use good judgement if the host or hostess is gauche enough to mistakenly allow this type of dress at his or her party.
Are you still wondering, "What does black tie mean?" Here are the specific guidelines for a black tie dress code:

Step 1

You need to wear a white tuxedo shirt. This means one with vertical pleats on the chest area and French cuffs (the ones that allow for the the use of cuff links).

Step 2

Wear a black tuxedo. For black tie events, this does not include one that has tails, but please be sure that the pants to the tuxedo have the obligatory black satin strip running down the outside seam of the leg and satin lapels. 

Step 3

You need a black silk neck tie. Part of black tie etiquette is to wear a black necktie.

Step 4

Black patent leather shoes are a must. This means the high gloss leather ones.  Refrain from wearing the velvet tuxedo slipper during the day.

Step 5

Remember your silver or gold cuff links.

Step 6

A thin black belt or thin black suspenders.

Step 7

A cummerbund is optional, and must be black. This should be worn with the fold facing upwards.

Step 8

Black sock are absolutely not optional; they are necessary with dark pants.

Step 9

Do not wear a top hat and white kid gloves. A white silk scarf is acceptable when worn outdoors in the cooler months. 

Now you know how to dress for black tie events. Yes, this type of dress code is very formal -- and no, not everyone will obey the rules, but please do not dress down just because you know other silly and misinformed people are going to. There is nothing wrong with being the best-dressed one at the party. Just don't out-dress the host or hostess, who should possess the good manners to obey the rules they dictated for the partygoers, rather than going above this to the next level of dress.


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Good tips...makes it clearer. Thanks.

By Mary Norton