A Man’s Guide to Black Tie: How To Wear A Tuxedo

by Antonio on December 17, 2013 · 59 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

bond

Nothing makes a man feel as sharp and debonair (and makes the ladies swoon) as when donning a tuxedo.

Unfortunately, “black tie” is an often misunderstood dress code, leading men to end up looking more like Lloyd and Harry in Dumb and Dumber than 007.

Harry and Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber.

You can thank rental outlets and high school proms for a lot of the misconceptions.

When you’re in the business of renting tuxedos, you want people to believe that they are appropriate for all kinds of events, and that means they can sometimes be turned into a novelty item.

Fun for the whole family and good for some laughs, no doubt — but it’s certainly not the refined elegance needed for a true black tie event.

While seeing “Black Tie” on an event invitation can be intimidating, the good news is that getting black tie right isn’t hard!

In fact, the strictness of the dress code makes it one of the easiest outfits you’ll ever plan.

If you’ve got a clear, straightforward guide (like this one), figuring the whole thing out is a project of less than an hour.

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Black Tie Basics

First, a few things you need to know about black tie attire:

1. Black Tie Is Not the Same as Formal Dress

It’s commonly assumed that black tie is the highest standard of dress for men.

In fact, black tie evolved from what was, at the time, fairly relaxed evening attire. The tailless tuxedo jacket gets its name from Tuxedo Park, an early 20th century enclave of trendsetting, fashion-forward New York swells.

The highest formal dress for the evening follows the “white tie” dress code, a similar but distinct set of clothing. In dress code terms, black tie is evening semi-formal attire. Which leads us to another important point…

2. Black Tie Is Not Daytime Wear

You know those herds of tux-wearing groomsmen you see at popular tourist attractions and photo op sites on nice days? They’re doing it wrong.

The trend is unlikely to stop, but for people who are serious about getting their formal and semi-formal dress right, tuxedos are evening wear only.

The usual rule of thumb is that you dress for the end time of an event. So a long ceremony that starts in the afternoon and ends after dark is tuxedo-appropriate, but one that starts in the morning and ends in the afternoon when the sun is up is not.

That said, the invitation is always your guide. If a well-meaning friend has requested “black tie” for his morning wedding, you show up in your tux and you don’t say a word about it. Being a good guest counts for more than being right.

3. Black Tie is Not a Costume

You’re not pretending to be a character when you wear black tie. It’s not a waiter costume, or a groom costume, or anything else.

It’s your clothing (even if it’s rented), and it’s the clothing you wear when you want to make it clear to someone that you care about their event. It’s a gesture of respect in clothing form. Treat it as such, not as a novelty.

Proper Black Tie: How to Wear It Right 

So now you know what black tie is (and isn’t). But how do you do it “right”?

There’s a pretty strict framework for black tie attire. It has a little flexibility on some of the small details, but by and large it’s a uniform look.

Here we’ll describe, piece by piece, the “gold standard” black tie look. Where you’ve got options, we list them. Where you don’t, we don’t. Trust us on this one and don’t believe what the guy at the rental place tells you.

The Tuxedo Jacket

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This is the centerpiece — the item from which the whole outfit takes its name.

At its base, a tuxedo jacket is a tailless dinner jacket made of black or midnight blue worsted wool, with lapels “faced” (covered) in black silk. Most are single-breasted, with a single button, but double-breasted jacket models are also acceptable.

Black-tie-AOM-tuxedo-400-Double-Breasted-Jacket

A few elements of the jacket have multiple accepted styles:

  • The Lapels — The most formal style of lapel is peaked, but a shawl collar is equally acceptable. In a shawl collar, the lapels are joined to the collar to make an unbroken loop around the shoulders and the back of the neck. Notch lapels are worn today, but purists still consider them too business-styled for semi-formal attire. In all cases, the left lapel should have a working buttonhole so that a boutonnière may be worn.
  • The Facing – Satin silk provides a smooth, high-luster surface that emphasizes the lapels. Grosgrain, with its ribbed texture, is subtler and less reflective. Both are equally acceptable. Since your neckwear will match your lapels, be aware that a satin facing means a shinier bow tie as well.
  • The Vents — For the slimmest silhouette and strictest formality, an unvented jacket is preferred. However, double vents (twin slits up the back) are also acceptable, and may be more comfortable and allow easier pocket access. Single vents are a casual style that should be avoided — be cautious when renting, as single-vented jackets are cheap and easy to fit, and have become a staple of rental catalogs.
  • The Buttons — All the buttons should match, but they may be either plain black or covered in the same facing as the lapels. The sleeve should have four touching buttons, just like a suit jacket.

Apart from those, everything should be uniform. The lower pockets should be jetted (slits, with no flaps), and you’ll need a welt breast pocket for your pocket square.

The ideal fit is a close one, with no pinching that would hinder movement or wrinkle the fabric, and the jacket should be long enough to cover your rear end down to the widest point of its curve. Basically, if it fits like a good suit jacket, you’re in good shape. There’s no substantial difference.

The Trousers

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Black tie trousers are straightforward: they should be a perfect match to the tuxedo jacket.

That means the base material is the same as the jacket. The outer seams are concealed beneath a strip of ribbon (called the “braid”) made from the same material as the jacket lapel facing.

The trousers need to be high-waisted, so that the waist covering (either a waistcoat or cummerbund) can cover the waist fully. They will be worn with suspenders (“braces” in the UK), and should not have belt loops.

Beyond that, black tie trousers are simply minimal: they do not have cuffs, and the pockets are usually accessed by vertical slits at the back edge of the braid. Pleats are optional, but plain fronts will give the most elegant look.

The Waist Covering

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Black tie calls for one of two equally acceptable waist coverings: a formal waistcoat (vest) or a cummerbund (sash).

The formal waistcoat is the traditional option, and differs somewhat from the vest of a three-piece suit. It is cut low and wide, so as to show the front of the formal shirt underneath it, and has a small set of shawl lapels. Some are also backless, and fasten with a buckled or buttoning strap in the back. The vest is made from the same material as the jacket, and either the lapels or the entire vest can be faced in the same material as the jacket lapels. Both double-breasted and single-breasted vests are acceptable.

A cummerbund is a pleated sash that wraps horizontally around the waist. Traditionally, it is made from the same silk as the jacket lapel facings. The pleats face upward, like small pockets (which was actually their function, as early formal and semi-formal dress did not include trouser pockets). Some modern cummerbunds also have small hidden pockets on the inside.

Whichever waist covering you choose, it should conceal the waistband of your trousers all the way around. High-quality models will include small fabric tabs or loops that attach to matched buttons inside the trouser waist, to hold the covering in place.

Since the waist coverings are usually the first place that rental outlets start adding in color, it’s worth emphasizing: the gold standard for black tie is a black waist covering!

That said, you can sometimes get away with a cummerbund of another dark color, such as burgundy red or forest green, so long as your goal is a relaxed semi-formal look. It wouldn’t be appropriate for a high-formality diplomatic event or awards ceremony, but it would be fine at a wedding, for example.

Use discretion — and when in doubt, go with plain black. It has the advantage of always being right.

The Evening Shirt

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The shirt that accompanies a tuxedo should always be plain white.

It functions similarly to a regular dress shirt, but has a few unique features that set it apart:

  • The Bosom – Evening shirts have a decorated rectangular panel that runs all the way up the front of the shirt. This is called the “bosom” or the “bib” of the shirt. The most common styles are pleated (where vertical pleats run up the shirt on both sides of the button placket) and piqué (where the front of the shirt is made from a stiffened piqué fabric, generally woven with a dimpled pattern called marcella). Both are equally appropriate, though piqué is considered slightly more formal. Pleated shirts are sometimes called soft-front, in contrast to piqué’s stiff-front. A starched soft-front is called semi-stiff.
  • The Studs – Instead of buttons, some evening shirts have buttonholes on both edges, which are closed with decorative studs. The studs are widely spaced, usually with no more than three or four to a shirt. Traditionally, studs are used for stiff-front shirts, while soft-front shirts use mother-of-pearl buttons.
  • The Cuffs – The French cuff is the standard for semi-formal evening shirts. These fasten with cufflinks. While many tuxedos are sold with matching studs and cufflinks, it is not required. The metals should come from the same color family, however, and the two should complement each other reasonably seamlessly — you don’t want gold studs and silver cufflinks, or anything similarly mismatched.
  • The Collar – You have your choice of two collar styles here: a wing collar or turndown collar. Wing collars are high, starched collars separate from the shirt, with small points that thrust outward beneath the chin. Some purists argue that the style is only meant for formal (white tie) attire, but it is worn with black tie often enough that you can get away with it. Alternatively, a simple point-style turndown collar is always acceptable. Button-down collars should never be seen in black tie.

It should go without saying, but your shirt should always be tucked into your trousers (some have small loops that button to the inside of the trousers to keep them in place). The bottom of the shirt should be covered by the cummerbund or waistcoat, as should the bottom of the bib if it is separate from the shirt.

The Bow Tie

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The tie from which black tie takes its name should, of course, be black, and the material should match the jacket lapel facings. Do not use a pre-tied model!

If you aren’t familiar with how to tie it, you need to watch Brett’s video on how to tie a bow-tie.

There are several styles of tie that are acceptable, mostly distinguished by thickness and by whether the ends of the finished bow are pointed or rounded:

  • Butterfly - Narrow at the center and wide at the ends, these are a timeless classic. It’s a good style for men with large, round faces.
  • Semi-Butterfly - Also called a “thistle” because the smaller sides often show doubled corners, giving it a slightly pointy appearance. This is a more modern and slimmed-down version of the butterfly. It’s a neutral style, and works well with most faces.
  • Straight-End – Also called the “batwing” and “club” style. A good option for small men and men with thinner necks and faces.
  • Pointed – The ideal choice for men with sharp, angular features, and a natural complement to the points of peak lapels and wing collars as well.

There are no hard and fast rules as to which is preferable. It is largely a matter of taste, and of choosing a style that best matches the shape of your face. Large-faced, strong-featured men want thick ties, while men with narrower features look better in skinny ties.

The Shoes

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You have two style options for black tie shoes: formal pumps (also called opera pumps or court shoes), or black balmoral oxford dress shoes.

Formal pumps are made of patent leather or highly-polished calfskin, with a black grosgain ribbon on the top. If the ribbon has a bow tied in it, with a band lengthwise across the center, it is called a pinched bow pump, while a pump with only a flat ribbon crossing the top is called a flat bow pump. These formal shoes are the ideal complement to a tuxedo, but as they are expensive and single-purpose, many men shy away from purchasing them.

If you don’t want to shell out for formal pumps, a pair of highly-polished oxfords are also acceptable. A few men’s shoe styles have become accepted as accompaniments for tuxedos, listed here in descending order of formality:

  • Wholecut Balmoral – This is an uncommon style, wherein the uppers are a single piece of unbroken leather. A single slit is cut down from the opening and punched with eyelets for the laces. It looks quite sleek, and suits a tuxedo well.
  • Plain-Toe Balmoral – This is your basic high-formality business dress shoe. “Balmoral” implies that the lacing system is closed — that is, the piece of leather containing the eyelets is sewn directly into the upper of the shoe, not laid on top. That makes the top smooth and even, which is preferred for black tie attire.
  • Cap-Toe Balmoral - The same as a basic balmoral, but with the toe stitched onto the uppers, creating a horizontal line across the top about an inch back from the toe. It is a common business style, but bordering on too informal for black tie. Pair it with the more relaxed shawl collar, rather than peaked lapels.
  • Plain-Toe Blucher – Also called derbies, bluchers have an open lacing system, meaning that the pieces of leather containing the eyelets are separate from the uppers, and layered on top of them. Black tie has begun to tolerate the intrusion of these lower-formality shoes in the last few decades, but they are decidedly less impressive than your other options.

Thin black socks should be worn with whatever style of shoe you choose. Avoid thick cotton socks, even if they are black.

Other Considerations

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With the jacket, trousers, waist covering, shirt, and shoes done right, your black tie outfit is basically assembled.

All that remains are a few finishing touches:

  • The Suspenders – These button to the trouser waist (you should never be wearing clip-on suspenders with black tie). Black or white are equally acceptable. The suspenders should be hidden beneath the waist covering and jacket the whole evening, and should never be visible.
  • The Pocket Square – Plain white is your only option here, preferably silk. Any fold is acceptable, and many gentlemen choose a deliberately mussed style like a puff or fluted fold to add a touch of contrast to the otherwise sharp-edged look of black tie.
  • The Boutonnière – A flower in the lapel is entirely optional, but always correct so long as it is a single blossom, preferable in white or red.
  • Watches – Classic evening wear does not include a watch of any kind (the implication that you would check the time is considered rude to the hosts). These days, however, a wristwatch is tolerated, so long as it is slim, with a black band and metal detailing that matches your studs and cufflinks. A pocket watch makes an excellent alternative that can stay hidden until you discreetly check it.

If you need outerwear, a dress overcoat in black, navy blue, or charcoal gray wool is acceptable. A black or navy blue fedora or homburg is acceptable, but top hats are not — those are a formal accent reserved for white tie attire. Scarves, if worn, should be white (learn how to tie a scarf 11 different ways).

Conclusion: Getting Black Tie Right

Looking over this article, you may think black tie attire sounds awfully strict — and if you want the gold standard, with everything done just right, it is.

Now, as with anything in fashion, there are always going to be exceptions. Many sharp dressers have made their own tweaks over the years. Some have become accepted style, like the use of wing collars with black ties…but many, many more were experiments gone wrong, forgotten except for embarrassing photos in the “Celebrities Dressed Badly” section of gossip magazines or preserved at the Black Tie Guide’s Hall of Shame.

If you feel the need to deviate from the gold standard, do it with care and restraint. One small exception to the rules is more than enough. Within a dress code as strict as black tie, a single change stands out as a bold statement.

Remember, at the end of the day (or night, more appropriately), black tie is a gesture of respect.

Watch a Video Summary of This Post

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Written By:
Antonio Centeno
Creator of the Internet’s finest Personal Presentation Courses
Click here to grab my Free Men’s Style eBook

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Antonio Centeno December 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Brett & Kate – thank you as always for allowing me to share my enthusiasm for style with your audience!

Now before the comments start coming – I am aware of a few apparent “errors” – however there is in my opinion truly only one (I’ll fix it soon). So having said that – do you see what it is? :)

2 Donovan December 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Is the picture of the cummerbund upside down? It looks like the pleats are casting a downward shadow, indicating that it may be.

3 Billy December 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm

In the first tux picture, he has both a white pocket square and red boutonniere — a no-no according to the text. :)

4 Iain December 17, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I’ve always been told that only a waiter wears a wrist watch with a dinner jacket, white or black tie. I’ve always agreed. But then I always believed that a wristwatch is for work only.

5 Antonio Centeno December 17, 2013 at 7:33 pm

@Donovan – You got it! Yeah – I should have caught that and will upload a new image here shortly.

@Billy – good catch, but both of these are fine. I’ll have to go back and re-read what I wrote…..

@Iain – a watch should not be worn according to many traditionalists – I disagree especially if it’s an heirloom piece. Then it’s jewelry!

6 Tim Smith December 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Antonio: I was under the impression that you can do without a cummerbund if (1) your dinner jacket is double-breasted and (2) you keep it buttoned whenever standing up.

Is this correct?

7 Xenos December 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm

So, a Mandarin collar would be right out then?

That kind of stinks, as that’s about the only style what looks right on my frame (it’s actually what I was married in).

It’s also what I (with very rare exception) tend to wear to formal function…

Oops.

8 Antonio Centeno December 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm

@Tim – you are correct – I should have put that in their since I give double breasted jackets their own images. The reality is that 99% of men are wearing single breasted and half of those do not – so I was shooting to do the most good by making it an absolute. But yeah – if you never unbuttoned your jacket who would know but your date!

9 Zach Luczynski December 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Another awesome AoM article….how do you guys get permission to use the James bond image? Creative Commons?

10 Steve December 17, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Good article, although I don’t entirely agree with two things:
1) To me it’s unacceptable to wear a Tuxedo before 6pm PERIOD, They’re known as “dinner clothes” for a reason. Black Tie on an invitation for an afternoon engagement betrays pretension and ignorance of the dress code’s purpose.
2) A wristwatch really isn’t acceptable with dinner clothes either: even the nicest kind is, strictly speaking, business attire, which is down one or two levels of dress code formality. Rudeness to hosts aside, the only timepiece formal enough to match a tuxedo is a pocket-watch.

11 Jakob Gajsek December 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm

@Xenos

No, mandarin(nehru) really isn’t acceptable for black tie. Anyways, I’m pretty sure you could find the right jacket to suit your frame, black tie has evolved into what it is by accentuating the most “manly” features and drawing the eye from imperfections.

12 Steve December 17, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I always have trouble not wearing a watch in public, but I am very attached to my current watch. It belonged to my great-grandfather, and all the men in my family have worn it since. I like the fact that a young guy like me has something so old, but then I only ever wear a tux for my Orchestra performances. No one notices the bassist or the watch he wears.

13 Andres December 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm

great tips, i’m sharing this info. thanks

14 Jarod December 17, 2013 at 8:58 pm

When I look back on my High School Prom, I am embarrassed by the way I was dressed. Totally uncomfortable, flashy and silly. On top of that, I was impatient with the sizing at the rental place and my pants were really loose. Needless to say, not much dancing was going to happen.

And as a twenty year old College Student, I highly suggest to all High Schoolers to buy a Tux when they need one. It will fit you, you know who has worn it, and mostly you will save money in the not so long run. I remember three distinct events I attended in High School in which I had to rent a tux. That along with a few events in College, and being the best man in my Bud’s Wedding, I could have bought a good Tux that would be mine and still saved money.

15 Nick Rosaci December 17, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Great article, Antonio!

I had a friend earlier this year that asked what I thought about tuxedos at a morning wedding, in which I was the best man. I advised him against it, but he made a good point that it would probably be the only time he would wear a tuxedo. I was out of town, but tried to explain what a proper tuxedo was, since that was the way he wanted to go, and he went out shopping for rental tuxedos for the groomsmen.

He wanted me to rent the tuxedo so I was uniform with the rest of the groomsmen (even though I told him that I should be uniform if he followed the rules). I went ahead and rented the costume, and didn’t complain…to him.

I was just astounded that the company advised him on this and that, and I found myself wearing a tux with lapels that had very small notches, only half-covered by the facing, a SHINY purple bowtie, matching five-button vest, and faded vinyl shoes that were more like casual bluchers and were bruising my ankles, so I ducked into my car and changed into my Allen Edmonds after the wedding.

My friend came to me the next day and told me he wished I would have made the tuxedo choices (let me reiterate that after he asked for my suggestions the first time, I did not press the matter when he went in his direction). I wrote the company a very polite email after that explaining my issues with the suit, namely the extremely uncomfortable shoes. I never received a reply.

The funny part about all this is that when I look in the wedding pictures, mine was the best fit, but still too baggy. And I was the only one that wasn’t able to do a fitting before the wedding; I just sent them my measurements.

Like you said in your article, that “tuxedo” felt like a costume. Since I wear a tux so often for work, my own tuxes feel just as comfortable as anything else I have in my wardrobe.

I never got the chance to rant about this, and this seemed like the right time. So, there ya go!

16 Nick Rosaci December 17, 2013 at 9:11 pm

And Steve, from a pro bassist to another, we might not get noticed while playing the concert, but if we follow these rules, we sure as heck stand out from the sloppier guys in thrown together pieces to get by through the concert! And it’s definitely a way to stand out to the cute violin and flute players!

Trust me on that one.

17 Luke December 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm

I disagree that the pocket square should be silk. Linen is the more traditional choice.

18 Randy Hamme December 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm

What about the tuxedos you see now with a regular tie and vest as part of the ensemble? Are they not truly considered tuxedos? As for the watch, I did wear a pocket watch with my tux when I got married, but the watch was a wedding gift from my wife to me, so I thought it appropriate.

19 Mike December 17, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Antonio, Good information, clean and direct. Being the owner of 3 tux’s, a dinner jacket, two tails, morning, and a cutaway(short tux). When is the short tux appropriate? I know the tails, morning, and dinner jacket.
TNX Mike

20 John B December 18, 2013 at 12:34 am

This is great. So I have a question. Is it inappropriate to wear a tux to a wedding if you’re not part of the wedding in any way? This probably sounds like a dumb question and all, but it has been a long, long time since I’ve been to a wedding and I have one coming up. Would I be over doing it to wear a tux?

21 Theo Koster December 18, 2013 at 5:39 am

I’m from the Netherlands and we apply some options listen here more strictly:
- no vests or cumberbands. Only exception if you are a circus director
- no visible watch. Faux pas. Just not an option.
- only plain well shined shoes. No frizzles on your shoes. They are called whore-house-sneekers.
- no hats
- a plain white shirt (without the plaited front end) is also appreciated. Less is more.

Furthermore, all other rules in this article apply.

22 David Couvillon December 18, 2013 at 8:03 am

Two items:
1. Never, EVER, remove your dinner jacket and present yourself in shirtsleeves. Even if helping to clean up after the event – REMAIN properly attired!
2. If you are a military veteran, it is appropriate to wear your MINIATURE medals above the left breast pocket (in accordance with your service regulations). It is never appropriate to wear civilian medals/awards/lapel pins with a tuxedo.

23 tj December 18, 2013 at 8:18 am

although not common here in the US, miniature medals are sometimes worn on a tux. Do you wear them on the lapel or on the breast pocket?

24 Waitsel Smith December 18, 2013 at 9:07 am

It’s important to know the rules so you can break the rules when appropriate. No one wants to be a slave to fashion, nor does anyone want to be ignorant of what is appropriate. I’ve been dressing formally for fifty years, and I can tell you that today the rules are flexible. “Dress to impress” is a good motto. When in doubt, always dress UP. But don’t feel you HAVE to dress in any particular way. Dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable – that is what is most important. You want to be able to “be yourself” – not someone you’re not. So, however you dress, do it with class and do it in a way that will allow you to be the biggest blessing to those you’re with.

25 Scott December 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

I disagree with Jarod as to recommending high schoolers buy their own tuxedo. First, the vast majority of high schoolers have a whopping one occasion to wear a dinner jacket in a year: prom. While those moving on to college music programs will often find it handy to have for concerts, other occasions meriting a tuxedo are relatively rare. Secondly, a person who buys tailored clothing at 18 will seldom have the same physique at 25 or 30. I have a suit I bought in high school that barely fits me fifteen years later, and that’s after I’d lost a bit of post-college weight and had my tailor adjust the suit as much as possible. Apparently the tailor who made the suit didn’t leave a lot of fabric for later expansion.

If you’re in high school or college, rent your tux as needed from a reputable rental company. Follow the guide above when renting, and wait until you’re in regular need of black (or white) tie apparel to purchase your own.

26 Graham December 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I’d appreciate AOM weighing in on the wing-collar controversy. The collars link here says wings go behind the bow tie, granting the white/black-tie issue of wings of course.

I’ve seen a lot of authoritative and conflicting articles on where and why wings should be “suppressed” (behind the bow tie) or out above it. It seems different styles have been popular at different times. Some say suppressed collars are never appropriate in the UK, for example. So it’s clearly not a cut-and-dried matter of there being a right way and a wrong way all the time in every place. The ubiquitous forum posts of guys saying, “Well I think … because I saw it at a wedding” or because “… got more Google hits.” are very unhelpful.

I’d appreciate a more nuanced response.

27 Erik Forsell December 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Fun fact (that might apply to some readers): Since the “braid” (the stripe that runs down the trouser leg) is originally a military insignia if you are man of the cloth (ie. work for any church) you are not allowed to wear them.

28 Frazer December 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Would it be possible to expound into other potential garments for evening wear. I frequently wear a kilt and have found it to be one of the most impressive garments to wear for a night on the town.

29 Colin December 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I suggest avoiding the wing collar completely.

Too many people don’t use the loop of fabric at the back to hold their bow ties, or don’t have it, and the tie slides up and off the collar. Plus it reveals the ‘join’ of your adjustable bow tie, or worse, the clasp of your pre-tied tie, resulting in a sloppy or messy look.

The turndown collar is more elegant, and will make you look understatedly stylish. Leave the wing collar to those who treat black tie as a costume.

30 Xenos December 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

@Jakob Gajsek,
Rather unfortunately, I’ve been dressing for black tie events for near on 15 years now, and have yet to find one that suits my frame better’n Mandarin Collar.

A true let down it is that I’ve been doing it wrong all these many years-while a forgivable offence in my teenage years (it’s many a-wedding party I’ve been a part of, as well as concert musicianship), now that I’m nearly 30, I suppose I should “Man up” (Bless me, how I hate that phrase) and find a better suited bit of evening wear, even if it does look somewhat awkward on me (seriously, very angular face, very high set cheekbones, very long neck, etc.-it’s not a good look with peaked lapels, shawl is right out-and notch…).

I do appreciate the timely and succinct response, even if it was not the answer I WANTED to hear…

31 Jonny December 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Antonio is right, always ask for braces in the UK. If you go shopping for suspenders, they’re going to give you an odd look and send you to the lingerie department.

32 Titus December 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm

In re: Wing Collars

The article’s major weak point is its treatment of wing-collared shirts.

Tuxedos were originally nothing but white-tie attire with 1) a black tie and 2) the tailless tuxedo jacket. Thus, they took formal wing-collar shirts. If you are wearing a wing-collared shirt today, it should fit the same rubric. That is, it should have a pique front, never pleats. It should have single linked cuffs, not turned-back cuffs (the turn back is what makes them “French” not that they join with cufflinks). Preferably, the collar should be detachable. You should wear it only with the most formal black-tie rig (peak collar and waistcoat, not shall, double-breasted, or cummerbund).

These shirts are hard to find and expensive, and their level of formality doesn’t fit everyone. If you’re not going to spring for a wing collar done right, just avoid it altogether.

As for the wings themselves, they go behind the tie. Putting the tie behind the points of the collar is the sort of careless move that suggests either witlessness or sprezzatura, depending on the wearer’s age, experience, and personality. If you have to ask, don’t do it.

33 Mike December 18, 2013 at 5:08 pm

As to wrist watches. One way to have an watch is to have a pocket watch with a tasteful fab or chain. Yes, my vests do accommodate a watch, some do not.

34 Timothy December 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

For the most part this seems right, not a lot I can argue with here!

I only wish you touched upon white or off-white dinner jackets in warm environments. People need to know when it’s appropriate and when it’s not appropriate to wear them (especially the latter).

35 me December 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Great read, although, it is my understanding that you do not wear a watch with a tuxedo.

The theory is that time should not be an issue when you are at a black tie event.

36 CJ December 18, 2013 at 8:57 pm

A very nice summary. I own two tuxedos, morning coat, stroller, kilt, and trews. The long process of understanding the traditions and building the ensembles has been very enjoyable.

Generally speaking, I would add that wing collars look better with peak lapels (points with points) and turn down with shawls (curve with curve). Not a rule, just an observation.

@Frazer There is excellent black-tie kilt advice on xmarksthescot.com. I only wear kilts to a wedding if the bride oks it (no taking attention away from her!) but if you wear it to a banquet or charity event you will be in all the pictures, be approached by all the ladies, and have a great “memory hook” for networking.

Finally, this is the best season to acquire black tie. Many rental firms sell their old inventory just before the new year (try ebay or thrift stores). If you know what you are looking for and are patient you can pick up some very nice things.

37 Matt December 18, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Flaps on the double breasted peaked lapel jacket?

38 Milo December 18, 2013 at 10:22 pm

As a professional opera singer who frequently sings in concert, a tuxedo is a uniform–not fashion. As such, I have experienced (and purchased) a wide variety of items to construct the required uniform onstage. For example, some organizations dictate wing collars while others ask for turn-down collars. Some organizations require black tie for matinee performances–which, although they begin during the day, typically end in the evening. Some require white-front & tails for evening performances. The latter is usually expected for solo appearances as well…regardless of the time of day. Some organizations require white jackets for summer season performances, but during the regular season their black/white tie standards apply.

Conductors and the super-famous get a pass on all of this. They get to wear whatever they want to on the podium as long as the audience accepts it. Seiji Ozawa’s preference was Nehru jackets & Mandarin collars. Some other famous names wore black turtle-neck shirts with their tuxes. Pavarotti actually used his pocket-square onstage because he sweat so much.

39 Mr. Mike December 18, 2013 at 10:28 pm

We often wear a ‘Texas tuxedo’ down south for some black-tie events. Semi casual, semi formal. Very fun. Then again our women love to wear their western boots with dresses. Here, men are men and sheep are scared. Keep up the well-timed articles.

40 Chet December 19, 2013 at 7:28 am

Great article

A few notes. I agree with @Titus. Wing collars should not be worn with black tie. Additionally, the modern gentlemen should avoid pleated shirts. From my understanding these are a vestige of a few decades ago when ornamentation was overdone. Since simplicity is the message of the tuxedo, a plain shirt with a point collar is going to be the best bet.

41 Chris Ross December 19, 2013 at 10:25 am

Is a kilt ok to mix with a dinner jacket?

42 Carlo December 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

I once had a semi-custom tux made by J. Press in NYC, and they were clever enough to offer me a dark crimson lining (no upcharge) and then to offer me matching silk-faced formal suspenders. Only your girlfriend will ever see them, of course.

For shoes to wear with your tux, consider oxford imitation-patent shoes from Capezio or one of its competitors. They’re sold as jazz or ballroom shoes, depending on mfr. They look correct (because they’re patent), make your feet look smaller (by design), and are liquid-proof (for your wilder occasions). Plus, they’re actually designed to be danced in. Cost is about $100 at most.

Hi-school or college guy, buy yourself that tux, but get an inexpensive one. Have it tailored to fit precisely. If you only wear it a few times before you graduate, no big money down the drain. If you spill beer on it, no great loss.

43 Jason Koller December 19, 2013 at 11:46 am

I had no idea there were so many types of bow ties.
I only knew about the Semi-Butterfly.
I shall have to try and expand my wardrobe.
Question about Tuxes and shoes,
Are two tone’s ok?

44 GS December 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Good article. Check your “go-to” suit brand/cut to see if they’re offered as a tuxedo as well. As a regular suit wearer for business, I filled my closet with the Hugo Boss James Sharp, which is an outstanding modern cut suit. I’ve had endless comments over the years about those suits. They make a tuxedo in the same cut/style. Shawl collar, no cummerbund, just classic styling. Several years ago, I bought one directly from a Hugo Boss store and it was only $795. It has paid itself off, plus dividends. Funny thing is, once you buy one, somehow the black tie event opportunities seem to make themselves known regularly. Going with such a simple approach – shawl collar, no cummerbund, no vest, no suspenders, shirt with no pleats, semi-butterfly tie, alternating only the pocket square colors depending on the event – has yielded countless compliments. I recently emceed a USO show and even impressed the old timers. Much as I’d love to stand out from the crowd without competition, do yourselves a favor, fellow men of character… invest in a tux! And reward yourself with a good scotch.

45 CJ December 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

@ Chris Ross

It’s not ok to mix a dinner jacket and a kilt. The kilt sits higher than the waist and a typical DJ is too long. The proper shortened jacket is called a Prince Charlie jacket. One could also use a mess jacket or an Irish Brian Boru jacket.

46 Lavan M December 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I realise I don’t have much experience (16 years old), but I’ve always found blacktieguide.com to be an invaluable, well reasoned source on black tie etiquette. And of course, NEVER wear a necktie to a black tie event – it may be fashionable now, but the classics are timeless.

47 AJ December 20, 2013 at 6:59 pm

So, in reading this, I agree and have been told a lot of this over my 22 years of life experience, but still found it helpful, so thanks for that first off. But I do have a question that neither my dad, nor any one else has been able to answer for me.

If I am in black tie apparel and I am driving and find myself needing to wear sunglasses, what styles can be worn, or should be avoided ( obviously Aviators)? I am just curious of your opinion on that.

48 NG1000 December 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

As per Debrett’s, wing collars are the preserve of white tie (and to be worn with it only), and cumberbunds and waistcoats are rarely worn nowadays.

Black tie changes with the times – it’s not that strict now.

49 Dale December 31, 2013 at 6:31 am

As a trombone player in a 20 piece swing band, I wear a tux as the uniform. I have found that the Stafford tuxedo at JC Penny is a great buy. It has the classic cut with all the right details, and you can get the shirt kit there as well. With adding the cost alterations for the jacket, shirt, and pants, you can look great for under $250.

50 Alex January 2, 2014 at 11:13 am

Fantastic article. Two quick, admittedly James Bond inspired questions.

1. Recognizing that this article is intended to instruct people on the “gold standard” of tuxedo attire, there was no mention of the white jacket. Is it ever acceptable outside of casinos in Monte Carlo prior to saving the world?

2. It appears that everyone’s favorite spy rarely, if ever, wears a waist covering with his tuxedo. Does this reflect the evolving nature of men’s fashion toward informality, or simply a viable option for events where less formality and/or quick access to your hidden Walther PPK is preferred?

Thanks!

51 Hermann January 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Yes, kilts are missing!
But then it´s all over at http://www.xmarksthescot.com

Shalom
Hermann

52 Justin January 6, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Does anyone know where I can purchase a single, pearl button stud?

My mother gave me a very nice, vintage cufflink and stud set to wear during my wedding; however, the set include only 3 studs, and my shirt was designed for 4.

I’m hoping I can find a single, 4th stud that looks like the normal pearl buttons.

Thanks!

53 John Burrows January 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm
54 tamhas January 12, 2014 at 11:10 pm

I am offended at your implication that Lloyd and Harry are anything but cool

55 Nick January 27, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Where is the best place to carry things with you like your keys, wallet and phone? every time i go out in a suit or tux i am always annoyed that my keys and phone feel like they are bulging out of the pockets like mount Vesuvius.

56 James February 8, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Excellent article. However, I must say, Marine Corps Dress Blues trump a tuxedo everytime.

57 Guy February 23, 2014 at 7:54 am

Nice read. If you are looking for a fancy tie or bow tie I just ordered a few from this new brand called Lover. Might be something for a few choice men to take a look at. http://loverbowsandties.com/

58 MARIO ROJAS March 3, 2014 at 11:06 am

Great tips!

59 Jennifer April 4, 2014 at 1:41 am

Great post! Very detailed and helpful. I’m getting married next year and I love the idea of my fiancé wearing a tux for our evening wedding. I was imagining him in a shawl collar, but now I’m wondering if a boutonniere isn’t possible with the shawl style since it doesn’t have a buttonhole? Would he have to wear peak lapel to have a simple carnation boutonniere?

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