My good friend James suggested to me earlier today that I should do a blog post about Black Tie, as he is to attend an event where the dress code is Black Tie and he is unsure what constitutes this particular wardrobe stipulation. So, here I am, blogging away.
Firstly, if there is a dress code in place for the event, stick to it! No one is above dress codes. You simply cannot turn up wearing whatever takes your fancy: this is the height of bad sartorial manners. If you are unhappy with the dress code, then decline the invitation.
The spring of each year sees the interminable cycle of awards ceremonies begin and such events always depress me as the men start messing around with what is a perfectly smart dress-code to begin with – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Perhaps the male actors, singers and television personalities feel upstaged by the women, who for each ceremony get to wear a colourful dress, which the men may think deflects attention away from what they are wearing. So they start to wheel out skinny ties (which will be top of my list to put into Room 101), or just plain black neck ties (which, to me, shows ignorance that ‘Black Tie’ does not mean a neck tie).
So what to wear for the gentlemen?
Working from top to bottom…
Hair This should be washed and brushed. Similarly, you should be clean-shaven (unless you always have a beard or moustache). There is no point going to a smart event if your head and face looks like it hasn’t seen a comb in years
Shirt A white shirt with a turned down collar is called for with Black Tie. Winged collars, often mistakenly worn, are the reserve of the White Tie dress code. The shirt should be a dress shirt, which are generally slightly thicker in material, with a pique or frilled front. Button down collars are a no-no. Dress shirts can be fastened with buttons or with studs. Cuffs can be standard or double-cuff, depending on preference
Bow tie As I mentioned above, Black Tie does not mean a black neck tie. They are for funerals. Bow ties should be hand-tied in my opinion (Her Majesty is said to be able to spot a ‘fake’, pre-tied bow tie a mile off – as can I. We’re quite similar.) If you cannot tie one, then I suggest you learn, or try to look good in a pre-tied one
Jacket Black. Lapels can be notched or shawl. Jackets can be single or double breasted. Double breasted jackets (of any variety) often look best on very slim men. Dinner jackets are never fastened when single-breasted
Pocket square If you wish to wear a ‘top pocket handkerchief’ then you may do so. In white
Cummerbund Nowadays, these are optional and if worn should be worn with the folds pointing upwards. It goes around the waist
Braces Don’t wear a belt, even if hidden by a cummerbund. Instead opt for braces, preferably black, if you need to keep your trousers up
Trousers These should match the material of the jacket and are usually tapered slightly
Socks Black silk evening socks are technically correct but these are not widely sold and most people are opting to wear conventional wool or cotton socks
Shoes Well-polished, smart black shoes are perfectly acceptable. If you have black patent leather shoes by all means wear them to Black Tie events. I do!
Finally for the gentlemen, a question I get asked a fair bit: ‘can I inject some colour into Black Tie?’ My advice is to try to steer clear of playing with the monochrome colour palate of Black Tie, however boring you think it may be. Where people have added a red cummerbund, or bright blue socks it has generally looked a bit tacky. One has to be a highly skilled fashionista to break the dress code with style.
As for what the women should wear: evening dresses are correct. They shouldn’t really be floor-length, this used to be reserved for just White Tie events, but this rule has been relaxed. Inject as much colour as you so wish, ladies: it doesn’t matter what colour you wear as your male partner will only be in black and white which means you will stand out, without clashing with him, and (hopefully) look radiant.