So you have been invited to an event for which the dress code is listed as black tie. Panic has set in because in this forward-thinking age where (at least in a fashion context) anything goes, you have no idea what it really means. Relax — there is no need to worry. MFM is pleased to present you with an informative guide that will ensure you are appropriately dressed, without removing all opportunity for your own touch to be visible in an altogether sterling ensemble.
Disclaimer: the dinner suit and the tuxedo are one and the same but as a British publication, we will therefore be opting (proudly) for the former of the two terms.
We are of the firm belief that it is worthwhile owning a dinner suit. Forget hiring one; it will be obvious that it was originally made for somebody half a foot taller and with shoulders twice the size of your own. Bite the bullet and buy, even get it altered, and have it in your wardrobe, safe in the knowledge that you will be one of the most elegantly dressed gents at any black tie event you grace with your presence.
So how to pick out a style that will transcend seasons and keep you looking timelessly sharp?
As is always decent advice, keep it classic. There are two options, one of which is certainly safer than the other: complete dinner suit or separate jacket and trousers. The dinner suit is an elegant choice and will serve you will for many years. However, if done correctly, a well-paired jacket and trousers can be very stylish.
Either way, the lapel to the jacket is of the utmost importance, as it will distinguish from a business suit. Make sure to opt for a peak (pointed) or shawl lapel, mindful — of course — of which style suits your body type best. The peak will emphasise shoulders and height; the shawl is softer in its uninterrupted lines and, owing to its influence from the smoking jacket, is generally considered to be the more relaxed option.
The next choice you need to make is colour. It might be assumed that black tie dictates a monochromatic look but this is rarely still the case. If you have gone with a full suit, there are probably just two options: either black or midnight blue (which under artificial light in fact looks even deeper in hue than standard black). The latter is the braver choice but one which will render a confident suaveness, which can only be a good thing. If you choose separates instead, there are many more avenues of colour for you to explore. Velvet looks fantastic in black, navy or even crimson. Why not stick with a solid black trouser and let extravagance reign up top? There are plenty of beautiful jacquards and other intricately woven textiles that will help you stand out.
The shirt is the following step in building your perfect posh party outfit. We wouldn’t advise improvisation here. The best option really is a white shirt. You could go for a regular buttoned shirt or a traditional dress shirt, for which shirt studs are required, but definitely white. The dress shirt is usually a more expensive option but does look more traditionally elegant. Going with a double cuff and cuff links will also elevate the ensemble to ensure sophistication.
The collar of your shirt is important too and will need to be the wing or classic point collar to accommodate your bow tie.
The Bow Tie
The bow tie is far and away the most non-negotiable feature of the outfit. We suggest selecting a style in a fabric different from that of your suit. So, if you’re sporting a velvet jacket, a wool bow tie will play off that nicely; conversely, if you’ve gone with a classic wool dinner suit, a velvet bow tie will be great. This is an area with countless options and plenty of fun to be had. Knitted silk bow ties will add texture to an ensemble, while subtle prints and details (see those Alexander McQueen skulls, for example) will bring a little rock ’n’ roll to your look.
And providing that you have the patience to learn how to tie it, we would recommend that you buy a proper self-tie style — even if just for how incredibly nonchalant and cool you will look with it hanging undone around your neck at the end of the night.
The final touch is of course the perfect footwear. We would recommend something fairly classic; it’s probably best to stick to a good pair of lace-ups or a gentlemanly slipper. Something in a patent leather will bring a finishing razzle-dazzle to the whole affair, and it is a fancy do after all…
Black tie can indeed be a difficult one to get right because there is, as ever, great opportunity to be bold and make your own style statement, but while adhering to certain rules or standards. If you’re considered in your piecing together of a sophisticated, grown-up look that above respects the general aesthetic of the event itself, however, you are sure to be a sartorial success. Remember: when everybody is effectively dressed the same, it is very easy to see who has (or hasn’t) done it well.