formal black tie style guide

Does an invite to a formal dress party make you panic? Deciphering dress codes is a daunting task and many men simply hate the idea. With categories like black tie, white tie, lounge and a handful of others it’s easy to see why. Sticking to the dress code can be an overwhelming and confusing experience so here is a small guide to make sure you dress to impress.

Dressing for a White Tie Event

what to wear white tie dress code

The most formal and rarest dress code is known as a white tie or “full dress”. Usually you’re less likely to receive an invitation to an event with a white tie dress code but why take the chances? Most common white tie events include government ceremonies, charity galas, official openings and the opera. The first thing you need to understand is that this is the strictest dress code so make sure you reserve space in your wardrobe for the following items.

white tie formal event guide

1 – White Dress Shirt – It should be stiff bosomed with a detachable pique wing collar in white. A pair of white cufflinks is also a nice accessory to add – Theory Kenai Dress Shirt

2 – White Waistcoat – This needs to be worn over the top of your dress shirt – Moss 1851 White Marcella Waistcoat

3 – White Bow Tie – This is absolutely essential and the namesake of this dress code – Moss 1851 White Marcella Self Tie Bow Tie

4 – Black Trousers – Wear a pair of black pleated trousers and don’t forget to cover your outer seams or tuxedo stripe with a black satin strip. Proportions are important here. By today’s standard, your trousers must be high-waisted and the waistband of the trousers should be covered by the waistcoat – Dehavilland Single Pleat Black Trousers

5 – Tailcoat – When it comes to a white tie event, you cannot wear anything but a tailcoat. No regular suit, white/off-white dinner jackets or a regular tuxedo will do the job. This is a common mistake many men commit. And while you are at it, focus on the right fit. A shabby tailcoat looks too clumsy. The secret is to get a tailor-made tailcoat.

Now, there was a time when buying a bespoke tailcoat was a huge investment but this is no longer the case. Thanks to the online tailors, you can now buy a custom-made tailcoat for a white tie event without breaking your bank.

There are online retailers such as OwnOnly, offering custom-made formal clothing for men. You can buy suits, tailcoats, dress-shirts and formal trousers that are tailor-made according to your body shape through their online tailored measurement process.

6 – Accessories – Since this is a strict dress code, you need to be subtle with your accessories. Wear formal cufflinks and stick to silver, mother of pearl etc. You can wear a white pocket square or a boutonniere but they should be authentic looking.

Don’t wear a wristwatch for such an event and stick to black patent leather oxfords or black patent court pump for your choice of footwear – PS by Paul Smith Starling High Shine Oxfords

Dressing for a Black Tie Event

what to wear black tie dress code

If your understanding of black tie events is wearing a polyester tux set, you better go back to your prom night. Now that you are grown up you simply have to follow the rules to look your best. It is less complicated than a white tie, but this dress code has a traditional uniformity and a unique elegance that you must respect. Black tie attire is normally required during weddings, formal dinners, opera and formal evening parties. Here is what you’re expected to wear during a black tie event:

black tie formal event guide

1 – Jacket – For your jacket black wool is the norm, although you can wear midnight blue. It can be either single-breasted or double-breasted with peaked lapel/shawl collar. Though notched lapel is popular these days, they are not accepted by traditionalists – Apolis Indigo Wool Blazer

2 – Shirt – A pleated or piqué while, French cuffs shirt with turndown collar – TM Lewin Slim Fit

3 – Trousers – The material for trousers should be similar to the jacket. The trouser must be single braid and outside seams need to match lapel facings. Cut for suspenders is a must and no cuffs – Marc by Marc Jacobs Tropical Wool Suit Trousers

4 – Footwear – Black patent leather pumps or black patent leather oxfords for footwear – Cole Haan Cambridge Plain Toe Oxfords

5 – Neckwear – For neckwear, stick to black self-tie silk bow tie although black silk four-in-hand tie is becoming popular – Bow Ties from Winston’s Legacy

6 – Accessories – You can wear black or white silk suspenders, mother-of-pearl/gold/harmonizing black studs and cufflinks and a white silk pocket square. Waist covering is optional, but if you’re wearing them go for a black low-cut evening waistcoat or a black cummerbund made from silk – ASOS Silk Pocket Square


Now that you have successfully deciphered the different kinds of dress codes, never dread of another invitation to an event with one. It is even acceptable to take a little liberty whenever possible, as long as you respect the traditional uniformity of the formal dress codes. And while you are at it, remember the age-old rule of thumb: “It’s better to be overdressed than under-dressed.”

If the event is black tie you can be more open with the colours, collar and lapel styles. However, remember it is still a black tie event and your sartorial modifications must honor the dress code. Another variant is ‘black tie optional’. In an event like this you can forgo the tuxedo and wear a polished black suit instead. A tie and polished black shoes are still necessary.

Formal Dress Code Celebrtity Inspiration

bradley cooper tom ford david beckham black tie inspiration 2015

Author bio: Brian Zeng is the Chief Marketing Officer for OwnOnly, which is a new-age online apparel store offering customized suits, shirts and blazers for the modern man. Digital marketing is Brian’s passion and he’s keen to explore the dynamics of ecommerce and men’s fashion. Follow him on Twitter @brianzengdotme