Black tie

Black tie

Western dress codes

Men's black tie dress (double-breasted jacket)

Black tie is a dress code for evening events and social functions. For a man, the main component is a usually black jacket, known as a dinner jacket (in the Commonwealth) or tuxedo (mainly in the United States). Women's dress for black tie occasions can vary to a much greater extent, ranging from a cocktail dress that is at or below the knee to a long evening gown, determined by current fashion, local custom, and the occasion's time.


When the dinner jacket (tuxedo in the US) was first invented in the Victorian era it was intended as an informal replacement for the tailcoat which men of the upper classes wore every evening. Thus it was worn with the standard accompaniments for the evening tailcoat at the time: matching trousers, white or black waistcoat, white bow tie, white wing-collar formal shirt and black formal shoes. It was intended only for "stag" occasions when women were not present.[1]

During the Edwardian era the practice of wearing a black waistcoat and black bow tie with a tuxedo became standard, establishing the basis of the current black tie and white tie dress codes. The tuxedo was also increasingly accepted at informal evening occasions such as warm-weather gatherings or intimate dinners with friends.[2]

After World War I the tuxedo became de facto evening wear, taking on the status of "semi-formal" in the United States by the 1940s, while the evening tailcoat was limited to extremely formal or ceremonial occasions. During this interwar period double-breasted jackets, turndown-collar shirts and cummerbunds became acceptable for warm-weather black-tie evenings as did white jackets. Formal and semi-formal attire became widely available to the middle class due to the rising popularity of rented clothing and increased quality of ready-to-wear clothing.[3][4]

Following World War II black tie became special occasion attire rather than standard evening wear and was increasingly categorized as “formal”. In the 1950s colored and patterned jackets, cummerbunds and bow ties became very popular but were generally rejected by etiquette authorities. By the 1960s "black tie" was no longer synonymous with “tuxedo” or “formal wear” as the former upheld the traditional standards of tuxedo-based evening wear while the latter were becoming a matter of personal interpretation. The introduction of ruffled shirts and then colored tuxedo suits in the 1970s further separated the two concepts of formality.[5][6][7]

The elements of black tie

Unlike white tie, which is very strictly regulated, black-tie ensembles can display more variation. In brief, the traditional components are:

  • A jacket with ribbed silk facings (usually grosgrain) on a shawl collar or peaked lapel (while a notched lapel is a popular modern choice, it is traditionally considered less formal)[8]
  • Trousers with a single silk or satin braid covering the outer seams
  • A black cummerbund or a low-cut waistcoat
  • A white dress shirt (a marcella front is traditional, but other styles are also accepted) with shirt studs (never buttons), French cuffs and cufflinks, and a turn-down or detachable wing collar (the latter now more commonly worn for white tie, but generally considered acceptable for black tie as well)[9]
  • A black ribbed silk bow tie matching the lapel facings
  • Shirt studs (optional, depending on the type of shirt) and cufflinks
  • Black dress socks, usually of silk or fine wool
  • Black shoes—highly polished or patent leather Oxfords, or patent leather court shoes


The typical black-tie jacket is single-breasted, ventless, and black or midnight blue; usually of polyester, wool or a wool–mohair blend. Double breasted models are less common, but are equally acceptable. The lapels may be faced with silk in either a grosgrain or less traditional satin weave. Traditionally there are two lapel options, the shawl collar, derived from the smoking jacket, and the peak lapel, from the tailcoat. The former is older, while the latter is considered more formal.[10] A third lapel style, the notched lapel, has only recently gained popularity, and has been accepted by some as "a legitimate ... less formal alternative,"[11] although, despite some precedent, it is disdained by purists for its lounge suit derivation.

The double-breasted jacket is slightly more modern than the single-breasted, and less formal; while it was originally considered acceptable only for wear at home (similarly to Prince Albert slippers or a smoking jacket), it is now equally correct in all situations, though traditional rules regarding slightly different selections of accessories may be followed. While more common with a peaked lapel, a shawl lapel is also generally accepted. All buttons that can be fastened, are, including any inner ones which might normally be left undone on a double-breasted lounge suit. While two-button variants are sometimes seen, the traditional single-breasted jacket has a one-button closure.

There is controversy over the above definition of black-tie jackets. America's foremost authority on etiquette, Emily Post, a resident of Tuxedo Park, New Jersey, stated in 1909 that "[Tuxedos] can have lapels or be shawl-shaped, in either case they are to be have facings of silk, satin or grosgrain." and later republished this statement in her 1922 book "Etiquette", adding that only single-breasted jackets are appropriately called "Tuxedos". The shape of the formal or semi-formal lapel is not specified by Emily Post so no lapel fashion is excluded.[12] There is a fashion movement suggesting that a man's appearance when wearing the wider and higher peak lapel is superior to the narrower notch lapel[13] from which the favoritism in the earlier definition may have been derived, but fashion is fleeting and the Emily Post definition is both fully traditional and enduring.

Black was known to take on a green hue in early artificial lights, hence midnight blue was introduced by the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor), and remains the only acceptable alternative color for the standard dinner jacket.

White dinner jackets are often worn in warm climates. They are usually ivory in color rather than pure white, and have self-faced lapels (i.e., made of the same fabric as the jacket) rather than silk-faced lapels. They are worn with the same types of shirts and accessories as black dinner jackets, though the turndown collar and cummerbund are more commonly seen than are the wing collar or waistcoat. Similarly, the shawl lapel is more common in white dinner jackets than the more formal peak lapel, though either is correct. In North America, a white dinner jacket is traditionally worn only from Victoria Day (Canada) or Memorial Day (United States) in the spring until Labor Day. (This rule applies also to white summer clothes, including shoes and suits. However, south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Easter is sometimes regarded as the beginning of the white clothing season). In the UK, the traditional rule is that white dinner jackets are never worn, even on the hottest day of summer, but are reserved for wear abroad.[14] Some exceptions to these rules are, in America, its use in high-school proms, and in Britain some concerts, famously for instance the Last night of the proms. In other tropical climates, such as in Imperial Burma, desert fawn was historically used as the less formal color.

A second alternative to the standard jacket is the smoking jacket, a less formal velvet jacket with a shawl lapel and silk frogging. As a house coat, it is correct to choose to not wear everything else required for full black tie under the smoking jacket.

It is generally considered inappropriate for a man to remove his jacket during a formal social event, but when hot weather and humidity dictate, the ranking man (of the royal family, the guest of honor) may give men permission by noticeably taking off his jacket. In anticipated hot weather Red Sea rig is specified in the invitation, although this dress is esoteric in civilian circles, and is particular to certain expatriate communities.


Black tie trousers have no cuffs (turn-ups in British English) or belt loops. The outer seams are usually decorated with a single silk braid or (less traditionally) a material that matches the lapel facing. Customarily, braces (suspenders) hold up the trousers; they are hidden by the waistcoat (if worn) or by the coat. Prior to the 1930s evening trousers (as with daytime trousers) did not feature a pleated front.

Waistcoat or cummerbund

A waistcoat (vest in American and Canadian English) or cummerbund is worn when wearing a single-breasted coat. The waistcoat should be low-cut; traditional models have shawl lapels, may be of either the 'V' or rarer 'U' shape, may be backless or fully backed, and may be double or single breasted. Single breasted styles typically have three buttons, and double breasted ones three or four rows. Before World War II, while black tie was still gaining acceptance, men would wear a white waistcoat, along with other details now associated primarily with white tie, such as stiff fronted shirts; this was to create a more formal effect when, for example, ladies were present.

The cummerbund, derived from military dress uniform in British India, is worn with its pleats facing up, and is normally of the same cloth as the bow tie and lapels. Maroon, a color commonly worn to accompany black tie, may be used for the cummerbund in very informal or summer situations (though it should be noted that this is not to match the bow tie, which should always be black). A cummerbund is never worn with a double breasted jacket, and a waistcoat now very rarely. Since this style of jacket is never unbuttoned, the waist of the trousers is never exposed, and therefore does not need to be covered,[15] though before World War II an edge of waistcoat was often shown between the jacket and shirt.

Recently, and particularly in the U.S., it has become more common for men to remove their jackets at less formal events such as weddings and proms. Because of this, full-back waistcoats have become more common; unlike the traditional waistcoat, these are often high, single breasted, and with the full five or six buttons of a daytime waistcoat.


A modern attached wing collar (of the half-collar shape, with longer wings than a standard attached wing collar) and fake bow-tie

The shirt is conventionally white or off-white (cotton or linen) with a turned-down collar. Its front is traditionally marcella but can be pleated, plain, or more rarely a stiff front (as with white tie).

Before World War II, stiff shirts with winged detachable collars were common, just as they were worn with white tie. However, such shirts are no longer common, and an imitation of this type, a semi-stiff shirt with an attached wing collar, has become very common, particularly in the U.S. and Australia, although traditionalists reject the use of these new attached wing collars[16] and argue that a shirt with a classic turned-down collar (as is found on a normal shirt) has become de rigueur.[17] Many traditional shirt makers, particularly British ones such as Turnbull & Asser (except by special request), do not sell shirts with attached wing collars.

The original and most formal version of the dress shirt fastens with matching shirt studs and cufflinks. One can also wear a buttoned shirt with a fly-front placket; if the buttons are visible (very informal) they should be mother-of-pearl. Soft shirts have French cuffs, while stiff shirts (as in white tie) have single cuffs. The studs and links should be in silver or gold settings, featuring onyx or mother-of-pearl; various geometrical shapes may be worn, e.g., circles (most common for studs), octagons, or rectangles (most common for links). Formal links (double links) have two faces connected by a rod or chain. There is no consistent traditional preference for gold or silver, but mother-of-pearl was usually reserved for white tie.


The most formal and traditional shoes are leather opera pumps (court shoes) decorated with grosgrain bows. The more popular and less formal alternative is the black lace-up Oxford shoe in patent leather or calfskin with a rounded plain toe.[18] Generally considered too informal for black tie are shoes with open lacing, such as the Derby shoe (Blüchers in the U.S.). Rare alternatives include the black button boot (primarily of only historical interest) and the monogrammed Albert slipper to be worn only at home.

Hosiery would traditionally consist of black, knee-high silk sock, held in place with garters (or suspenders in British English). In modern times black socks made from fine wool or silk are more commonly worn.

Prince Philip wearing black tie with decorations


In general, the aim when choosing accessories is to keep color to a minimum, as traditional monochrome formalwear was intended to be subtle, allowing women to stand out in brighter colors. If color is used, it always kept to a single color, usually dark; muted reds, such as maroon, are a traditional choice.

Handkerchief: A white handkerchief in linen (silk and cotton are modern alternatives) should be worn, as traditionally any breast pocket must be filled.

Boutonnière: A boutonnière (buttonhole) such as a red or white carnation, blue cornflower, or rosebud may be worn. In France, the boutonnière is usually a gardenia, and boutonnières and handkerchiefs should not be worn simultaneously.

Outerwear: Overcoats are black, charcoal, or dark navy blue, and traditionally of the Chesterfield style. A guard's coat was also once popular, and a lighter topcoat can be worn in summer. Historically, an Inverness coat was also worn. Until recently gloves and scarves were always worn, and if chosen now they should be gray leather and white silk, respectively. White kid gloves are never worn with black tie, remaining exclusive to white tie dress.

Hat: The standard hat is a black (or midnight blue) Homburg; in summer, a straw boater is a less formal option. Top hats may only be worn with white tie and morning dress.A black/midnight blue fedora or a panama are also acceptable.

Timepiece: If worn, a wristwatch should be slender, plain, and elegant; alternatively, a pocket watch may be worn on the waistcoat. Traditionally, however, visible timepieces were not worn with formal evening dress, because timekeeping was not supposed to be considered a priority.

Decorations and orders: Military, civil, and organizational decorations are usually worn only to full dress events, generally of formal governmental or diplomatic significance. Miniature orders and awards are typically worn on the left breast or left lapel of the jacket, and neck badges, breast stars, and sashes are worn according to country-specific or organizational regulations. Unlike in white tie, where decorations are always permitted, the dress code will usually give some indication when decorations are to be worn with black tie.

Black-tie social occasions

Black tie is worn to private and public dinners, dances, and parties. At the more formal end of the social spectrum (classified as semi-formal dress), it has to a large extent replaced white tie, which was once standard evening dress but is now usually reserved for only extremely formal occasions. Black tie is traditionally worn only after six o'clock in the evening, or after sundown during winter months. Black tie's daytime equivalent is the stroller.

While black tie is often viewed in the United States as a highly formal and traditional choice for a groom at a day wedding, such usage is only a few decades old. Before the upheaval in men's clothing during the late 1960s and early 1970s, grooms mostly wore either day formalwear or a business suit. Etiquette and clothing experts continue to condemn the wearing of black tie before the evening.

Before the late 1930s, black tie was even discouraged for evening weddings, one writer arguing that "no man should ever be caught in a church in a tuxedo." Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post would continue to argue in preference of white tie at evening weddings into the 1950s.

Corresponding forms of dress

Mess dress

For formal dining, armed forces officers and non-commissioned officers normally wear mess uniform equivalents to the civilian black tie and evening dress. Mess uniforms may vary according to the wearers' respective branches of the armed services, regiments, or corps, but usually include a short Eton-style coat reaching to the waist. Some include white shirts, black bow ties, and low-cut waistcoats, while others feature high collars that fasten around the neck and corresponding high-gorge waistcoats.

Red Sea Rig

In tropical areas, primarily in Western diplomatic and expatriate communities, Red Sea rig is sometimes worn, in which the jacket and waistcoat are omitted and a red cummerbund and trousers with red piping are worn instead.

Scottish Highland dress

Formal black tie Highland regalia, kilt and Prince Charlie jacket

Scottish Highland dress is often worn to black and white tie occasions, especially at Scottish reels and cèilidhean; the black tie version is more common, even at white tie occasions. Traditionally, black tie Scots Highland dress comprises:

  • Black barathea jacket with silver buttons—Regulation Doublet, Prince Charlie, Brian Boru, Braemar, Argyll, and black mess jackets are suitable. There is some contention about whether the Duke of Montrose and Sheriffmuir doublets are too formal for black-tie occasions.
  • Matching or tartan waistcoat
  • Kilt
  • White shirt with shirt studs, French or barrel cuffs, and a turn-down collar (wing collars are reserved for white tie in most locales)
  • Black bow tie or white lace jabot
  • Evening Dress Brogues
  • Full-dress kilt hose (diced or tartan) (Off-white hose are often seen but are deplored by some, such as the late David Lumsden of Cushnie[19])
  • Silk flashes or garter ties
  • Dress sporran with silver chain
  • Black, silver-mounted Sgian dubh
  • Dirk (optional)
  • Highland bonnet with crest badge (only suitable out of doors)[20]

Contrary to common belief, a Scottish waist belt should NOT be worn along with a waist coat unless a dirk is being worn, in which case the belt is worn over the waistcoat.

Traditional black-tie Lowland dress is a variant of the normal black tie that includes tartan trews rather than the usual trousers and may include a suitable kilt jacket instead of the dinner jacket. Trews are often worn in summer and warm climes.


  1. ^ "History: Late Victorian Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  2. ^ "History: Edwardian Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  3. ^ "History: Jazz Age". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  4. ^ "History: Depression Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  5. ^ "History: Postwar Period". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  6. ^ "History: Jet Age". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  7. ^ "History: Counterculture Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  8. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Tuxedos (Dinner Suits)". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  9. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Shirts". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  10. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Tuxedos (Dinner Suits)". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  11. ^ "Contemporary Black Tie: Tuxedos (Dinner Suits)". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  12. ^ "Attire Guide: Dress Codes from Casual to White Tie". Emily Post. Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  13. ^ "Black Tie 101". Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  14. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Warm-Weather Black Tie". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  15. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Waist Coverings". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  16. ^ "Thoughts on Black Tie". St James Style. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  17. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Shirts". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  18. ^ "Classic Black Tie: Footwear". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  19. ^ Published: 6:56PM BST 12 Sep 2008 (2008-09-12). "David Lumsden of Cushnie". Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  20. ^ MacKinnon, C. R. (1970). Scottish Tartans & Highland Dress. Glasgow/London: Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.. p. 98. ISBN 0004111141. 

Further reading

  • The Black Tie Guide provides extensive background and references for most topics in this article
  • Apparel Arts magazine, an account of 1930s fashion and style; some issues more relevant than others, such as those reproduced with comment at The London Lounge: Vol II. No. II and Vol I. No. III (numbering: London Lounge, not original)
  • Flusser, Alan (2002). Dressing the Man: Mastering the art of Permanent Fashion. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060191449. 
  • The Emily Post Institute provides a breakdown of traditional categories of progressing formality in dress for men & women.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • black tie — noun uncount very formal men s clothes worn for a social event, usually including a black BOW TIE a. an event to which formal clothes are worn ╾ ,black tie adjective: a black tie occasion …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • black-tie — lack tie adj. requiring semiformal evening clothes, e. g. a black bowtie and a tuxedo or dinner jacket for men, and a formal dress for women; contrasted with {white tie}, for a fully formal occasion, and with {informal}, and {casual}. a black… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • black-tie — adj a black tie event is one at which people wear special formal clothes, such as ↑tuxedos for men →↑white tie …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • black tie — black′ tie′ n. 1) clo a black bow tie, worn with semiformal evening dress 2) clo semiformal evening dress for men • Etymology: 1855–60 …   From formal English to slang

  • black-tie — black′ tie′ adj. clo requiring that male guests wear semiformal evening dress: a black tie reception[/ex] • Etymology: 1930–35 …   From formal English to slang

  • black tie — n. 1. a black bow tie, properly worn with a tuxedo 2. a tuxedo and the proper accessories …   English World dictionary

  • black tie — (izg. blȅk tȃj) m DEFINICIJA term. crna leptir kravata, karakterističan element formalnog večernjeg odijela, ob. se upisuje u poziv na prijem ili priredbu; cravate noire ETIMOLOGIJA engl …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • black tie — ► NOUN ▪ men s formal evening wear …   English terms dictionary

  • black-tie — adjective moderately formal; requiring a dinner jacket he wore semiformal attire a black tie dinner • Syn: ↑semiformal, ↑semi formal • Similar to: ↑formal * * * /blak tuy /, adj. requiring that guests wear …   Useful english dictionary

  • black tie — also black tie 1) ADJ: usu ADJ n A black tie event is a formal social event such as a party at which people wear formal clothes called evening dress. Tonight the college is hosting a black tie dinner for 100 of its former students. 2) N UNCOUNT… …   English dictionary

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