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How To Wear A Tuxedo | A Man's Black Tie Guide

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The time has finally arrived. You’re ready to enter the much hyped world of high brow. What will it entail? How will the evening go? That’s right, you’ve been invited to a Black Tie event, and before you can even snap your fingers, you’re already thinking about the paparazzi. And how you’ll be featured in every men and women’s glamor magazine out there. Slow down tiger. There’s something essential you have to get right first. And that’s the attire. While Black Tie sounds fairly straightforward, the name itself is a misnomer. And beyond that, there’s a level of detailing one should pay attention to so that you are dressed to the nines. And appropriately, at that. With that said, here is our comprehensive guide to dressing well for a Black Tie Event.

What Is a Black Tie Event

A Black Tie Event designates a formal setting that takes place after 7pm, involving women and men both strictly adhering to a black dress code. Black Tie Events are more formal than your conventional business events of wedding receptions. As an example, you would never wear your daily work suit to a black tie event. Black Tie connotes a level of seriousness and panache. This is why your attire and fit is of paramount importance.

Black Tie Tuxedo

Courtesy of www.brooksbrothers.com

Contrary to popular opinion, Black Tie events are not the most formal type of event to dress up for. This designation is reserved for ‘white tie events’, a similar but distinct set of clothing.

Black Tie Events are typically associated with fundraising events, galas or a corporate business party. For men, it involves wearing a tuxedo at its best.

Philosophy Behind The Black Tie

Before delving into details pertaining to tuxedo construction and details, it is worth paying attention to the philosophy behind what is generally considered the epitome of formal wear (even though technically this is reserved for White Tie events). A deeper understanding of this philosophy will allow you to navigate the intricacies of wearing a tuxedo without having to consult a guide at every turn!

Prior to World War II, the average man took his fashion cues from an upper class, that considered appropriate attire to be of paramount importance. That the upper class could afford the services of higher end tailors and artisans only served to strengthen this notion. Following the war, an expansion of the middle class and some deregulation of formal wear threatened to derail formal fashion in some respects. The notion of black tie attire is therefore considered very important in maintaining a level of formality and tradition that dates back many years. While contemporary twists allow for some re-interpretation of a classic style, the philosophy behind the wearing of a black tie is to evoke that of traditional formal fare, thereby preserving tradition.

The fundamental merits that can be taken from this philosophy are as follows:

  1. Black Tie’s specificity creates a level of standardization and hence a sense of equality amongst men.
  2. Black Tie maximizes the masculine ideal body type by making a man look taller, slimmer and younger. Hence the use of a bow tie, which strengthens the ‘V’ silhouette created by the black jacket against the white shirt.(Note that a necktie creates more of a ‘W’ look).
  3. Black Tie makes a man look more refined than any other type of dress.
  4. Black Tie maximizes the formality of an occasion.

These philosophical underpinnings are expected to be realized through a few important stylistic rules:

  1. The focus on black maintains a level of tradition.
  2. The prevalence of black (i.e the primary color) services to strengthen formality, with white being used sparingly and with great discretion.
  3. Black Tie emphasizes understated details and elegant finishing touches.

Black Tie Tuxedo

Courtesy of www.atailoredsuit.com

Tuxedo Jacket

Color & Construction

A Black Tie Dinner Jacket is a tailless dinner jacket (vs white tie), made of black or midnight blue worsted wool, with lapels (facing) and typically buttons covered in black silk. The facing of the lapels and buttons is what primarily distinguishes a tuxedo dinner jacket from a conventional suit.

While black is considered the norm, midnight blue is also considered a classic. This extremely dark hue of navy blue achieved its popularity in the 1930’s due to its ability to retain its richness under artificial light, whereas black fabric is generally more reflective and can sometimes give off a greenish or grayish cast. For this reason, midnight blue is often referred to as being ‘richer than black’.

While Formal Suits and typically made from furnished or unfurnished worsted wool, tuxedos can be made from much finer grades of wool, given the infrequent rate with which they are worn. This lower susceptibility to wear and tear allows for a much finer fabric when creating a tuxedo.

Single Breasted Dinner Jacket

While a single button interpretation of the jacket is considered the more formal of the two in some circles, the two button single breasted jacket has become the most widely accept dinner jacket for Black Tie events.

Single Breasted Tuxedo Dinner Jacket

Courtesy of www.gentlemansgazette.com

Double Breasted Dinner Jacket

While this isn’t considered the norm with black tie events, the double breasted jacket does suit slimmer men as two buttons can make you appear wider than you actually are.

Double Breasted Tuxedo Dinner Jacket

Courtesy of www.stylebistro.com

Lapel Types

Notched Lapels

While notched lapels have come to become the popular type of tuxedo lapel, as adapted from everyday suits, they generally do not resemble the elegance and sophistication exhibited by a peaked or a shawl lapel. One school of thought pertaining to the popularity of the notched lapel is due to the fact that manufacturers save money by using the same pattern for both suits and tuxedos and that rental companies can rely on its greater durability vs the more fragile points of peaked lapels.

Notched Lapel Black Tie

Courtesy of www.blacktieguide.com

Peaked Lapel

While the peaked lapel was extremely popular during the first half of the twentieth century, it has made a strong resurgence in recent years. The peak lapel points up like a peak, as its name suggests, towards the collar bone, helping flatter a slimmer body type.

Peaked Lapel Black Tie Tuxedo

Courtesy of www.justjared.com

Shawl Lapel

A shawl lapel encompasses a smoother, rounder look that is completely different from the other two options. This type of lapel should only be reserved when you want to dress as elegantly as you possibly can. Similar to a peaked lapel, a shawl lapel dinner jacket is best reserved for slimmer men, as the shawl can accentuate the roundedness of an individual!

Shawl Lapel Tuxedo

Courtesy of www.justjared.com

Lapel Facing / Fabric

One of the most distinctive traits of a tuxedo jacket is the decorative covering of its lapels, knowing as lapel facing. This not only provides the jacket with additional flair, but it also emphasizes the desired ‘V’ masculine look that every aspiring dapper gentleman is looking for. The best lapel facings are made of pure silk, while less expensive ones contain a synthetic component.

Silk lapel facing can be in the form of smooth satin or the more muted ribbed texture of grosgrain. Please note that the facing chosen for the lapels will determine the type of material used for the bow tie and cummerband,and possibly the waistcoat.

Grosgrain Lapel

Grosgrain Lapel Facing provides an elegant but muted look. Courtesy of www.blacktieguide.com

Other Jacket Details

Dinner Jacket Buttons: The buttons on a black tie jacket are typically faced (covered) with the same material as the jacket lapels i.e silk, satin or grosgrain.

Tuxedo Buttons

Courtesy of www.etsy.com

Jacket Vents: For the slimmest silhouette, an unvented jacket is preferred. However, double vents are more functional, allowing a greater degree of comfort and easier pocket access.

Lapel Buttonholes: Classic sartorialists will require a functional lapel hole to facilitate the wearing of a lapel flower or boutonniere. Ready to wear jackets will have to be taken to a qualified tailor, who will know where to locate the hole and how to skillfully add it to a satin or grosgrain faced lapel.

Pockets: The double besomed slitted pocket is the only understated option that is worthy enough of tuxedo jacket elegance. Flap pockets are generally not considered appropriate for the most formal of wear, as they don’t have the requisite minimalism. The dinner jacket should also have a welted breast pocket to accommodate a pocket square!

Jetted Pocket Tuxedo

Courtesy of www.blacktieguide.com

Fit

The fit of your tuxedo dinner jacket should resemble that of a well fitted suit. The ideal fit is a close one, with no pinching that would hinder movement. The jacket should be long enough to cover your rear end down to at least the widest point of the curve.

Trousers

Black Tie Trousers are straightforward, and should be a perfect match for the jacket. The main factor to consider with your tuxedo trousers is how you are going to hold them up! While belt loops are standard fare with suit pants, this is a definite no go in the land of black tie elegance and panache. Instead, opt for braces (suspenders), and / or side tabs (also referred to as adjusters). Tuxedo suspenders are typically black or white, with matching corded ends.

The outer seams of the pants should be covered in a strip with the same facing as the lapels and dinner jacket buttons (i.e silk, satin or grosgrain). The trousers need to be high-waisted, so that the waist covering (either a waist coat or cummerbund) can fully cover the waist.

While pleats are optional, flat front pants will look the most elegant.

Tuxedo Trousers

Courtesy of www.dmarge.com

Waist Covering

A key distinguishing factor between a suit and a tuxedo is the presence of waist covering. This extra layer provides tuxedos with an extra level of panache and are critical to the overall Black Tie look.  The two most prevalent ways of covering one’s waist are a cummerbund and vest.

Cummerband

A cummerbund, typically made with the same material as your dinner jacket’s lapel facing, is a pleated sash that wraps horizontally around your waist. The pleats face upwards, like small pockets. The key aesthetic contribution of a cummerbund, in addition to its existence, is that it presents a continuous look from the waist down, hence accentuating an elongated physique. Simply put, you will look taller and slimmer!

Black Tie Tuxedo Cummerband

Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com

 

The Waist Coat

The waistcoat, considered the more traditional of the two options, differs somewhat from the vest of a three piece suit. A tuxedo waist coat is cut low and wide so as to show the front of the shirt underneath it. Additionally, some tuxedo waistcoats are backless, and are fastened with a buckled or buttoned strap. Typically made from the same fabric as the dinner jacket, the waistcoat looks best when it is covered /faced with the same fabric (silk, satin or grosgrain) as the dinner jacket lapels and buttons!

While waistcoats and cummerbunds have traditionally been the two most popular choices for covering the waist when donning a tuxedo, these have started to become frequently replaced by satin finished waistbands on trousers. There are several reasons to suggest why this is clearly a faux pas (it also helps strongly illustrate the visual aesthetic of a tuxedo):

  • A black waist covering extends the leg line, creating the illusion of longer legs. Eliminating this with trouser waistbands negates this effect.
  • Even with a tuxedo jacket buttoned up the area that is supposed to be covered by a cummerbund or waistcoat will be exposed when you reach into your pockets creating a rather odd visual.
  • Similar to the point above, a tuxedo shirt will not be compatible with trouser waistbands, as a formal shirt’s tuxedo stud holes do not extend all the way down to the waistline, thus exposing a non-stud hole that should typically be covered by a waistband.

The Tuxedo Dress Shirt

It is absolutely mandatory that a tuxedo dress shirt is plain white. Differing from a traditional white dress shirt, a tuxedo white dress shirt has the following defining characteristics:

The Bosom: A formal tuxedo shirt has a decorated rectangular panel that runs up the shirt. The most common forms of decoration are pleated (which run vertically up the shirt) and pique (which consists of a stiffened fabric). While both are appropriate, a pique tuxedo shirt is considered the more formal of the two, given its stiffer finishing. Conversely, a pleated tuxedo shirt can be referred to as a soft-shirt.

The Studs – Instead of buttons, some evening shirts have button holes on both edges, which are closed with decorative studs. These studs are widely spaced, usually with no more than three to four studs per shirt.

Cuffs – French cuffs are the standard for evening formal wear shirts. While many tuxedos are solid with matching studs and cufflinks, this is not a requirement. It is important, however, that these pieces come from the same color family, and that the two should complement each other relatively effortlessly. You don’t want gold studs and silver cufflinks, or anything mismatched.

Collar – When opting for a tuxedo dress shirt, there are two types of collars you can consider- the wingtip collar and your more conventional turn down collar. A wingtip collar is a high, starched collar that is separate from the actual tuxedo shirt, with small points placed below the chin. A simple turned down collar is always considered acceptable, while a wingtip collar will really elevate your tuxedo game!

If one is purchasing a modern dress shirt for their tuxedo, it is of paramount importance to pay attention to the shirt collar. The modern version should closely replicate its historical counterpart as much as possible, as a high collar really helps to set a tuxedo shirt apart. The modern version shirt’s collar should be tall enough to properly cover the neck (almost up the way to the jaw line) it must be stiff enough to stand straight up through the evening, and its tabs must be sizeable enough to not be engulfed by the bow tie. This is not problematic for the modern style wing collar that is swept down, but if you are looking to replicate the look of a wingtip collar with a modern dress shirt, the height of the collar must definitely be paid attention to.

Courtesy of www.bows-n-ties.com

The Bow Tie

The Bow Tie is considered the most regal option with a tuxedo, and rightfully so. The bow tie, should, surprisingly, be black, with the material consisting of the same material as the jacket facing (please see below, under accessories, for further details).

Shoes

There are two primarily style of dress shoes used for tuxedos – black formal oxford laceups, or black pumps.

Formal Oxfords (Lace Up)

When deciding on what type of leather to wear, your black oxfords can come in three different forms: patent leather, smooth calf or cow and velvet. Of the three, patent leather is the most common and perhaps the most appropriate. This is partly due to the fact that patent leather primarily works with a black or white tuxedo.

While velvet is not as formal as patent leather, it looks significantly more dapper when paired with a tuxedo. It is worth noting that a velvet shoe with a tuxedo only works when presented in loafer form.

Your last type of option is smooth cow leather. While this doesn’t have the shine of patent leather nor the matte finishing of velvet, it does remain elegant and simple.   

When opting for black leather, there are two primary factors to avoid (which is pretty much self explanatory given that oxfords have been listed as your choice of leather shoe!), which are worth mentioning here:

  1. Brogueing, a detail that is far too casual for black tie. The concept of broguing originated in the marsh conditions of Scotland. They were initially designed with holes to drain out water. These traditional perforations and serrations are what sets them apart.
  2. Loafers and slipons. When wearing your black oxfords to a black tie event, always opt for the laceup variant. It looks more stylistic. Period.

Patent Leather Cap Toe Shoes

Hugo Boss Patent Leather Cap-Toe Shoes

Formal Pumps

The formal pump has its origins in eighteenth century court dress, and has changed very little in the subsequent three hundred years. With pump shoes in particular, the goal is to accentuate smaller feet, making the wearer seem light on their toes. Additionally, and in keeping the shoe in line with the formality of the jacket, pump shoes are often created with patented leather. The high gloss of the shoes is intended to complement the outfit’s various silk facings, as part of black tie’s sophisticated contrast of textures.

The evening pump is decorated with a silk bow, either pinched or flat, that complements the overall outfit and bookends the actual bow tie, providing the ensemble with symmetry. While conventional wisdom would have the finishing of the bow to match the facing of the lapels and bowtie, the bow on pump shoes is often grosgrain, whose matte finish adequately balances out the strong sheen provided by the patented leather.

Black Tie Pump Shoes

Courtesy of www.atailoredsuit.com

Black Tie Accessories

While we have mentioned some of these accessories above, it is worth going over them in some level of detail again:

Bow Tie

It is important to over emphasize the need for a self tie bow tie. Embracing uncertainty over a non-perfectly symmetrical tied bow tie should not deter you from buying a self tie bow tie. Opting for a pre-tied bow tie is a definite fashion faux pas!

The texture of the bow tie should correspond to the lapel facing of the dinner jacket. Hence, a satin lapel calls for a satin bow tie, while a grosgrain lapel would require a ribbed finish.

While adjustable bow tie variants are becoming the norm, a customized, sized bow tie is the ideal way to go! Because fitted models are made from a single piece of material, their exposed bands forego excessive fabric. An adjustable model can be converted to a fixed size with a quick trip to the tailor.

While the shape of a bow tie may be open to interpretation, rough guidelines should be adhered to as pertaining to the length of your bowtie! Conventional guidelines stated that the outer edges of the bow should not extend beyond the points of the shirt collar. However, because wingtip collars are becoming progressively smaller, it is now safer to assume that the length of the bowtie should end somewhere in between the width of the wearer’s face and the outer edges of his eyes.

When worn with a wing collar, bow ties are placed in front of the wing points. While this positioning is considered proper etiquette, it is also considered a practical choice, as the collar’s wing points will help to keep the bowtie in place.

 Black Tie Bow Ties

Courtesy of www.bows-n-ties.com

Studs & Cufflinks

Classic Black Tie Shirt Studs cufflinks and waistcoat studs (if applicable) are typically made of onyx. While it is not a requirement for cufflinks and studs to exactly match (which they often do, when presented in a set), they should at least complement each other and be of the same color and material (i.e black and onyx).

Mother of pearl jewellery is preferred by many, as these are the shirts traditional accompaniments when worn with a white tie.

To view The Dark Knot’s range of Black Tie Cufflinks, please click here.

Onyx Black Tie Cufflinks

The Dark Knot's Warwick Onyx Rhodium Plated Cufflinks

Suspenders

Unless your trousers have been tailored to perfectly sit at your waistline, suspenders are almost always needed with a tuxedo. It is important to note that the suspenders are placed below the cummerbund (if wearing one), and that they are out of sight. Hence, this is one of the primary reasons why a tuxedo jacket is never removed, as suspenders should never be within sight. In addition to holding one’s pants securely in place, suspenders also help to align the pleats of the trousers with the waistcoats (if used) points. They also help to provide a more elongated look, as belts, breaking the silhouette horizontally, often detract from a streamlined, longer look.

Classic Black Tie suspenders can be made of black or white silk. Ultimately, the color is not of paramount importance, as suspenders will be out of sight for the duration of the evening. Formal suspenders are always the button on variety, where they feature soft, knitted ends, as opposed to their stiffer and bulkier counterparts.

Pocket Square

While contemporary tuxedo wear can call for a white silk pocket square, classical purists will argue that the sheen of silk will compete against the facing of the jacket lapels. Hence, classical dapper men would opt for a white linen pocket square. Wear this with a puff fold, or keep it refined to simple elegance, with a presidential square fold.

White Linen Pocket Square

The Dark Knot's Tuxedo White w/ Navy Linen Pocket Square

Boutonniere

Black Tie Attire is best accompanied by a white carnation flower, if one is to opt for lapel decoration. Please note that these boutonnieres are inserted through the lapel flower, not pinned to it.

Carnate Boutonniere Black Tie

Courtesy of www.pinterest.com

And that's a wrap for this one! I hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it!

To view The Dark Knot's range of Black Tie Cufflinks, please click here.

To view The Dark Knot's Tuxedo White w / Navy Linen Pocket Square, please here.

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