Classic Black-Tie Accessories


Classic accessories add the finishing touches to a man’s black-tie kit and allow him to inject a dash of swank without degrading its inherent formality.  Savvy dressers can use the following traditional variations to add a new twist to their tuxedo each time they wear it.



Cufflinks and Studs


Classic black-tie shirt studs, cufflinks and waistcoat studs (if applicable) are typically gold or onyx but formal jewelry is a perfect opportunity to tastefully personalize a formal wardrobe.  Just be sure that the designs are conservative and that the studs and links are a set or that they closely match.  Mother-of-pearl jewelry is preferred by many when wearing the full-dress shirt with a dinner jacket as those are the shirt’s traditional accompaniments when worn with white tie.  



Suspenders (Braces), Sock Garters (Sock Suspenders)


Unless trousers are custom tailored to stay securely in place, suspenders (braces in the UK) are always worn with a tuxedo.  This is not just a matter of tradition but also of style because they ensure that the trouser waistband does not slip below the bottom of the waistcoat, they align the trousers’ pleats with the waistcoat’s points and they avoid the extra waistline bulk that would result from wearing a belt.  


Classic black-tie braces can be black or white silk or a combination of both.  Ultimately, the preferred color is irrelevant because suspenders are underwear and as such are never meant to see the light of day.  (This is one of the primary reasons that a gentleman never removes his jacket at a formal function.)


Formal suspenders are always the button-on variety – never clip-on – and they customarily feature soft, knitted ends instead of the stiffer and more bulky leather tabs found on ordinary suspenders. 


Socks should be held in place by a sock garter (sock suspender in the UK) to ensure that they do not sag or bunch, an unfortunate trait of silk hose.  Drooping socks are not only unsightly but can also result in exposed shins when a man sits or crosses his legs.  Formalwear purists can opt for garters that match their braces. 



Dress Watch (Optional)


Some consider it gauche to wear a timepiece to a formal occasion arguing that clock watching is contradictory to the celebratory nature of such events and insulting to the hostess. Those men who can't conceive of being without a wristwatch for an entire evening should at least heed the advice of Glenn O'Brien, GQ’s Style Guy.  “Just because it’s gold, is diamond festooned, and costs more than the average car doesn’t mean it’s a dressy watch,” he says.  “Instead, opt for a slim, unadorned timepiece with a black leather band.  A formal watch should keep time, not flash it.”  A watch face with markings and a seconds hand that are minimal or non-existent is particularly well-suited to black tie's refined minimalism.  The metal trim should match the metal of the cufflinks.


Alternately, a formal affair is a wonderful excuse to carry a classic pocket watch and at least pretend to be unfettered by temporal constraints (see sidebar).



Pocket Square (Optional)


The classic pocket square is a white handkerchief of fine white linen, preferably hand-rolled.  Some style authorities suggest that the handkerchief be casually stuffed into the pocket in an irregular shape so as to add a human touch to an otherwise highly disciplined appearance.  Other experts prefer the formal simplicity of the square-folded handkerchief.  As for the precision-folded silk handkerchiefs seen on formalwear displays, they are best left to the mannequins.


Silk pocket squares are a modern variation and are discussed under Contemporary Accessories.



Boutonniere (Buttonhole) (Optional)


Although rarely seen outside of weddings since the Second World War, a boutonniere (buttonhole in UK) can be correctly worn in the buttonhole on the left lapel of the dinner jacket.  The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes advises that men seeking to add this classic flair to their black-tie outfit will require a flower that is small yet sturdy: “You don’t want it “clown” size, nor do you want it to disintegrate while wearing”.   A white or deep red carnation is the most classic choice.  For wedding boutonniere options see the Formal Evening Weddings page.


Note that flowers such as standard carnations cannot be simply purchased from a shop and inserted into a lapel because the bud is usually too thick to fit through the buttonhole.  To ensure that such flowers fit properly The Boutonniere: Style in One’s Lapel suggests that they be adapted into true boutonnieres.  A florist will remove the bud, wrap the stem and even level the base of the flower all so that the bloom sits flat against the lapel.


Remembering that boutonniere is French for “button hole” will help you remember that these flowers are inserted through the lapel, not pinned on top of it.  Also keep in mind that a boutonniere is not a miniature bouquet; the stereotypical accoutrements of baby’s breath, leafy stems and colored berries belong at a wedding, not at a black-tie gala. 


Boutonnieres are not worn with decorations.  And to avoid gilding the lily (so to speak), it is also best not to combine them with pocket squares unless one or both are white.



A Note About Remembrance Poppies


Since World War I, wearing an artificial poppy to commemorate the sacrifice of veterans and civilians in past wars has been a popular tradition in many Commonwealth countries prior to Remembrance Day or Armistice Day on November 11.  To a much lesser extent the practice also exists in the United States in the weeks preceding Memorial Day on the last Monday in May.  This symbol should not be regarded as a type of boutonniere.  Rather, it is a sign of respect for those who gave their lives to defend our freedom and as such is every bit as appropriate on a tuxedo as it is on any other type of jacket. 


General etiquette for the wearing of lapel poppies varies by country.  In Britain it is governed by the Royal British Legion (although tradition varies in the UK), in Canada by the Royal Canadian Legion, in Australia by the RSL (Returned and Services League) and in America by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.



Evening Scarf (Optional)


The evening scarf worn with overcoats can be worn indoors as an accessory on particularly formal evenings.  Sometimes known as an opera scarf, it is more commonly seen in Britain than in North America where it will more than likely be viewed as an affectation. 



Evening Dress Gloves (Obsolete)


Outside of a few rare white-tie balls, indoor gloves are only for servant liveries and military dress uniforms.