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A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO EVENING WEAR ( SECOND EDITION)



 

A Formal Education
Defining Black Tie
Defining White Tie
Formal Tradition
Formal Dress Codes
Black Tie Dress Codes



 


Dress Codes

For more information on formal dress codes and variations on the black tie code (e.g. Black Tie Optional) see Formal Dress Codes.




















Sources


This consensus has been compiled according to 20 different works by the leading contemporary authorities on fashion and etiquette including:


Debrett’s A-Z of Modern Manners and Debrett’s

Guide for the Modern Gentleman published by UK’s leading etiquette authority


Details Men’s Style Manual (2007)

 

Dressing the Man: The Art

of Permanent Fashion by Alan Flusser, acclaimed menswear designer and author

 

Emily Post’s Etiquette (2004 edition), America’s etiquette authority since 1922

 

Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothing by menswear historian Andy Gilchrist


A Gentleman Gets Dressed Up


GQ “Ask the Style Guy” columns from 2000-2009 by Glenn O’Brien


History of Men’s Fashions: What the Well Dressed Man is Wearing


Letitia Baldrige’s New Manners for New Times by one of America's foremost etiquette authors


Men's Style: The Thinking Man's Guide to Dress by style columnist Russell Smith


Mr. Jones’ Rules by Dylan Jones, editor of British GQ


The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style

 

Differing opinions are discussed in detail in the Classic Black Tie and Contemporary Black Tie sections of the Guide.


Wikipedia, although the Web’s most popular source for black tie information, has been excluded from consideration because it is essentially a summary of this Guide making it both astute and redundant.























Personalization

 

For information on time-honored tasteful alternatives check out Classic Alternatives.

 

 

Defining Black Tie



Qualifying The Experts

 

While there is a universal understanding that black tie is a dress code, definitions of the code’s specific attire can vary widely.  The question then becomes, whose definition is correct?


Before we assess the validity of various definitions we first must place the black-tie code in context:

 

 

 the code is used specifically to maximize an occasion’s formality 

 "formal", in turn, is defined as the maintaining of tradition

 traditions evolve  (If they didn’t then the tuxedo would still be  unacceptable in mixed company)


Viewed in this perspective we can determine the qualification of a given definition's source:

 





the most relevant sources are experts on conventional etiquette and menswear 

because fashion experts focus on the short term their opinions are applicable only when a long-term pattern emerges

sources that heavily emphasize personal flair can be dismissed altogether as they run counter to black tie’s traditional emphasis on uniformity

published sources are more valid than amateur commentators as they are more likely to have legitimate credentials and to influence the population at large

 

 

The Expert Consensus

 

Upon examining the advice of this select group of pundits it quickly becomes apparent that the true definition of black tie lies in its details. 

 

Furthermore, despite the diversity of the experts sources and the century-long evolution of the dress code, the cumulated details are largely identical.  This fact completely discredits the argument that black tie is simply a matter of personal interpretation.

 

The Short Answer

 

Black Tie is a dress code that for men consists of the traditional tuxedo and accompaniments: a black dinner jacket and matching trousers, an optional black formal waistcoat or black cummerbund, a white formal shirt, a black bow tie or alternatively a black long tie, black dress socks and black formal shoes.  In hot weather a white dinner jacket may be substituted and the cummerbund is the preferred waist covering.

 

The Complete Answer

 

The simplistic summary above may be suitable for a dictionary but in a practical sense it raises more questions than it answers: What qualifies as a "dinner jacket"?  A "formal shirt"?  "Dress socks"?  Therefore, in order to actually assemble a proper black-tie outfit each of its components requires its own definition: 


1. jacket
















fabric:
    · black wool is the norm
    · midnight blue is equally correct

model can be:
    · single-breasted
    · double-breasted

lapels can be:
    · peaked lapel
    · shawl collar
    · notched lapel is most popular but not accepted by

       traditionalists

and can have:
    · satin facing
    · grosgrain facing

no vents is most formal

one button is traditional for single-breasted models but two buttons are becoming acceptable

pockets should not have flaps

 

2. trousers


same material as jacket

single braid along outside seams to match lapel facings

cut for suspenders (braces in UK)

no cuffs (turnups in UK)

 

3. waist covering





optional waist covering is traditionally either:
    · black cummerbund made from silk to match jacket facings;

       best suited to shawl collar jacket; not particularly popular in

       Europe
    · black low-cut evening waistcoat; best suited to peaked lapel

       jacket

either is worn with single-breasted jacket models but not with double-breasted

 

4. shirt




white fabric, turndown collar

fronts can be either pleated or piqué (marcella in UK)

shirt traditionally has eyelets for studs; some authorities allow for fly-fronts

French cuffs (double cuffs in UK)

wing collar is considered unflattering or inappropriate for black tie by most authorities; some allow it but only in its traditional white tie form

 

5. neckwear

black self-tie silk bow tie to match lapel facings

black silk four-in-hand tie (long tie) has become a popular alternative although it is rejected by traditionalists

 

6.  footwear   


black shoes can be:
    · patent or highly polished leather oxfords (most popular)
    · patent or highly polished leather pumps (most traditional)

black silk or fine fabric hose, over-the-calf length

 

7. accessories

harmonizing black, gold or mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks

suspenders (braces in UK) of black or white silk  

optional white silk or linen handkerchief as pocket square

 

outerwear

chesterfield coat is most conventional but any other dark dressy coat is acceptable; rain (trench) coats are not appropriate

evening dress scarf of white silk with tassels


Warm-Weather Variation

 

Acceptable as a substitute to standard black tie year round in tropical climates and in summer in North America.

 

1. jacket

white or preferably ivory

self-faced lapels

all other details as per classic jacket

 

2. trousers

black

all other details as per standard black-tie trousers

 

3. waist covering


black cummerbund

4. shirt

as per standard black-tie shirt

 

5. neckwear

as per standard black-tie neckwear

 

6.  footwear   

as per standard black-tie footwear

 

7. accessories

optional colored silk or linen handkerchief as pocket square

all other details as per standard black-tie accessories

 

 

The Code's Variety

 

Obviously, proper black tie is a far more specific dress code than anything the average man is likely to encounter outside of the military.  What may not be so obvious, especially to the novice, is just how much of this seemingly restrictive list is actually optional.  Take a second look and you will see that much of black tie’s dress code is not about what you must wear but what you may wear.  It is this extent of choice that lies behind black tie’s genius – not to mention its survival in the face of contemporary trends that have virtually banished the far more austere white tie dress code.

 

In fact, the amount of choice can be a little overwhelming.  But don’t worry, the Relative Formality discussion will help you narrow down the choices based on what is appropriate for various types of occasions and the Classic Black Tie section will help you achieve your desired look based on how each option impacts the end result.

 









































































Correct black tie is defined by its seven components.   The traditional variations shown here are described in detail in the Classic Black Tie section.




Modern iterations of black tie can reduce the outfit to a common black suit.  See Contemporary Black Tie for important guidelines.














Black tie's tropical variation differs only in two primary details. See Warm-Weather Back Tie for more information.

 
revised October 2011 (added "The Short Answer" definition)

 

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