The Black Tie “Quick Guide”


As promised in my recent Black Tie Guide annual traffic review, I have created a condensed version of the Guide that sums up its essential lessons for people with limited time and/or patience.

The site’s recent traffic milestone of 100,000 monthly visitors sparked a sobering realization that the Guide does not just appeal to devout sartorialists. Clearly its contents are being checked out by all types of people and, based on search keywords they’re using, they’re primarily interested in the dress code’s most basic aspects.  Considering how quickly people expect to find answers these days, I imagine that when the average visitor arrives at the site they must be quite daunted to discover an encyclopedic 90,000-word opus covering everything from 19th century formal neckwear to military tuxedo equivalents.  I can’t say I’d blame them.

Therefore, I’ve boiled down the most basic rules of black tie into a brief three-page primer I call the Quick Guide.

This drastic abbreviation of content forced me to define very precisely what I felt to be the crux of a formalwear education.  Certainly, the  “who”, “where”, “what”, “when” and of the dress code  was mandatory content but that information on its own is already easily available from Wikipedia. In order to provide a more valuable tool, I also decided to incorporate the Guide’s advisory nature, explaining “how” a person could most successfully execute the required outfit and advocating “why” it was worth the effort to do so.   In the end I arrived at three summary topics:

  1. I began with the dress code’s fundamental etiquette to answer the questions  visitors were most likely to be asking (i.e. the “five Ws”) .
  2. I then briefly summarized  evening wear’s history to set the context for a discussion of today’s tuxedo incarnations.
  3. I concluded with the fundamentals of style, grouped into three themes:  a summary of the outfit’s timeless sartorial traits, a foundation for skilfully modifying those traits, and an explanation of the critical importance of proper fit.

Each of the topics, in turn, concludes with recommendations for further reading within the Guide proper.

If I’ve built this feature properly then I would expect it to spread the Guide’s teachings to a wider audience than ever before.  I guess we’ll see the next time we review the site’s annual traffic stats!


  1. CharlesM

    Very well done. I am amazed that you could condense so much into so little space and yet maintain such a thorough treatment of the subject.

    And while I fully acknowledge the necessity of describing contemporary standards, I must admit the traditionalist in me does experience a twinge when faced with the realities that waist coverings have become optional (although a brief mention of the dreaded white triangle may have been helpful); that wing collars have been deprecated (although the laughable excuses for a proper wing collar seen today deserve probably an even harsher fate); and that the homburg no longer mertis even a brief mention (how about a formal black baseball cap with a silk satin visor?).

    As always, think you for everything you do and all the effort you put into it – I can’t imagine the hours you must have spent on this. And thank you for letting me vent a little.

    1. Al M

      I thought the same about waist coverings, but with turn-down collars having been the preferred option since at least the 40s, I can’t say I’m as bothered by that one.

      1. Duncan Pike

        I agree with Al M’s comments about the wing collar, and I feel that the turn-down collar really gives the Tuxedo its characteristic informal swank.

        I think it’s prudent to have listed the waist covering as optional. The Quick Guide is for those that are looking for the basic information, the skeleton of a Black Tie outfit, as it were. The (sad) fact is, waist coverings are no longer regarded as mandatory by most of the world. While I hope that changes, I think the choice to list them as optional is more likely to make the Quick Guide seem like something applicable to any man. That makes the Guide itself seem less rigid, and authoritarian, and therefore more inviting to the average reader.

        Persuasion, and encouragement, are more effective than dictatorial decrees, and that is best accomplished by drawing more readers to the pages on waist coverings, where Peter, very persuasively, lays out the case for waist coverings. His arguments converted me on the cummerbund, because I had never considered its role within the full Black Tie ensemble before. In isolation, one must admit that cummerbunds look ridiculous, but under a dinner jacket, especially when closed, they add a simple dash of elegance, and preserve the line of the dinner suit.

        1. CharlesM

          I don’t disagree with either of you, and apologize if any of my comments appeared to criticize the Guide, which they were not in the least intended to do. The Guide is entirely appropriate for the intended audience, and I for one would be delighted to see its precepts become the new norm.

          I also fully agree that a turn-down collar is far preferable to other contemporary offerings that for the most part range between pitiful and ridiculous.

          But as a traditionalist, and admitted curmudgeon, I still think it too bad that we as a society have gotten to the point that glitz trumps understated elegance and the concept of style has,with a few notable and very welcome exceptions, been pushed off the cliff by the fashion of the day, seemingly the more outrageous the better.

          An article in the Style (hah!) section of yesterday’s New York Times addressed the full evening dress and decorations requirement for the spring gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and all one could conclude was that the male invitees would be totally clueless about what was even meant by such a thing, much less how to go about it. It concluded that the “wardrobe dissenters” would most likely interpret the dictum “to suit themselves” according to one guest who would probably wear a “light colored smoking jacket over tuxedo trousers”. I have gotten beyond the point of despair.

          1. Duncan Pike

            I did not take your comments to be particularly critical of the Guide, and I largely agree with your assessment of the state of men’s fashion. I

            To play devil’s advocate, I do always like to point out the peacock nature of upper class men’s dress before 1850. So, one could always argue that he is following an older tradition, by seeking attention with his garb. However, that same man should overtly admit that he is actively seeking to exhibit, even flaunt, his wealth, and status, as that was the purpose of such extravagant attire in centuries past.

            I was also dismayed by many of the same comments in that article. In particular, the attitude that it is “hard to do without looking kitsch” seemed ignorant. First, one is attending a White Tie event, so it will appear to be the evening’s uniform, not a costume. Second, this is simply a matter of assembling your attire correctly, and well, and then carrying it as though it is your natural state. These same gentlemen seem to have no problem doing so with many garments that are, even if we concede White Tie to be ridiculous or costumey, equally ridiculous or costumey. (“Costume” being the North American equivalent of Britain’s “Fancy Dress” – “Fancy Dress would more likely mean “Formal” to American, or Canadian ears)

            I think that Ms. Wintour would do well to invite Peter to write a primer that can be offered to any guests that inquire how to best execute Full Dress/White Tie. It would, then, be only appropriate to extend him an invitation to the gala itself.

  2. CharlesM

    Your devil’s advocate position is quite right, but I would have placed the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of the “peacock” era more at the time of the American and French revolutions, the latter of which ended especially badly for the peacocks. But at least the competition then was upward in appearance, where now it seems to me downward – a race to the bottom, as it were.

    Be that as it may, I heartily second your suggention that Ms Wintour offer Mr. Marshall the opportunity to educate some of the guests in much the same way as the Style Guide does for the Vienna balls.My only reservation might be that the people who might inquire are most likely those who need it least, while those who could benefit the most seem almost determined to be contrary. Perhaps the only deterrent to Ms Wintour tendering an invitation for the event to Mr Marshall might be the fear that too many guests could end up in his Hall of Shame.


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