Black Tie - What you need to know

When the dress code calls for black tie, there are a few rules which should be followed to ensure that you stand out for the right reasons and help set you apart from the masses to get that second glance.

Firstly, fabric should traditionally be a black Barathea - a more matt-finish, light-absorbing blacker than black fabric. However modern iterations of the dinner jacket have made it much more acceptable to use high quality wool (Super 130's or higher) or wool/mohair blends which reflect the light a lend a lustre to the suit.  You may even like to play with a little self-pattern in the fabric such as a tiny checked/jacquard pattern which creates light and shade.

Velvet has also made a reappearance in recent years for black tie or formal events. It comes from the original smoking jacket look and is available in black, navy, burgundy, green and purple. It can look very elegant and a little different if that's what you are looking for (see bottom photo) and should be worn with the same trousers as the dinner suit with the side braid. You could even invest in a regular dinner suit and a velvet jacket for variation.

Black Tie means a bow tie not a regular black tie. It depends on how formal the event is, but in my option, a bow tie is preferable and looks like you know what you're doing. Only on much more informal situations should a regular black tie be considered. It is a Hollywood take on the black tie code but doesn't quite work for me. There are few occasions these days when we get to dress up so I say make the most of it.

To set you apart from those that hire a dinner suit, the lapels of the jacket should ideally be peak or shawl (as shown in picture), not notch which is what you will probably have on your work suit. Both lapels work perfectly with the single button jacket which a dinner jacket should have. On occasion you may see double breasted jackets which is an even more formal version for speech-makers or just a fashion statement - a proper dinner suit does not have two buttons. 

Facing on the lapels are traditionally made of grosgrain - a matt textured silk finish and one which you may see on vintage dinner suits or on some of the starts from the 1930's and 40's. A much more common approach now is to use satin which is slightly more lustrous. The braid down the side seams of the trousers and the jacket buttons should match whichever finish you choose.

 Increasingly we are getting calls for midnight blue dinner suits - which look great and are definitely worth considering if you would like something a little more fashion forward and modern. It does need to be midnight and not too blue and the facing on the lapels and side seams is usually still black. This adds a lovely punch to the suit and looks very smart.

The etiquette calls for no flaps on the pockets (see top photo) and the besom (edges) will be made in the same facing as the lapel. However, this is much more about personal taste and flaps wouldn't be 'wrong'.  

One or two features which are not up for debate are: Absolutely no turn-ups on the trousers and no belt loops.  The waistband of the trousers should really be plain with no side adjusters either  - just very clean.  I'm not a fan of a cumberbund, but if you really like them then it has to be black.  The coloured cumberbund and matched bow-tie is a definite no no, and will make you look like you haven't updated your wardrobe in decades.

Shoes should be a high shine/patent one piece or more common now an oxford - no brogue details required.  If you want to go the whole hog you can look into slip on shoes with bows or straps over the top made of grosgrain.  Other finishing touches may include a silk pocket square or a scarf around the neck and a cashmere topcoat.

The formal shirt can take many forms from pleats with studs to Marcella bib to fly front and it is down to personal taste. These days I tend to keep it simple with my clients and go for a plain high quality cotton with a regular collar, french cuffs and fly front so it covers the buttons (recent Bond movies).  If you have a favourite set of studs then we do the Marcella (waffle texture) bib front and french cuffs.

All that's left now is to enjoy the night!!



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John Styles