How To Ace Black Tie Style

A beginner’s guide to wearing a tuxedo.

If reading the words “black tie” on an event invitation makes you anxious, or if you happen to be the groom and you’re not sure what to wear, this article is for you. The tools and tips ahead will get you on the right path to making a great impression on that significant event or even on your wedding day. 

First of all, kudos to you for understanding that paying attention to what you wear, especially on formal occasions, is indeed essential. Choosing adequate attire is a way of communicating to the hosts and other attendees that you’re giving the event the respect and importance it deserves.  

Firstly, wearing a tuxedo is mandatory for every black-tie event, even If the invitation says “optional.” The word is usually just a subtle way of saying that it’s still compulsory. While it’s true that a guest may get away with breaking the dress code occasionally, it shouldn’t be acceptable, unless there is indeed a very good reason.

Before we get into the styling details, let’s begin by making it clear what a tuxedo is and how it differs from a regular suit.  All classic tuxedos should have satin-lined, buttons, pocket trim, and a stripe down the leg of the trousers. Conventional suits don’t incorporate any of these satin details and usually have buttons in other materials, like plastic, resin or the same fabric as the coat for example. This is the main difference. However, with modern dressing, some rules have changed and may allow for some exceptions.

Now it’s not uncommon to find new tuxedo versions with minimal use of satin with a thin trimming on the lapels and down the pant leg. And while it’s true that nowadays the lines between when to wear a tuxedo vs. suit have been blurred, tuxedos should traditionally be worn with bow ties and cummerbunds or waistcoats. For the majority of events that call for a tux, like proms and weddings, it’s become quite popular to wear long ties and high stance vests.  However, this is usually only appropriate for suits. 

Even if all of this sounds a bit too restrictive, don’t fret. Believe it or not, within the realm of classic attire, there is space for personal expression. Even in the strictest case, you can play around with button studs, pocket squares, and even suspenders. 

In the case of “black tie optional,” it’s essential that you let your personal style stand out. Let’s say, for instance, a tux in midnight blue or a dress shirt (always in white), paired with a black and white bow tie with a fun pattern or even a satin necktie.

If the event calls for a “creative black tie” attire, consider yourself a happy hour guest of the formal look and allow yourself to have a bit more fun. While it’s true that you should stay within the framework of the tuxedo, you can get away with a work suit as long as it’s exquisitely crafted and comes in a sober hue like navy or gray. 

As a general rule, make sure you’re impeccably groomed and that your outfit is stylized enough to distance itself from the office attire. It’s during these times that you won’t want to look – or feel – out of place.

This is an excellent moment to experiment with pocket square folds (unfinished, pick, puff) and to try cufflinks with exciting designs. Also, have fun with your socks! Go for a pair that dons a bit of color in classic patterns like purple, red or dark green. But don’t go too crazy, be sure to keep the elegance factor elevated. 

If you want to create Instagram-worthy style moments, pay attention to the season, time of day and the location of the event. This is because there are certain pieces that can only be worn at specific times of the year or places. Also take advantage of the few formal options, both traditional and modern, which don’t require any satin.  

For example, a destination wedding in the Caribbean is perfect for sporting a white dinner jacket. This is usually worn with a white turn-down collar shirt, black accessories, black pants. But in the opposite scenario, like a winter wedding, a burgundy velvet tux is a great twist on the classic tux.

If your social calendar isn’t filled with great events, then make sure to put in the effort to create a great look when the opportunity does come around. Today there are more modern satin-less tuxedo options available, primarily thought the growing demand in the wedding market.

There is plenty to choose from to get creative. In the worst-case scenario, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance in the store, the sales associate will surely be thrilled to help you ace your look. Getting out there and shopping for a tux should be a pleasant and fun experience of self-discovery. In any case, make the most of every occasion that allows for even the slightest chance to be dapper.