Black tie dress code explained | British GQ


What exactly is the black tie dress code? This is a question that could cause rosy cheeks, sweat on the brow and an embarrassed, under-dressed guest. Luckily, GQ knows its way around a tux.

First of all, the dress code suggests a formality that transcends the standard suit and tie of the business/lounge/wedding suit. An actual black tie is not enough for a black tie dress code.

But when King Edward VII swapped out his evening tailcoats for a blue silk smoking jacket with matching trousers in 1885, it signalled a relaxation of traditional dress codes. Mad, our Edward. From there, it became a popular evening outfit in Edwardian Britain and over the pond thanks to its adoption at the private members’ country club, Tuxedo Club, NY (hence “tuxedo”).

To really get to grips with what black tie means for your dress requirements, here is a typical black tie outfit.

Shirt: A white dress shirt with a Marcella front (a stiff geometric cotton weave), and a wing collar for the black bow tie. The shirt should be double-cuffed and will require cufflinks.

Trousers: These will be formal, pressed, and ideally, with a single row of braid or satin fabric to the outside of each leg. Make sure they’re black, fitted and naturally tapered.

Shoes: Black patent leather shoes are recommended. Though velvet slippers can work, just know you’re showing off a little bit (no bad thing).

Jacket: A suit jacket that is known as a dinner jacket. This must come with satin lapels, buttons, and pockets. The suit jacket material is traditionally barathea wool in black.

Tie: Always a bow tie for the black tie dress code. You can dare step into using other colours, but not white. That’s strictly reserved for the white tie dress code. A waistcoat is optional, but it must match the jacket and it must never be worn with a cummerbund (they essentially do the same job of creating rigidity and good upright posture).

Yes, we’ve mentioned that black is quite important for the black tie outfit. But consider also that a midnight blue (the Cannes film festival way of saying ‘very, very, very dark blue) can actually work, and sometimes appears darker than black under flash photography. In a nutshell: that’s black tie.

What is a black tie event?

In addition to denoting one of the few remaining formal dress codes, what it really implies is importance: awards ceremonies, a milestone birthday party, a grandiose wedding, a prestigious ball. Some of these events will be reflected on as among the greatest memories of your life. Which means there’s no cutting corners.

What does black tie dress code mean?

Ironically, the birth of black tie in about 1885 signalled a loosening of ties, so to speak, among the well-to-do. Edward VII swapped his tailcoat for a blue silk smoking jacket with matching trousers, made by Henry Poole & Co of Savile Row. It provided the monarch with a more comfortable alternative to the formality of evening tails.


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