black tie basics

June 25, 2013

Ever since our invitations went out, Adam and I have been getting a lot of great questions about what a black tie dress code actually entails. While we cannot wait to see our guests at the wedding in whatever they choose to wear, I thought I’d take the opportunity to put together a super-simple guide for anyone interested in setting some serious style standards at their next black tie event.

Black Tie for Men

Technically “black tie” equals “tuxedo”, though formal military officers’ dress and formal national costumes are also acceptable under the traditional definition. If you don’t have any of the above, a black suit with a black tie (or black bow tie – bonus points!) will definitely do the trick. But if you’re out to be a Dapper Dan, here’s a quick breakdown of a classic tuxedo.

1. Tuxedo jacket and pants
These should be black with either peaked lapels or a shawl collar. If your lapels or shawl collar are satin, they should match the trim on the pants. Tuxedo pants are usually trimmed with a vertical satin stripe down the outer seam of each leg.

2. Bow tie
This for obvious reasons should be black, and either silk satin or silk faille to match your cummerbund. Self-tie bow ties are the most elegant, and many of them are adjustable for easy tying. For real dandies, wing-tip shirts are best paired with custom made bow ties.

3. Stud buttons
These are essentially small cufflinks for your shirt’s top 3-4 buttonholes. Not every tuxedo shirt requires them, but if yours does, it’s an opportunity to match your buttons to your cufflinks. Black onyx is the most classic choice, with mother-of-pearl a close second.

4. Tuxedo shirt
Tuxedo shirts have a bib-like area on the front with fine pleats. They mostly come with either standard shirt collars or wing-tip collars, and will likely require the use of cufflinks, if not stud buttons as well (see above).

5. Cummerbund
Usually made from silk satin or ribbed silk faille, a cummerbund is the thick pleated waistband that goes over a tuxedo shirt and pants, but under the jacket. It should match your bow tie and/or lapels, and cover the bottom 1-2 buttons of your shirt.

Shopping guide: Generally, department stores make a good starting point as they tend to stock tuxedos and tuxedo accessories in varying price ranges. Great mid-range options can be found at Brooks Brothers, and sometimes Zara if you’re lucky. Specialty menswear stores like Zegna, Hugo Boss and Dunhill are your best bet if you’re looking to buy a classic investment piece that you’ll wear for years.

Black Tie for Women

When it comes to black tie, girls have it easy! If you are attending a wedding however, the one rule is that you should avoid wearing white. Other than that, take it as an opportunity to really have fun and be as glamorous as you’d like.

1. Gown
Unlike a tuxedo, it’s a little hard to wear the same evening gown over and over again. For this reason, it shouldn’t be considered an investment piece…especially when there are so many stunning yet affordable options out there. That said, material matters – satin and chiffon gowns have a more formal feel, while cotton jersey dresses generally look very casual.

2. Jewelry
Piling on the bling is always a great way to dress up a simple, inexpensive gown. While many women pair evening gowns with the best jewels they own, statement costume jewelry packs just as much of a punch and won’t break the bank.

3. Beauty
Your face shouldn’t be overshadowed by your outfit. For a polished look, ladies should consider more dramatic makeup than they’d normally wear. The easiest shortcut to evening makeup is a bold lip colour – you can never go wrong with red.

4. Purse
Evening bags are usually small and embellished, and are sometimes also called box clutches or minaudieres. They aren’t meant to fit a whole lot of stuff, but their small size allows for the focus to be on you and your gown. A tiny clutch also helps with posture: you definitely shouldn’t be slouching under the weight of a giant purse.

5. Shoes
Most ladies like strappy stiletto sandals for the evening to keep the look delicate and refined….but with a long gown, one’s shoes will spend quite a bit of the evening covered up. Just something to think about, since comfort is important too!

Shopping guide: Most girls probably already have favourite shoe and accessories stores. For gowns, H&M, Zara, Miss Selfridge and sometimes even Forever21 sometimes carry pretty long dresses that don’t cost a bomb. Coast, Ted Baker and BCBG are excellent mid-range brands that always have gowns in their collection.