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Design & Style

How to Dress Black Tie: A Quick Guide to Black Tie Attire

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 21, 2020 • 2 min read

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Tan France Teaches Style for Everyone

Learn the basics of the black-tie dress code and how to master this look for formal events.



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What Is Black Tie?

"Black tie" is a formal dress code typically reserved for evening events such as galas. The black-tie dress code is influenced by formal-wear traditions of nineteenth-century England and the United States. Black tie outfit requirements are fairly strict for men, entailing a specific tuxedo shirt paired with a black suit, while women are expected to wear evening dresses.

When to Wear Black Tie

Black-tie outfits are usually worn for formal occasions, such as special dinners, or black-tie weddings. (Don't assume a wedding is black-tie—they usually aren't!) When an invitation says "black tie optional," the expectation is that you'll either wear black-tie attire, or something similar, like a dark suit or cocktail dress. Black-tie is generally considered evening wear, so you probably won't have to wear it during the daytime, unless you're attending a red carpet event.

Black Tie for Women

The black-tie dress code for women is a little more flexible than for men. You'll want a knee- to floor-length gown or evening dress or palazzo-cut pants. A black dress is a classic option, but you can go for colors as well. Accessorize with heels or flat dress shoes, a clutch, and jewelry.

If the event is "white tie," it's time to break out the ballgown and gloves, since white tie dress codes are even more formal (and rarer) than black-tie affairs.

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Black Tie for Men

Traditional black tie for men entails a tuxedo, which is comprised of a single- or double-breasted barathea (black wool) dinner jacket and matching trousers worn with a pleated white dress shirt. The shirt can have either a turn-down collar or a wing collar, which has points that stick out.

A tuxedo is finished with cufflinks, a black bow tie, white pocket square, black patent leather shoes, and black dress socks. Cummerbunds (waist coverings) and waistcoats are optional—just don't wear them together.

3 Types of Tuxedo Lapels

There are three main types of tuxedo lapels to choose from:

  1. Shawl lapels are rounded and are not separate from the collar.
  2. Peak lapels extend beyond the collar with an upward-facing point. The space between the collar and the lapel is closed.
  3. Notch lapels have a triangular opening between the collar and the lapel. This type of lapel is more common in suits and is considered less formal than other types of tuxedo lapels.

What Is White Tie?

"White tie" is an even more formal dress code for men. White tie entails a tuxedo with a single-breasted tailcoat instead of a dinner jacket, and wing-collar white shirt closed with mother of pearl shirt studs. If you want to go ultra-traditional, you can lace up your shoes with a black ribbon.


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