Everyone has an idea of what is expected when they receive an invitation to a black tie or formal event, such as an awards show, wedding or dinner event. But, in reality, the outcome of trying to cobble together a tuxedo without following the rules can result in hilarity, disaster or unintended fancy dress.
When successfully put together, the tuxedo is a sign of formality, stature and makes a statement about both the event and the individual wearing it. In order to get it right, the basic etiquette must be followed. So, let us explore the basics of the most iconic outfit of the past century.
Know what ‘Black Tie’ Means
It is a misconception that ‘black tie’ has always been the most formal dress requirement. Originally, a ‘black tie’ event was a more casual, informal gathering. One which required nice attire, but not as formal as ‘white tie’ – which incorporated tailcoats and sometimes, top hats.
As fashion has progressed, ‘black tie’ has come to be the most formal of dress codes and is taken to means tuxedos for men and most commonly, cocktail dresses and ball gowns for ladies – though, high-profile women have been challenging this rule for over 20 years and feminine tuxedos have seen a rise in popularity.
‘Black tie’ attire is intended to be evening wear and should only be worn to events which have an estimated end time after sunset. However, it is polite and courteous to follow the wishes of your host, so try not to argue this point too vehemently.
Choose the Right Colours
A wide range of colours have become available thanks to recent fashions and trends, however, proper tuxedo etiquette dictates that ‘black tie’ attire consist of a black or midnight blue dinner jacket and accompanying items. Of course, it is acceptable to break this rule, as long as the outcome is tasteful and in-keeping with your host’s theme, but if in doubt, wearing black is never the wrong choice.
Waistcoat or Cummerbund?
Waistcoats are worn under the jacket and is either entirely covered in silk to match the jacket’s lapels, or has matching lapels of their own. There are no rules regarding whether the waistcoat should be full-backed or secured with a buckle or button. The only rules are that it must match the shade of the jacket and must be cut low enough to show a sufficient amount of dress shirt, whilst the waistcoat must be cut below the waistline of the trousers and cover it completely.
A cummerbund is a pleated band which is worn around the waist and covers the waistband of the tuxedo trousers. The pleats were originally intended to be used as replacement pockets, but since fashion has added those to both the jacket and trousers, it is redundant to use it as such.
Deciding which should be worn with your tuxedo is for you and your host to decide. If choosing a cummerbund, remember that it should match the shade of the jacket, unless an alternative, contrasting color has been chosen by the host. An alternative colored cummerbund is generally only accepted within wedding parties and should not be attempted alone, or at an event more formal than a wedding.
The bow tie is the only acceptable type of tie to be worn with a tuxedo. Regular ties are not recommended and will not be the right fit for the occasion. The colour of the bow tie should be chosen carefully, so as not to appear clownish. Bow ties should be tied correctly, following any of the four accepted styles – butterfly, semi-butterfly, straight-end and pointed - and under no circumstances, should a pre-tied bow tie be worn – they are obvious and lack style.
Get off on the Right Foot
Shoes really make an outfit, so make sure that the shoes accompanying your tuxedo are in perfect condition and have been polished beforehand. Any style of shoe is acceptable, thanks to changes in fashion and style widening the options in male footwear. Naturally, formal shoes should be black and should always be accompanied by thin, black, plain socks – classic is always a winner here.
Some final tips to polish off the outfit:
- If worn, suspenders should never be seen, they should be hidden under the waistcoat at all times and do not count as a fashionable accessory in this setting.
- Watches and jewelry should always be polished and should not show any signs of tarnishing or damage, as this will affect the overall ‘polished’ feel of the outfit.
- Cufflinks should be tasteful and should match the theme of the event, making sure that they are polished and undamaged.
- You should always respect the wishes of your host – their event probably means a lot to them and if, in the case of a wedding, they are in charge of choosing outfits for others, let them break as many rules as they want – their feelings are more important.