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HOW TO DRESS FOR ‘BLACK TIE OPTIONAL’

THERE'S A WHOLE LOT MORE TO FORMAL MENSWEAR

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How to Dress for ‘Black Tie Optional’

It’s often thought that dressing for a formal event as a guy is a straightforward process, you simply need to don a smart suit and you’re good to go. But whether you’re at all familiar with attending formal events or not, you’ll soon realise there is a whole lot more to formal menswear, especially if you receive an invitation that gives the dress code as “Black Tie Optional”.

'This ambiguous dress code can send men (and women for that matter) into a spin on what to wear.' 

The word “optional” doesn’t give a definitive answer on what is acceptable to wear. Does it mean you can wear what you like, providing it’s appropriate for the occasion? Or are you still expected to get suited and booted in a James Bond style tuxedo and tie? Inevitably if you get the dress code wrong for the event, you will stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Matalan
Matalan

But, don’t worry, help is at hand. To give more clarification on that simple “black tie optional” sentence we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to negotiate around the issue to ensure you look suave, sophisticated and just the part - black tie or not.  

What does ‘Black Tie Optional’ really mean? 

First and foremost it’s important to understand the term. It’s a dress code term that’s often used at formal parties like business dinners, charity balls and even weddings, where the usual ‘business’ suit may not be considered smart enough. However, the confusion comes with the word ‘optional’, as it suggest you can choose not to wear black tie and wear what you want, but do this at your own peril. While wearing a traditional black tie ensemble such as a tuxedo isn’t mandatory, there are still certain expectations for the dress code to be mindful of.

Gieves & Hawkes
Gieves & Hawkes

To tux or not to tux? 

A good place to start to define the dress code is to ask the host what would be acceptable to wear. But if that proves unfruitful or you feel too embarrassed to ask, here’s a few pointers to make sure you’re dressed appropriately. The safest and most obvious choice is to wear black tie regardless of it being ‘optional’. You’ll have peace of mind that you’re guaranteed to be dressed appropriately and if you already own a black tuxedo it’s another opportunity to give it an outing.

Chester Barrie
Chester Barrie

Of course, not everyone owns a tux, but you can look to hiring one, but be warned some hired tuxedos can look and feel cheap. Be sure to try it on properly beforehand, as you want to make sure you look your best in a well-fitting tux and if you are hiring or buying a tux here’s a few things you should bear in mind: 

1. Make sure the material on the lapels matches the trousers. 

2. Ideally you want to wear a peak or shawl lapel, not a notch lapel which are often found on cheap dinner jackets. 

3. You want a turn down collar on your dress shirt, with either a pleated or Marcela (textured fabric) on the front. 

4. Finish your look with a smart bow tie – this can match the lapels too or in different fabrics, textures and patterns, but avoid anything too loud. 

5. Always wear smart black shoes.

House of Fraser
House of Fraser

However, not everyone owns a tuxedo or feels comfortable in one, but you still need to ensure you don’t stand out like a sore thumb. You can embrace the 'optional' part of the dress code, but still make sure you look smart by choosing to wear a smart black or dark midnight blue coloured suit that’s well fitting. Complement it with a smart dress shirt, conventional tie or bowtie and finish with black dress shoes. Formal attire can be a minefield, but if you are invited to a “black tie optional” event, our advice is to stick with the traditional black tie tuxedo and bowtie just to be on the safe side.

Scabal
Scabal

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