‘Tis the season of Christmas parties, end-of-year dos and other assorted black tie soirées, when men somehow manage to butcher a relatively straightforward dress code more than the unfortunate feathered inhabitants of a Bernard Matthews turkey farm.
Having witnessed some unspeakable eveningwear horrors at a recent event – a white T-shirt instead of a shirt; a black baseball cap – FashionBeans was moved to compile this list of the most common black tie mistakes. Read them, weep and never forget.
Wearing A Black Tie
This is a very literal interpretation; It’s also incorrect, and wrong on more levels than Westworld. Which leads us to…
Wearing A Lounge Suit
We’ll repeat this until we’re midnight blue in the face: a black suit is not the same as a dinner suit. A legit DJ has contrast peak lapels – notch is strictly speaking incorrect, but allowable – in a fabric such as grosgrain or silk, and braiding down the leg.
Can you get away with a bog-standard black suit? Well, yes, you can, in the same way that you can get away with murder. That doesn’t mean you should commit a heinous crime. Even if you plead poverty, show some respect for your host and the occasion: beg, borrow or steal the right kit.
But what about ‘Hollywood black tie’, we hear you cry? If you’re Jason Statham in The Transporter, then we’re not going to argue, because you’re Jason Statham. But if you’re not an internationally recognised actor, wear a proper DJ. Unless you enjoy having people ask you to top up their champagne all evening.
It might be called ‘black tie’, but if you want to be pedantic about it (and we do), midnight blue is actually more historically correct: black only became popular for formalwear when Queen Victoria went into mourning for Prince Albert.
More importantly, midnight blue looks swaggier than black. And weirdly, it also looks darker under artificial light, which is where you’ll be for most of the evening.
This is at the root of the biggest black tie mistakes, and stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the dress code. The whole point of black tie is to make you look uniform, not for you to stand out. And events that call for black tie tend by their nature to be things that you want to take seriously, like weddings and awards ceremonies.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If it’s the Oscars and you’re Pharrell, then wear a shorts-dinner suit if you must. (Really, though?) Or if the dress code stipulates something cringe-making like ‘black tie creative’ or ‘with a twist’. (Inserts gun emoji next to anguished face emoji.) But otherwise? Reign it in.
We’re not trying to repress your self-expression. You can be a beautiful and unique snowflake. Just think carefully about whether your flex is appropriate for the context.
Not Wearing A Cummerbund
Cummerbunds are like the appendix of formalwear, rendered obsolete by sartorial evolution. But they actually perform an important practical function: holding your opera tickets, which previously had to be done by servants.
Joking aside, the cummerbund does achieve one vital task: it prevents any white shirt showing between the button of your jacket and the top of your trousers, which is one of the number one killers of black tie vibes. A waistcoat will also do the same trick.
Even if you wear neither, just make sure you’re not poking out down there.
Wearing The Wrong Accessories
A black tie occasion calls for a black tie watch: black leather strap, slim profile and as uncomplicated a face as possible. It’s not the time for something utilitarian with a chunky metal bracelet or a NATO strap.
Sure, Sean Connery might have worn a Rolex Submariner with his dinner jacket in Goldfinger. But frankly, that was even more unforgivable than the fake duck on his head. A Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso – designed to flip over so it wouldn’t get broken while playing polo – is about as sporty as a black tie watch should get.
Don’t get us started on novelty cufflinks. Or novelty bow ties. Or novelty socks. Novelty anything, in fact.
Wearing The Wrong Shirt
A normal white shirt isn’t a total dealbreaker. At least try and wear one with double cuffs, so it feels a bit more formal. But if everything else in your rig is on point, then it’ll fly without attracting too much flak.
Ideally though, you want a proper dress shirt, which will normally have some kind of detail on the front like pleating, plus studs and cufflinks instead of buttons.
Wing collars are technically for white tie, which is a level up from even black tie in formality. So don’t wing it.
Wearing The Wrong Shoes
Now, this is a deal-breaker.
Brogues are too informal, and not sleek enough. You should be wearing polished Oxfords at the bare minimum. Black tie footwear should be free from extraneous detail: elegant, not clumpy.
Some people will tell you that ultra-shiny patent leather shoes are correct, but like wing collars, they’re really for white tie. Like wing collars, they’re not totally wrong though: besides, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Velvet slippers are supposed to be reserved for ‘at home’ invitations but they probably come over more formal than less, so they’re acceptable, if not massively practical.
As for trainers, we refer you back to the section on being creative.
Wearing The Wrong Coat
You might not be in it all evening, but your outfit is still going to be trashed by a Wenger-esque bin-bag coat, to say nothing of your grand entrance and dignified exit.
If you don’t already have one, ask Santa for a dark-coloured (or maybe camel) tailored overcoat.
It’s a style guide cliché to say that a DJ is an investment that pays for itself over time. But that’s because it’s true. And even if you’re strapped for cash, an inexpensive DJ will look more money than it costs, because you can have it tailored so it fits you properly.
Regardless of whether or not renting is a false economy, the few occasions that you do need a DJ are invariably times when you want to look and feel your best. They’re not times when you want to look at your trousers puddling over your shoes, or feel another man’s sweat intermingling with your own.
Wearing A Clip-On
Tying a proper bow tie is not that hard and looks so much cooler, especially when you wear it undone Clooney-style at the cigar end of the night. There are tons of YouTube tutorials, like the below.
Calling It A Tuxedo
This is an Americanism that took hold after members of the Tuxedo Club in New York adopted the DJ, which was invented in 1865 by the then Prince of Wales and later Edward VII.
Leaving Your Dinner Jacket Unbuttoned When Standing
As with any tailored jacket, always do the button up unless you’re sitting down – and just the top one. (A DJ should be two-button, although many aren’t, and unvented, although hardly any are.)
This custom was also supposedly invented by the Prince of Wales, who was unable to do up his waistcoat after one too many dinners. Hence why black tie trousers traditionally had braces: to leave room for dessert.
Dolce and Gabbana