How to wear Black Tie

When you are invited to a formal event and the invitation declares a black tie dress code you need to know exactly what that means.

Black Tie is not synonymous for any formal men’s outfit, the dress code refers to a specific suit. The main elements are the dinner jacket and the black bow tie but there are many other aspects of the attire you need to remember so you don’t look out of place.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to what Black Tie actually means. James Morton Ties eradicates the myths and describes each important detail of the Black Tie suit.

What does Black Tie mean?

An invitation for an event hosted in the day will never request you to wear Black Tie as it’s a formal suit to be worn only at night. Some people would even consider it inappropriate to wear Black Tie during the day. Of course, there are exceptions, for example if you are travelling through the day in your suit as you travel to the location of the evening event.

The expectation of Black Tie being night time attire is an old tradition.

Looking back to historical dress traditions, men were expected to clean themselves after their day of outside labour and change into smart attire so he could meet respected people at formal events. Before the Second World War, the dinner jacket was expected as the attire to wear and this expectation has evolved into the Black Tie dress code.

Despite common belief, Black Tie is not the highest standard of formal wear. It is in fact White Tie that boasts the top spot. The White Tie dress code is usually asked for at state dinners and formal balls. Despite not holding the top position, Black Tie is still an important and highly regarded outfit.

The Dinner Jacket

Man wearing dinner jacket before black tie event

In James Bond: Casino Royale, Vesper Lynn says to James Bond, “There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets. This is the latter”.

The proper dinner jacket to wear that matches the Black Tie guide is a single-breast, single button jacket with peaked lapels.

Avoid dinner jackets that have two or more buttons and have notched lapels. These are viewed more as a business suit than a formal dinner jacket. You can wear a jacket with a shawl lapel but check if you suit a shawl lapel style beforehand.

The best dinner jacket is one that has no vents at all. The vent describes how the lower back of your jacket is cut, you can have a jacket with no vents, side vents or just a centre vent.

The centre vent is considered inappropriate for Black Tie as the vent opens up when the man reaches for his trouser pocket and this can make him appear messy. Side vents are a more practical choice as they can keep you feeling cooler at busier events and are more comfortable to sit in but it is the no vent dinner jacket that is considered the best as it’s smarter.

There are only two colours on offer for Black Tie and they are black and midnight blue. Black is the traditional colour but midnight blue can give your outfit richness under low light that black just cannot offer. The best material for your lapel is grosgrain silk which will also match the coverings of your buttons and bow tie.

Black Tie Accessories

If you wish to wear a top pocket square or handkerchief, one made from pure silk is recommended to match the rest of your outfit and the colour should compliment your bow tie or should be white.


Obviously your trousers should match your dinner jacket and you must try to avoid wearing a belt with them. The most recommended item to wear to keep your trousers up is braces rather than a belt as the belt can undermine the formality of your suit.

The braid of your trousers (which covers the seams of the trousers) should match the material of your lapel, preferably grosgrain silk.


Waistcoats are back in fashion for Black Tie events

Unless you want a much more modern look, then the rules are that you cover your waist when wearing black tie. You can either wear a formal waistcoat or a cummerbund. This allows the powerful V at the chest to be projected.

A waistcoat is the more traditional choice and should be made from the same base material as your dinner jacket.

The colour of your waistcoat like the rest should either be black or midnight blue.

Dress Shirt

With regards to your dress shirt, it should always be white with a turned-down collar.

You can either have buttons or studs on your shirt, however with studs, you must coordinate them with your cufflinks and other accessories. The cuff of your shirt should be a French cuff and require cufflinks in order to keep them together.


Patent leather oxford shoes should always be worn with a dinner jacket and bow tie for a black tie event

Your shoes should be Oxfords not Brogues. This is because Brogues are too casual for Black Tie, whereas Oxfords have the right level of formality. They should also be made from patent leather and must be black.

Oxford shoes are low-heeled shoes and are characterised by their closed lacing system and exposed ankle.


Bow Tie

Gentleman wearing a bow tie to match dinner jacket lapels for a black tie event

The final item you need is a black tie, specifically a black bow tie. It should be made from the same material as your lapel and can be tied four different ways.

There is the timeless classic that is the butterfly. It’s narrow at the centre and wide at the ends.

The semi-butterfly is a more modern and slimmer version of the butterfly.

There is the straight-end knot and the pointed knot.


The reason for all these rules regarding Black Tie is about giving a gesture of respect towards one’s host. You’ve shown that you have put effort into your outfit and you possess the same degree of formality like everyone else at the event.

At James Morton Ties, we specialise in formal and corporate ties and understand the importance of correct formal wear.