Every wedding has its dress code, and it’s easy to see why. Dress codes set the rules for what guests should wear, helping them pick the right outfits to please the happy couple on their big day. These codes can bring sophistication, style, and harmony to any celebration, and the black-tie dress code is one of the most traditional options. But what exactly is black-tie wedding attire?
Well, if you’ve found yourself in receipt of a black-tie wedding invite, you might be asking that very question. Indeed, some people panic when they see the words “black tie,” wondering what they’re supposed to wear and which formal rules they need to follow. This guide is here to help, covering all you need to know about attending a black-tie wedding as a guest.
So, what is black-tie attire? In simple terms, black tie is almost as formal as it gets for a wedding celebration. It’s just one level below white tie, which is the most formal dress code of all. As put by Martha Stewart, “Traditionally, a black-tie dress code denotes a formal evening occasion, where men are meant to wear tuxedos and women, floor-length gowns.”
An event with a black-tie dress code is therefore expected to be a very elegant, sophisticated affair, with both the wedding party and the guests expected to dress up in all their finery. This concept goes back several centuries to the Regency Period, and continues to be popular today with couples who like the idea of having a very grand and formal wedding.
However, it’s also worth noting that black-tie can be divided into two subcategories: black-tie invited and black-tie preferred. Just as wedding guests often need to figure out the difference between semi-formal vs. formal, it’s also important to know the key differences between these two unique terms.
If you see “black tie invited” on a wedding invite, you might immediately ask “What does black tie invited mean?” Well, a black-tie invited dress code is essentially a host’s way of saying that they very much want all guests to attend in black tie, if possible. However, the addition of the word “invited” implies that you’ll still be allowed to attend if you’re not in full black tie.
At this kind of event, you can expect to see the whole of the wedding party and the majority of guests in black tie. Guests who don’t wear black tie may look a little out of place, so are encouraged to find an outfit that is as close to black tie as possible. This could be a very long, elegant dress for women and a good quality dark suit with dress pants and shoes for men.
Black tie preferred is slightly more relaxed black-tie invited. As the wording suggests, this dress code implies that the couple would like it if guests attended in black tie, but it’s not mandatory. You won’t be refused entry if you fail to turn up in a tuxedo, for instance. You can, and are encouraged, to wear a tux or floor-length gown if you have one, but you don’t have to.
As well as those tuxes and gowns, black-tie preferred wedding attire can also include other options. You might see guests at these events wearing smart, dark suits, for example. Women may attend in fancy, elegant cocktail dresses. The guests should all still strive for a certain level of finery, but the overall demands aren’t quite as strict.
For men, black-tie wedding men’s attire can be broken down into a few essential elements: a tuxedo, a black bow tie, some classic black dress shoes, and an optional accessory or two. There are other possibilities that can be included in black tie outfits for men, and you can find a brief breakdown of each element below.
Tuxedos are the cornerstone of men’s black tie attire. They’re the go-to, the default option, and the most traditional choice. While you may see some men wearing dark suits instead of tuxedos at a black-tie gathering, the vast majority will want to attend in a tux. Those invited to a black-tie celebration may therefore like to seek out tuxedo rental from Generation Tux.
This part is obvious, as it’s included in the name – a black-tie event for men signals that you should wear a black tie, specifically a black bow tie. This small but crucial accessory helps to finish off the look of the tuxedo, and the presence of black bow ties all around makes black-tie events so distinctive and elegant.
Footwear is also a key element of any black-tie formal men's outfit. A tuxedo should always be paired with a clean and polished pair of classic dress shoes, usually black. As The Knot points out, “Appropriate tux shoes include patent leather loafers, dark derby shoes or velvet loafers,” so there are several options to choose from.
Black tie for men can also include a couple of notable accessories, including the likes of cufflinks or a cummerbund. However, accessories should be used sparingly and appropriately. As noted in Brides, “A vest or cummerbund (never to be worn together), as well as snazzy cufflinks, can also elevate the sartorial foundations.”
While the rules of black tie are relatively strict, they don’t confine men to just one or two options. It is possible that a dark, formal dinner suit would also be acceptable at a black-tie event, and it’s possible to opt for velvet smoking jackets or dark dinner jackets. Paired with dress pants and shirts, these suits don’t quite reach the same heights of finery as a tuxedo but usually come close enough.
At a black-tie wedding, you can 100% expect that the groom, groomsmen, and other key male party members will all be in tuxedos. However, guests may feel they have slightly more relaxed requirements, especially if the wedding invite states “black-tie preferred” or “black-tie optional,” for instance – always double-check the invite to get all the details you need.
Still, even if you aren’t technically required to wear a tuxedo, it’s almost always the best choice. It suits the code perfectly, and there’s no risk of feeling or looking out of place or ill-matched with the rest of the guests if you pick out a tux. Pair it with a proper tuxedo shirt, attractive dress shoes, and a black bow tie to finish your ideal black-tie wedding guest attire.
If buying or renting a tux just isn’t an option, you could explore the possibility of a suit instead. Just ensure that the jacket is of the highest quality and has a dark color, either black or midnight blue. This will help you to blend in with the guests who have arrived in tuxedos. Pair the jacket with a white dress shirt and dark pants.
As well as knowing what to wear to a black-tie wedding, it’s also worth briefly mentioning what not to wear. Naturally, at an event of such sophistication, you should avoid anything that could fall into the category of semi-formal wedding guest attire. Avoid bright or garish colors, avoid casual-looking suits or footwear, and don’t go over the top with accessories.
Part of the beauty of wedding dress codes is that they can evolve over the years. Even something as refined and seemingly set in stone as the black-tie dress code is open to little alterations to suit the changing times we live in. And we have indeed seen this dress code shift slightly over the years, becoming just a little more relaxed, with intriguing modern twists and takes on the classic concept.
We’ve seen, for example, many men choosing to attend black-tie events in tuxedos that aren’t the traditional deep black. Instead, a wider spectrum of colors has begun to make an appearance, with the likes of navy, burgundy, or even gray tuxedos featured at some weddings. It’s also becoming increasingly common for men to pair black tuxedo jackets with alternatively-colored accessories.
There are various prominent examples of this in the world of celebrity. As noted in Bridal Guide, for instance, the country singer Blake Shelton elected to pair his black tuxedo jacket with a gray vest and necktie. This unique little dash of color adds something different to the outfit. Television host Nick Cannon made an even bolder choice with a dramatic white tuxedo to match his wife’s wedding dress.
As we can see, the modern black-tie dress code is moving towards a more laid-back and flexible state. Some experts, like the designers at Teri Jon, have even heralded the arrival of an official new take on the classic code, called “creative black tie.” As the name suggests, creative black tie eschews the standard rules around tuxes, giving guests much more freedom in patterns, prints, colors, and textures.
With these new modern takes on the black-tie formula, male guests feel less obligated than before to wear a tux. Tuxedos are still the ultimate embodiment of what black tie represents, but they’re no longer the be-all and end-all of this dress code. And, if you don’t have a tux or don’t want to rent one, you can opt for a suit instead.
In that case, there are a few options available to you, but you can’t just wear any suit. It needs to be of a dark color, which is why a navy suit/black-tie combo tends to be such a popular choice. Midnight blue is also an option. Some men may like to be more daring with a charcoal suit, but this is a little risky and could fall into the cocktail attire category—research cocktail attire vs. semi-formal and other dress codes to learn more when picking out your suit.
All in all, a black tie with a navy suit, dress shirt, and dress shoes should be enough to complete your alternative black-tie look. But, if you have any doubts, remember that you can always simply rent a tux from Generation Tux to guarantee that you’ll look the part on the big day.
Receiving a black-tie wedding invite can be daunting, especially for first-timers. However, since the black-tie dress code is quite strict, it’s relatively easy to follow. The rules are clear to see, and once you know those rules, it becomes a lot easier to pick out the ideal outfit – tuxedos with black ties for men and floor-length, sophisticated gowns for women.
With modern twists, like navy suits instead of black ones, and more accessories, the choice can be a little trickier. However, if you doubt, just stick with the classics. And remember to consult with other guests and the bride and groom to get advice and info as needed. Above all else, enjoy it! Wearing a black-tie outfit isn’t a common occurrence and can be a wonderful way to dress up for a memorable, special occasion.