Whilst you’ve definitely heard that the golden rule of fashion is that there are no rules, etiquette is alive and well, especially when it comes to eveningwear. The traditions of black tie etiquette are too often ignored, leaving the stylish in the room wondering if they have misread the dress code. So here are a few basic rules to avoid any wardrobe-related embarrassment.
You should never remove your jacket at a black tie dinner, so you’d better make sure you’ve chosen it well. Firstly, it should be black or midnight blue with an identically coloured satin or grosgrain silk facing. Velvet is acceptable, but ensure that it’s a perfect fit.
Your jacket should be peak or shawl lapel to distinguish it as an item of formalwear. They’ll also make you look a little taller as the eye is drawn upwards towards the shoulders, and a little slimmer as they elongate your torso, giving you the coveted V-shape of a well-fitted suit. Under no circumstances wear a notch lapel – signature of the cheap rental suits seen at far too many black tie events, or simply no knowledge of black tie protocol.
Your jacket should only be single buttoned, and closed at the back. Your silhouette should be sharp, sleek and distinct, and an absence of vents will do this. And embrace the double-breasted jacket, but be prepared have it done up all evening.
Trousers should be simple in all forms. No belt loops, plain hems and flat fronted. Don’t shy away from a slim-fit trouser, and opt for a thinner braid. Ensure that it matches the facing of your jacket, and that it is a single braid only – double is for white tie or tails.
Your collar should be a turn down. The wing tip is for white tie only and should never be worn elsewhere. The bib (the front part) should be pleated or Marcela (a diamond-shaped textured fabric). If you opt for pleats, keep them sharp and neat. Your cuff must be French, and stick to an elegant cufflink in silver, black or white. And for unquestionable style, replace your buttons with dress studs.
Traditional demands opera pumps as your footwear choice for a dinner suit. These are laceless slip-ons with a satin, silk or grosgrain bow on the vamp. However, if you absolutely must, you can make do with a simple black patent shoe, just make sure it’s well shined.
Seek out a pair of black tie dinner socks that stop just under the knee. Your ankles should never be seen at a black tie dinner.
Only ever wear a bowtie, and keep it black. Match the texture with the facing of the suit as a different texture can look great, but don’t let yourself stray into prints or colour. And learn to tie it yourself, please. It really isn’t that hard.
Accessories are Key
Accessories maketh the man. A cummerbund is vital as no white of the shirt should be visible around the waist. Waist coats too can look stylish, particularly the u neck, and if worn right are a good alternative for cummerbunds.
Pocket squares, if worn, should be classic and nothing more. Stick to a plain and predominately white pocket square and expose only the thinnest of lines.
And don’t fear the dinner scarf. If you’re feeling conservative stick to white, but if boldness is your style adventure with a little black and white patterning.
So keep it simple.
Find a suit that suits your body type, age and natural style. If you try to force it, you’ll just end up looking contrived, uncomfortable and ill-dressed. But do it right and you’ll look like you wrote the rulebook.