Black Tie do’s and don’ts

Black Tie do’s and don’ts

Q. You said in a recent column about black-tie dressing, “Stay with the basics in the suit; save the whimsy for the accessories.” Can you give a few examples of that acceptable “whimsy?”

A. If there is one area of men’s dress where the rules are conveniently strict and limited, it is in black-tie dressing. And, understandably, if you are in a social set that dresses frequently in formal clothes, you may be looking for some small bits of variety. Even more than in cases of business dress, I caution against abandoning the basics, but you might enjoy testing your wings on one or two accepted options. Most of these options are exclusive to formal dress, so this is your one opportunity.


  • Black patent leather “dancing pumps” (these are the truly correct type of formal-wear shoes, but oddly enough, many men do not choose them, so this is one way to set yourself apart)
  • You may substitute a white dinner jacket for the black jacket but only between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (Wearing one out of season on a cruise-ship in the tropics is an allowable exception.)
  • To go with your white formal dress shirt, you might choose cuff links and studs with clear, glittering stones. This is the only acceptable time for a man’s jewelry to include stones that are not opaque, such as black onyx, blue lapis lazuli, and white mother-of-pearl (I mention the color, which is a given for each stone, just because I have found many men are less knowledgeable on the topic)
  • Adding a fresh flower boutonniere or a simple pocket square. I prefer one or the other, not both
  • Substitute an equally correct formal midnight blue evening suit for a black one
  • Choose braces (button-on suspenders) with a black and/or white pattern, such as polka dots
  • Rarely seen, but acceptable in elite Ivy League circles during the winter holiday season, is either a dark black-watch plaid bow tie or formal trousers in black-watch tartan
  • Add a long white silk scarf to your combination.

Okay, now let me reiterate, those are the ways you can add variety while following the rules AND not appearing ignorant of them. The following are the changes that are UNACCEPTABLE.


  • Wearing a white bow tie instead of a black bow tie
  • Wearing the wrong shoes, such as daytime loafers or perforated wingtips
  • Wearing a standard button-front shirt or a colored shirt of any kind
  • Skipping the cummerbund or a waistcoat
  • Buttoning the bottom button of the waistcoat
  • Wearing a belt
  • Wearing a double-breasted jacket open (unbuttoned)
  • Wearing a wristwatch is sartorially wrong, but if you must, then choose one with a black leather strap, a slim profile, and a simple, uncomplicated face
  • Wearing a pre-tied or worse (a clip-on) bow tie; learn to tie your own
  • Wearing anything other than black dress socks that come to, or over, the calf
  • Overlooking needed alterations. Don’t settle for anything less than a perfect fit
  • Having cuffs on formal trousers.

Whimsy, or perhaps I should simply say “stylish accents,” such as some of these can often be carried nicely into more formal office wear. There is no reason the most staid banker cannot wear suits with any (but not more than two) of French cuff shirts, braces, or pocket squares. There is every reason he cannot wear that suit with pumps, a scarf (indoors), or a boutonniere.

As I have said before, like James Bond, every man looks wonderful – debonair, sophisticated, and sexy – when he is in formal attire. Ask any woman.

Categories: Male Call