Call it what you will: black tie, semi formal, dinner jacket or tuxedo. But when it comes down to it all four of these things really conotate the same thing. And that thing is quite specific, but then at the same time it is not. Oh, but a great thing it is.
By this point you all should know I’m a fan of all things black tie. I’m not sure if the events that require black tie are what make black tie so good or if black tie is what makes the events so good. But either way, two things are undeniable. First, the events are almost always above par and second, black tie itself is badass. And I am also quite sure you can guess that I have a few rather strong opinions on black tie, as I do with most things concerning men’s dress.
First, we shall delve into a bit of history and editorial. You see, at the foundation of what we deem black tie (or semi formal attire) there exists a contradiction of sorts. When the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) wore his first dinner jacket in the mid 19th century he started something new. He started something that although it had its foundation in all things traditional, namely that of formal attire, which is a very rigid set of dress rules, was not traditional. But more on this detail another time.
By breaking with those rules The Prince was breaking with tradition. Now, luckily he was The Prince and he could do something like that, in fact, he could likely do just about whatever he wanted. Rumor has it that his reason for adapting a smoking jacket into something for more formal situations was one of comfort and convenience, apparently he did not favor the regiment of dressing up in white tie every night. If it was any other man this would likely not have stuck, for men’s dress in those days was heavily guided by the dress of the royals and aristocrats NOT of fashion designers, actors and street style icons. But since it was The Duke who did this the idea slowly spread into acceptance to the rest of the western world (including Tuxedo Park, NY thus the American nomenclature ‘tuxedo’), establishing the dinner jacket as a tradition. And a tradition black tie now is and as a tradition it should be respected.
History aside. In summary, there are some things about black tie that should be adhered to in the strictest of senses, while there are others that a man may take liberty with. I propose the following.
In the most traditional code black tie means the following: a peak or shawl lapeled single button or double breasted jacket and said lapels should be of silk, satin or grosgrain; a black silk bow tie with matching cummerbund; black patent leather lace ups (not pumps, for those are reserved for formal attire); pants supported by suspenders or side tabs and NOT a belt; a pleated front shirt using studs for closure and ornamentation (although mother of pearl buttons are almost equal); either a turn down or winged collar; solid black dress socks and trousers are to have a single silk strip running the length of the outside seam of the trousers and trousers should not have cuffs.
Now, depending on the circumstance some freedoms need be allowed. One of my favorites are smoking jackets. Prince albert slippers, freshly shined black leather lace ups, a bowtie and cummerbund of a tartan or whimsical design (including needlepoint), a sans pleated front shirt are all nice modifications. Some gentlemen may opt for a waistcoat instead of a cummerbund, which is fine as long as it is not of white pique, which is reserved for white tie. For a more dandified appearance one could opt for a tartan jacket (namely blackwatch) or midnight blue jacket and trousers (which is another thing coined by The Duke). Boutonnieres also add a nice touch, but a white pocket square is a must.
I am of the strong belief that a notch lapel or 2 button closure jacket are to be avoided at all costs. For they are not formal, elegant or traditional enough. But even worse do not ever, ever, ever wear a long necktie; for it is one of the few things that I may loathe more than square toed shoes. But whatever you do wear don’t be the guy who doesn’t dance, show some respect to the elders and some chivalry to the women. But these should be a given.
Life is more fun in a tux,