Thursday, January 5, 2017

Luxarazzi 101: Dress Codes - Black Tie

We've discussed white tie dress code already. This time, we're going to take a look at the traditions around the dress code for black tie events.

For formal events, black tie is somewhat more informal than white tie, although the word "informal" is relative in this context. Black tie is also more common than white tie, with white tie events being fewer in number.

Additionally, the specifics of black tie dress code tend to be fewer in number than the specifics of white tie. But that doesn't mean the black tie dress code allows for anything that might be described as "casual."

What's the History of Black Tie Dress Code?

Grand Duke Henri in black tie for the concert
on the eve of the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria
of Sweden. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
To understand the current expectations for black tie dress code, let's first take a look at the history. Black tie is generally accepted to have started during the Victorian era, although like so many Victorian traditions of social etiquette it didn't evolve in specifics and expectations until the Edwardian era. Essentially, black tie was meant to be dinner dress. Our readers who are also fond of Edwardian and post-Edwardian period films will likely recall those scenes of a family at the large manor house sitting down to dinner, with the men in tuxedo jackets and the ladies in gowns. This would have been the standard for most evenings and no doubt presumes the availability of staff to help with "dressing for dinner." In one of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories, the irrepressibly idiotic Bertie Wooster has a conversation with one of his society friends who has retired from social events and embraced a bohemian lifestyle, in part because he cannot bear the thought of having to dress for dinner every night. 

Over time, black tie dress also become more common as the appropriate formal attire for any event at which white tie would have been too formal. As standards relaxed in post-war society, black tie also become the more standard form of evening dress, with white tie representing special occasions. 

So How Does Black Tie Dress Code Look?

For men, a white dress shirt goes underneath a dinner, or tuxedo, jacket. On a quick historical note, the term "tuxedo" referring primarily to the entire black tie outfit is American and gets its name from Tuxedo Valley, New York. Among the British, tuxedo generally refers to the jacket itself, in white, while a traditional black tie dinner jacket is more likely to be black. In either black or white, the jacket should have silk facings with a notched (or peaked) lapel. A waistcoat, or cummerbund, also goes underneath the jacket. The silk bow tie, of course, is black regardless of jacket color.

Cufflinks or shirt studs are always appropriate. Black tie dress code also requires black trousers with a silk or satin braid that runs down the side of each leg. Black stockings are worn with black court shoes, or Oxfords.

This website has a useful visual of standard black tie dress code for men.

Don't Forget the Ladies!

As with white tie dress code, the ladies have a much easier time of choosing their black tie attire. The general recommendation is "gown": but this might mean a standard gown, a cocktail dress, a little black dress (LBD), or even a formal jumpsuit of suitable material and style. Some ladies have adopted the traditional men's style and selected a tuxedo for themselves in black tie attire. For shoes, evening shoes are appropriate, so expect a more formal shoe in silk, satin, or sparkles.

What About "Creative Black Tie?"

Well, it's unlikely you'll see this at too many black tie royal events, but the idea of a more personal style in black tie attire has made its way into certain (read: celebrity) arenas. For creative black tie, the wearer might choose a bow tie in a color other than black or a shirt in black instead of white. The idea is to embrace unconventional pieces within traditional black tie dress code. The majority of royal black tie events would be unlikely to feature many creative black tie stylings, but there's always the opportunity for the unexpected sighting.

We'll keep an eye out.

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