Criticism of what people wear to black-tie events tends to focus on obvious sins: wearing a lounge suit, wearing a coloured tie and wearing a long tie instead of a bow (though this is less objectionable than one may think). These are some of the biggest sins against the traditions of the dinner outfit, and stand out as such. They also stand out because they are committed by a relatively small number of people.

For that reason, I don’t think they are the greatest black-tie sins. They’re big, but they’re rare. More important are the small sins committed by almost everyone. Those demonstrate how disconnected the ensemble is from its traditions, despite the apparent uniformity on display.

Sin 1: Cover your waist

This is the greatest sin, so it comes first.

Every black-tie outfit needs to cover the waistband of the trousers in some way. That is an indisputable fact. This covering can take one of three forms: a waistcoat, a cummerbund or a double-breasted jacket.

dinner-brad-pitt-waist

A waistcoat should be the standard. If you’re wearing a single-breasted dinner jacket, something needs to cover up your shirt – particularly if the jacket only has one button.

A shirt with a stiff, oval front makes this obvious: only the stiff part is meant to show, the rest is covered up by a waistcoat. But even a soft-fronted shirt needs a covering. Even though its pleats form a rectangle on the front of the shirt, and even though they go all the way down to the waistband, that waistband must be covered.

This waistcoat can be black or white. White is less common and more formal, echoing as it does white tie or full fig. It can also be full or backless. If white, it should be made of the same Marcella as the shirt front. If black, it should be the same wool as the trousers.

The cummerbund was invented in the subcontinent as an alternative to the waistcoat for hot weather. It was originally a sash simply tie around the waist.

But what proportion of men at a black-tie event have some form of waist covering? Twenty per cent? Fifteen even? That’s why it’s the greatest sin.

Sin 2: Notch lapels

Most suits have notch lapels; dinner jackets should not have them. At some point, the black-tie industry forgot, or simply got lazy, and conflated the two.

A peaked lapel is more formal, aggressive and rakish. It suits black tie where it wouldn’t suit the decorum of day-to-day business. All dinner jackets, single or double-breasted, should have peak lapels. Yet a significant number (40%? 45%?) of men at a black-tie event will have notch lapels.

(Eagle-eyed readers will notice that my own velvet jacket, worn as black tie, has notch lapels. What can I say? My wardrobe is far from complete and the jacket was a vintage piece to trial a look. It’s on the list to upgrade.)

Sin 3: Shoes

The best shoe to wear with black tie is a patent pump with a grosgrain bow. Second on the list is a patent Oxford. Third is a plain black Oxford, without brogueing and preferably wholecut. All three are acceptable but are less impressive further down the list.

Yet how many men wear pumps? Probably zero. How many patent Oxfords? Perhaps 10%. And of the remainder wearing black leather shoes, there is probably a healthy chunk (again, perhaps 45%) wearing brogues, Derbys, boots or monk straps. So another low-level but popular sin. Multiplying number by grade of sin makes it a greater offence than a long tie.

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Horatio

I think that due to the modern trend of what we might call “self-definition,” coupled with anti-traditional movements like deconstructionism, we have a generation of people who not only do not know what the rules are, they do not even know that rules exist. For that matter, too many of us moderns fail to understand the myriad benefits of having rules.

For instance, some hyper-ideological academics cook up cockamamie notions like gender being a “societal construct,” and declare that beyond biology, there are no innate differences between males and females. This and other nonsense oozes into the popular consciousness, and leads to, amongst other evils, the destruction of gender-based differences in attire and situationally-appropriate clothing.

Which leads us too poor, misunderstood, much-maligned black tie. Simon summed it up nicely when he wrote that “tradition is the point of black tie.” Now that we are so accustomed to living without rules, we chafe at having to follow them, not understanding that by following the rules, we are actually freer than having to make them up as we go. In the case of black tie, we can simply learn what the rules are, follow them, and always look fantastic, thus freeing us from having to reinvent the wheel–and keeping us safe from sartorial sin.

MC

Simon- Interested in your thoughts on a waistcoat pairing for my upcoming wedding. My tuxedo is single button, peak lapel (grosgrain). My bowtie will be black grosgrain as well. I have flexibility on the shirt style (wing or standard collar) and the waistcoat. Would you recommend a particular style to complement the single button, peak lapel jacket? Would a double breasted waitscoat be out of the question under a single breasted jacket? What about collar type and color (black or white pique)? If you think a particular style of waistcoat would be best, I’d be interested in the style of shirt you’d pair with it as well. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dowindixie

Why would peak lapels be inappropriate for a business setting? I thought business was done originally in daytime formal wear (Morning Coats & Strollers). Didn’t those coats have peak lapels?

Claudio

“Don’t wear it with showy socks, braces and handkerchief “.
Now, this is intriguing. I assume the rationale for not wearing a handkerchief is that a pocket square would be barely noticeable behind a peak lapel (which is commonly wider than a notch lapel) and, also, because it would creat a gap between the jacket and the lapel. Please correct me if I am wrong. Re: showy socks, I always match my socks to the trousers, so no probs here.
But why no braces?
Thank you very much and my apologies for replying to a very, very old post.
Claudio

Dowindixie

Thanks for the explaination. Obviously I wouldn’t wear a morning coat to work in this day and age.(LOL)

Gian

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Mens Ties

Every man who knows anything about fashion knows that you need a black tie in your collection. It is a classic color and works with every color.

Anonymous

I disagree with your comment “The cummerbund was invented in the subcontinent as an alternative to the waistcoat for hot weather. It was originally a sash simply tie around the waist.” My understanding was that it was originally worn in the fields in many countries to support your back. If you look at Fenton’s photographs from the Crimean war(eg http://www.old-picture.com/crimean-war/000/Zouaves-Crimean-Two-War.htm) you’ll zouaves and others (http://www.old-picture.com/crimean-war/000/Montenegrins-Group-of.htm) wearing things around their waists that look like cummerbunds. Quite when it got into black tie I don’t know. But I remember something from the tailor and cutter talking about a craze for them in England one summer in, I think, the 1880’s. Clearly as a summer replacement for a waistcoat they have a lot to recommend them.

Parth

Hello. I was wondering if it is alright to wear a cummerbund with a marcella oval bib front shirt; or if it is better to wear a cummerbund with a rectangular bib front shirt? I have an event coming up that I am currently planning for. Thanks

Parth

Thanks for this.

Wolfgang

Hi Simon,

started reading your blog quite a while ago and since it is getting closer to the festive season I would like to buy a black tie outfit.

Can you recommend any brands/ shops in London that are suitable for a tight budget but neverthless offer a good value?

Many thanks already in advance and best
Wolfgang

Anonymous

Simon,

Some questions regarding the bow tie: Should the material match the facing of the tuxedo itself (e.g., barathea to barathea)? Any recommendations as to bow tie shape (butterfly, pointed ends, large ties, small ties)?

Anonymous

Simon,

What’s your recommendation regarding vents on tuxedo jackets? Is a ventless tuxedo jacket standard; are double-vented tuxedo jackets acceptable?

Anonymous

Sorry–an addendum to the previous post: What about turnback cuffs on a tux coat? Too flashy, or just subtle enough to add distinction without screaming for attention?

Anonymous

Simon,

Just curious, but do you prefer grosgrain or silk satin lapel facings? I know that either is acceptable, but my impression is that grosgrain is generally preferable because it’s slightly less flashy, and has nice subtle texture.

Edward

On a similar subject, is it more acceptable to have the revers on one’s waistcoat faced in silk to match the lapels of the jacket, or for them to be self-faced in the same wool as the body of the suit?

anonymous

I’m finally getting around to having a dinner jacket made (double-breasted, ventless, turnback cuffs), and would benefit from some advice. As to the cuffs, should they be faced with the same material as the lapels, or the same fabric as the suit? What’s an appropriate cuff depth? Also, should there be a lapel buttonhole on each lapel (as would normally be the case with a double-breasted coat)? Thank you in advance.

JF

Hello Simon

I know this is a bit old but it seemed the most appropriate place to comment. I’m planning to wear a velvet wine-coloured jacket and black moleskin trousers to a forthcoming event. It’s black tie, but there’s a fairly laissez faire attitude to that. Firstly, is this choice heretical? Secondly, if not, should I cover the waist band given the more casual approach I’m going for?

Many thanks, and keep up the great blog.

Shem

Hey Simon, would it be appropriate to wear a black knit tie with brown suede shoes. Assuming the overall ensemble is blue sports coat, white shirt, grey trousers

HR

Hi Simon,

I purchased by first dinner suit: a black shawl lapel jacket. I plan on wearing a cummerbund. Is it correct form to wear braces with this set-up?

James

Hi Simon,

I’m in a profession which still occasionally calls for black tie as part of the official ‘uniform’, as it were – that of a musician. I’m due to play my first cruise soon (Spain/Baltics end of July and August) and have been asked to bring a tuxedo. Being a long time reader of your blog, I’ve taken your advice many times when it’s come to day to day clothes (even today ordering the Le Mont Saint Michel work jacket on your spring/summer list and recently Blackhorse Lane Jeans), and one day would love to order a bespoke suit. However, I’m loath for that to be a tuxedo which I may or may not get much use out of.

Appropriate for a ‘black – tie sins’ comment, I was looking for the cheapest ‘correct’ tux I could find, from a brand which is not un-reputable, and immediately thought of Suit Supply and their £569 deal (DB suit/shirt/bow tie/patented leather shoes). I’m sure many readers looking for a wedding tux will have considered them, also. £569 is more than a weeks pay on the ship, however, and I suppose I am asking whether you think that it is a good choice, considering I may only wear it a handful of times (I may hate cruises ha)…or perhaps you think anything not at least made to measure (specifically for a tux) is a bit of a waste of space? I’m utterly reluctant to go super cheap and equally reluctant to go bespoke.

As a side thought, they offer both wool and linen options (black). I assume linen is a no go (the styling on the photos is ridiculous with espadrilles) but then considered that it will be high summer after all so wondered…

Many thanks

James

Yes, that makes a lot of sense – many thanks for the advice!

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

I agree that notched lapel dinner jackets or suits are one of the most odious of sartorial philosophical abortions….That said, aside from the shawl lapel as mentioned by one of the other commenters, and the peak lapel which you discussed, why no mention of the fish mouth lapel? That narrow hinterland of unusual design in the made to measure and higher bracket of gentleman’s evening attire?

I am a strong proponent of this variety of lapel for evening wear, chiefly because it is so rare and so unusual. It is like a lazy or sleepy peaked lapel….

Anyway, smashing article. I enjoyed it very much!

I have just recently gifted by best friend his first dinner suit (one of my older ones that I had gotten RTW or off the peg at one of my first jobs), and as I have gotten a bit taller and broader in the chest, he has stayed as waifish as ever, so it worked out! I am thinking that I should also give him my 3rd best cummerbund and perhaps one of my extra black bow ties. I assume that he can work out his own shirt, I am concerned however, as we will be attending a black tie event in Los Angeles in October and he has a regrettable tendency towards hideous shoes…..I have been attempting to encourage him to get dress shoes that are not “eccos” as they are they ugliest things that I’ve ever seen. He is an engineer and a bit of a hypochondriac, and I am considering what arguments to present to him against wearing ecco bicycle toe blucher loafers with black tie aside from the sheer horrific nature of the combination which wouldn’t occur to him. His family does not really involve themselves in such occasions typically….

On the up side, his date should probably be dressed appropriately, at least from the my impression from the time that I have spent with her and them collectively…..

I chiefly want his first black tie event to be pleasantly memorable and for him to look his best for himself, and for his girlfriend, now, and in the future should he look back upon the evening.

Baptiste

Hello Simon.
I have a few questions regarding black tie suits.

So mine is a DB blazer made of a mix of merino wool and mohair. But i have a doubt about shoes. Are black loafers okay ? You do not talk about them in this article. Maybe I should go for black Oxford instead ?

I also have a question regarding the collar of the shirt. With a DB and a bow-tie, is it better to have a wing collar shirt or a turndown? I have seen several people complaining about wing collars shirts at black tie events but I am on your side on this anyway, my question here is more about the DB and the collar, not what type of collar for which occasion.

Thanks a million for your help.

Le Cut

With regards to a Cream Dinner Jacket:
• What material should the lapels be made of?
• Do I need a cummerbund? If so, what color?
• Should the jacket be vented?
• Peak or Shawl?
• Single or Double Breasted?

Thanks!

Le Cut

Thanks Simon! Any suggestion as to what type of fabric to use? It’s for my brother’s wedding at a very hot destination.

Olivier

Hello Simon,

I thought I would revive this thread with a question of taste: what would be the ideal bow tie colour/fabric to pair with a midnight blue dinner jacket that has midnight blue grosgrain lapel facings and the matching trouser stripe?

I would normally match the bow tie and lapel facing fabric and colour, but I am concerned that the overall effect will be too muted. I received an interesting suggestion to wear a black satin bow tie instead, in order to provide a bit of sheen and to accent the high polish of black oxford shoes.

Would it be best to stick to blue, experiment with a black grosgrain bow tie, or make a statement with black satin?

Also: In my experience, this blue/blue combination is rare. What are your thoughts on this? For example, have you seen this style executed well? Would you say its relative rarity relegates the style to less-formal occasions (all else being equal)?

Thank you!
-O.

Le Cut

Dear Simon:

Should a tux have the end of the sleeves in the same fabric as the lapel? Is this a classical touch or a modern? In addition should the sleeve’s buttonholes be functional or not?

Thanks
Le Cut

David Spang

Hi Simon, does the cummerbund need to cover the marcella-bib par too. the bib on mine doesnt go to the bottom on the shirt.

Chokore Fashion

Black ties are trend these days for formal wear dress for men’s in office.