In this article, we’ll be discussing the most generous of all dress codes: black tie optional. We’ll address what you can wear and offer best practices around looking your best while being appropriately dressed.
If you’ve found yourself here in error or need information on a different dress code, take a quick look at our dress code guide.
Not every man owns a tuxedo. In fact, relatively few do. Furthermore, dinner jackets can be quite expensive, especially if you go the made-to-measure or bespoke route. Black tie-optional offers such men the opportunity to attend semi-formal evening events without having to shell out a ton of money for new clothes. How thoughtful!
What Does Black Tie Optional Mean?
Black tie-optional refers to a dress code in which a tuxedo/dinner jacket (black tie) is requested, but guests have the option to wear a dark business suit if they so choose. They take place in the evening, just as standard black tie events do.
We call this the most generous of the dress codes because it’s a judgement-free acknowledgement that not all men own or can afford true semi-formalwear. Tuxedos aren’t necessarily expensive, but they’re always more expensive than comparable suits due to the additional material needed for the facings.
Which Types Of Events Are Black Tie Optional?
Any event that’s otherwise black tie can become black tie-optional if the host decides it to be so. These could be weddings, evening celebrations for religious rites of passage like communions and bar-mitzvahs, and even certain galas.
What To Wear To A Black Tie Optional Event
To begin with, your options are two-fold: a tuxedo or a suit. If you want to wear a tuxedo, you must adhere to the rules of black tie.
It’s not quite that simple, though.
If you opt to wear a suit to a black tie-optional event, that’s totally fine. To keep up with tuxedos in the same room, you’ll essentially follow a strict, evening wear-driven version of the business professional dress code.
There are some parameters with which you should be familiar regarding your suit:
- It must be dark. This is one of the rare occasions in which it’s acceptable to wear a black suit. Dark charcoal and deep navy are also perfectly acceptable options.
- Your shirt should be white: French cuffs are great, but barrel cuffs are fine too. In a pinch, a light blue shirt will work. Avoid patterned shirts.
- Black shoes are best: It is evening, after all. Try cap-toe oxfords or smart Venetian loafers.
- Keep your tie muted: A black, navy, deep plum, or deep burgundy tie will work wonderfully. Whether you choose a necktie or a bowtie, select a solid color as opposed to one with a pattern.
- Keep colorful accessories to a minimum: Now is not the time for wild and crazy socks or novelty braces. Feel free to throw on a boutonniere for some added dash, though!
The beauty of this is that if your capsule wardrobe is fleshed out, you will already have everything you need to attend a black tie-optional affair. Click the preceding link if you’re unsure of what a capsule wardrobe is (and if you don’t know, you’ll find a ton of value in it!).
What Not To Wear To A Black Tie Optional Event
Sure, there are options. It’s in the title of the dress code, isn’t it?
Of course there are, but not all of them are available to you. Here are some basic things to avoid:
- Light-colored suits: Black tie-optional events take place in the evening, and a suit in light grey or khaki (pictured above) simply won’t cut it.
- Odd jackets & trousers: If you’re thinking about wearing khakis and a blazer to a black tie-optional gathering, think again. Even the smartest “odd” combinations are too casual for an affair with tuxedos.
- An outfit without a tie: You need to wear a tie. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bow tie or a neck tie, but you need to wear one. And you need to tie it yourself.
- Crazy socks: You may wear crazy socks to a casual office, the movies, a date, a crazy sock convention, or similar situations. For black tie-optional events, keep your socks the same color as your trousers.
For a man who doesn’t own a tuxedo and wisely refuses to rent one, black tie-optional events are his best friend. You can minimize expense by utilizing your existing wardrobe and still look like a million bucks when you’re out on the town amongst the tuxedo-wearing masses.
For more information on other dress codes, see our guide to dress codes.