Black Tie Optional: A Dress Code Guide For Men

Black Tie Optional: A Dress Code Guide For Men2018-06-07T13:54:51+00:00
Daniel-Craig-Shawl-Collar-Tux-

Daniel Craig in a single-breasted shawl collar tuxedo.

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 other helpful tips for your attire including:

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.

Headless-Grey-Business-Professional-Suit

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

Black-Tie-Optional

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 attire:

The Suit

You suit 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.

The Shirt

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.

The Shoes

When it comes to black tie optional shoes your best is to go with a pair of black leather dress shoes.

Here are some of the best shoes for black tie optional dress code:

The Tie

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.

The Accessories

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?

Man In Khaki Suit And Sunglasses

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.

In Summation

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.

Black Tie Optional Dress Code Guide
Reviewed by Mark H., on .
"Great guide to black tie optional attire! I figured out exactly what I needed and found the perfect pair of shoes for my event."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★

38 Comments

  1. Jim March 11, 2018 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    How about a light green shirt or a dark green tie for a “black tie optional” wedding on St. Patrick’s Day?

    • Charles-Philippe March 12, 2018 at 5:39 am - Reply

      Hi Jim,

      Usually green shirts are quite daring and wouldn’t be something that you’d expect from black tie optional attire. However, if the wedding is already St Patrick’s Day themed, then I imagine that a lot of people would be incorporating green in to their outfits too. Personally, I say go for it! If you’re not sure, check with other guests if you know some and see how they’re dressing.

      Best,

      CP

  2. MATT March 31, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

    What about a purple checkered shirt,with matching tie, for a black tie optional wedding on easter?

    • Charles-Philippe April 3, 2018 at 2:39 am - Reply

      Hi Matt,

      Although shirts should usually be white on black tie optional occasions, you should be fine with a purple checked shirt for a wedding. Nevertheless, it depends on the ensemble as a whole. Think about the shirt’s cut as well as the type of suit and shoes that you’ll be wearing. You can use certain elements to lift the formality of your attire to give you more freedom in other areas.

      For instance, does the shirt have barrel or French cuffs? If the latter, the purple check won’t be too casual at all. You can also read our guide on shoe formality to learn more.

      All the best,

      CP

  3. alex maluk April 20, 2018 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    what about a banded collar tuxedo shirt with a black onyx button cover, i hate ties

    • Charles-Philippe April 21, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Alex,

      Banded Mandarin-style collars are certainly an option if you’re not a fan of ties. Although they’re not a traditional option, we wouldn’t rule them out for those who have a real aversion to the style.

      All the best,

      CP

  4. Mark May 15, 2018 at 2:05 am - Reply

    Hi,
    I have read mixed info on the net re: a dark grey suit at a black tie optional event. I will be going to a black tie optional wedding later this month, and don’t have a black suit and wondering if my grey (not light) suit will cut the mustard.
    Why the mixed info from other sites? Is it controversial and safer just to buy a black suit?

    • Paul Anthony May 15, 2018 at 9:03 pm - Reply

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks for the comment.

      If this is the one occasion in a blue moon you’d need a black suit, I’d say you’re fine with the dark grey (especially if peak lapel).

      Make sure to wear black shoes (unless you have some funky tuxedo loafers, for some flare), keep the tie black and pocket square white, with a white french cuff shirt.

      For several years I wore a navy blue peak lapel suit for my “black tie optional” before I had the ongoing need for a tux / more fun smoking jackets.

      Hope that helps.

      Thanks – Paul Anthony

  5. Cody June 22, 2018 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    How about British Tan shoes with a Navy suit to a black tie optional event? My black shoes don’t look great with my navy suit.

  6. Charles-Philippe June 24, 2018 at 4:17 am - Reply

    Hi Cody,

    Hmmmm, British Tan is a little too light for navy if you ask me. Although black shoes would be ideal, darker browns such as Cordovan or Oxblood would be acceptable. However, when it’s specifically a black tie optional event, I’d be hesitant to wear anything but black.

    Best,

    CP

  7. Ritchie July 6, 2018 at 10:36 am - Reply

    Hi, what about a dark burgundy suit and trousers. Black shirt. Burgundy tie, same as the suit and trousers

  8. Charles-Philippe July 6, 2018 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Richie,

    Personally, a burgundy suit sounds more like something to wear as cocktail attire. However, if it’s very dark, it might be okay.

    Nevertheless, I’d switch out the burgundy tie for a black one so that it’s closer to the dress code.

    How does that sound?

    Best,

    CP

  9. Iqbal Abdollah July 12, 2018 at 5:08 am - Reply

    Hi,

    What is more appropriate? The suit with slim-fit feature or regular fit?

    • Charles-Philippe July 12, 2018 at 5:35 am - Reply

      Hi Iqbal,

      Both are fine but your body type plays an important role here. You can learn more with our guide to men’s body types.

      Best,

      CP

  10. Tyler July 15, 2018 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    When selecting a suit for my black tie optional event (work banquet) the fellow in store (suitsupply) recommended a mid lightness grey birds eye suit with some nice texture. Along with that he recommended some black Venetian loafers like what you have mentioned, black silk tie, white shirt, black leather belt and black pocket square same material as the tie. I love the suit but am wondering if I’ll stick out.

    • Charles-Philippe July 16, 2018 at 4:33 am - Reply

      Hi Tyler,

      Hmmm, you might stick out a little bit but if you love the suit, I’d say go for it! Black tie optional does normally suggest a dark suit but birdseye tends to have black stitching to create the effect.

      My only comment is to refrain from a black pocket square if it matches the tie too much. I’d instead opt for a white one that matches the shirt instead. It’s more classic and will rein in the forward-fashion look with something conventional.

      Best,

      CP

  11. JorJordan July 29, 2018 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    What are your thoughts on a charcoal gray blazer with black pants and black shoes and black tie for black tie optional?

    – Jordan

    • Paul Anthony July 30, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Dear Jordan,

      I would just make sure there is enough contrast between the blazer and the trousers (color and / or material) to make is 100% obvious they are not form the same suit. Also being different shall add more of a visual interest.

      Aside from that, I can’t see why if would not work.

      Cheers – Paul

  12. DM August 5, 2018 at 1:33 am - Reply

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much for all this. I have a black tie optional summer wedding, and I already have a dark blue tuxedo jacket with black stitching throughout and black (velvet!) lapels…never worn it. Would it work with black suit separate pants? And then of course a white shirt / black bow tie / black shoes.

    • Paul Anthony August 6, 2018 at 7:25 am - Reply

      Dear DM,

      All sounds good to me! The only thing that might throw me off is velvet lapels for the summer, but if the wedding festivities roll into the evening shall be fine.

      Have a great time!

      – Paul

  13. Luis August 10, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    What about a blue suit with black checkered pattern, white shirt and a purple tie?

    • Paul Anthony August 12, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

      Dear Luis,

      Sounds okay to me. You’ll be the best judge on how formal to go for a “Black Tie Optional” event.

      The more more the more muted you should be i.e. closer to black tie.

      However, with that being said location such as near the coast, and in the summer can introduce brighter color options like the purple tie. If we were in the winter I’d say deep purple, but on summer can go lighter for sure.

      Cheers – Paul

  14. Christopher Hughes August 31, 2018 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Hi,
    My husband and I are attending a black tie optional wedding in LA early October. We live in DC.
    My husband owns no formal attire and plans to rent a tux for the event. I don’t own a tux and was planning to do the same, but now I’m considering two options from my own wardrobe.
    My favorite is a skinny fit, double breasted, peak lapel, but it’s a micro check and dark charcoal brown. Can I do that? The other option is a regular slim fit notch lapel solid dark navy.
    Also, how do you feel about a light cream shirt as opposed to white?
    Thanks!
    Chris

    • Paul Anthony September 1, 2018 at 10:06 am - Reply

      Dear Chris,

      As it shall be warm in LA still in October, and the West Coast in inherently more casual there is more wiggle-room. [Depending on the venue and bride / groom]

      I personally prefer to go more formal than not however, but that’s just me. But as its stated “optional”, you have options!

      If you’re not looking to buy something new, then I’d say that DB number sounds like a good option. I’m not a fan of notch lapels (although the navy may be a more appropriate color), as too informal for my tastes at a wedding and the peak lapels are more flattering for 99% of men.

      Can’t see any issues with the cream shirt (although I believe one cannot beat a fine white shirt as the best base for any ensemble), just make sure you tie and pocket square (of different pattern / fabric to tie) complement that more muted cream over a crisp white.

      Enjoy your trip to LA!

      – Paul

  15. Julie B September 1, 2018 at 1:01 am - Reply

    Long story short, my husband lost a lot of weight and the new jacket he had simply does not fit. The black tie optional wedding is tomorrow and we are miles from home. He has a gorgeous deep burgundy grape shirt and matching tie, good black dress slacks and new black dress shoes. Since it’s still summer and Chicago and he would take it off anyway, how kosher is it to go with no jacket at all? It would be a miracle to find one now. 😢 He is family, if he looks nice is anyway going to care? I don’t know what to do.

    • Paul Anthony September 1, 2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

      Dear Julie,

      That’s a tough spot! If you’re in the middle of nowhere and can’t find another jacket you have no choice (if close to something, Macys, JCP, Men’s Wearhosue, and even Walmart (I once bought a Harris Tweed jacket in there!!!) might be some quick choices).

      If that’s the case. I’d say the saving grace is the dark shirt color. At the ceremony a white shirt many have stood out like a sore thumb!

      And as you say as the festivities get going into the evening most gentlemen shall remove their jackets (although not “technically” correct.

      Sure the family shall understand, and have a great day!

      – Paul

  16. Kate October 3, 2018 at 12:48 am - Reply

    We don’t have a strict dress code in our wedding, but I need to know is it possible to wear dark blue tuxedo, white shirt and standard light grey tie, something like here https://tuxedorental.jcpenney.com/Product/allure-men-slate-blue-tux
    we’ve already bougt all I’ve mentioned, but today I’me reading your article for the first time and so doubt our choice…
    Is it possible to wear black leather belt with the tuxedo or a vest is required?
    Looking forward for your answer

    • Charles-Philippe October 3, 2018 at 2:25 am - Reply

      Hi Kate,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Traditionally, tuxedos shouldn’t come with belt loops so normally they aren’t worn with a belt. If the one you have purchased is indeed a proper tuxedo, I’d be surprised if there are some. However, if it’s a regular suit, this should be fine.

      If it is a traditional tuxedo then it’s better to wear one with either a vest or cummerbund. Nevertheless, this might be too formal for your tastes for a black tie optional event.

      Otherwise, a midnight blue tux and white shirt are a great combination. Presuming that it is a tuxedo and not a regular suit, I would suggest a bow tie. However, if it’s a regular suit, then a regular necktie is fine. If you wear a straight tie with a tuxedo, it may give the impression that you’re not very comfortable and don’t want to commit to the attire.

      For instance, you may have noted above that we have a graphic with a man in a black suit and straight tie on the left while there’s a man with a blue tuxedo and bow tie on the right. Both are appropriate for black tie optional events but the trick is not to mix the styles too much.

      Hope this helps!

      All the best,

      CP

  17. Kate October 4, 2018 at 12:02 am - Reply

    Dear Charles-Philippe,
    Thank you a lot for your comment, so nice and detailed for me. Now I understand much more, so I think that the garment we have https://voronin.ua/ru/model/6/ seems to be a suit with satin collar, but not real tuxedo, isn’t it? If it is a suit, my groom can wear it with a regular necktie and a leather belt.

    • Charles-Philippe October 4, 2018 at 4:04 am - Reply

      Hi Kate,

      It does appear to be a tuxedo. In fact, the satin lapel is a tuxedo characteristic but you do seem to see it more with more casual jackets these days.

      The real question is whether the trousers have belt loops as “real” tuxedos don’t. From what you’ve already said, though, I understand that you’ve already prepared this ensemble with the tuxedo, necktie, and belt. If both of you feel happy with this choice, I see no reason why he shouldn’t wear it.

      Поздравляем с помолвкой!

      All the best,

      CP

  18. Kate October 4, 2018 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you a lot for your advice and congratulation!

    Best regards,
    Kate and Gena

  19. Jon October 5, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    Have a black tie optional wedding tomorrow (just realized it is black tie optional), i do have a black suit and tie i could wear but was thinking of wearing a blue (not navy but darker than royal blue three piece) suit. do you think that would can be done? if so would you go dark brown shoes with a blue tie or black shoes and tie?

    • Charles-Philippe October 6, 2018 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Jon,

      Usually, we’d recommend black as the guide states above but this should be fine. As for the shoes, you can check out our colour coordination guide with blue trousers. Brown shoes and a blue suit is touch and go but there is an element of discretion involved.

      All the best,

      CP

  20. Renee October 13, 2018 at 8:54 am - Reply

    My husband and I were invited to a “Black Tie – Optional” wedding. My husband does not own a tux but has a nice black suit. I was thinking a white wing tip shirt (no pleats) with black bow tie to dress it up a bit. Would that be okay? Should he wear leather or patent leather shoes? Black button covers or plain. Or should I forget the whole thing of trying to look like a tux and just opt for a narrow black tie with the suit?

    Thanks!!!

    • Charles-Philippe October 15, 2018 at 3:07 am - Reply

      Hi Renée,

      I would refrain from wearing a regular black suit as a tuxedo as it may looking like an unusual marriage of different dress codes. I would recommend that your husband opts for the black suit with a regular necktie instead. Patent shoes might be fine with these, however, for adding some flair to the overall ensemble.

      Best,

      CP

  21. Joe October 27, 2018 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Hey Charles,

    I have a black tie optional wedding this weekend and I wanted to wear a nice crisp black suit and black tie with my black patent leather shoes. But for my shirt I wanted to wear a burgundy colored dress shirt to match my wife’s burgundy full length dress. Faux pas or nah?

    • Charles-Philippe October 27, 2018 at 7:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Joe,

      If it’s a nicely tailored dress shirt, this look could go quite well indeed. It sounds like you’ve pulled all the stops with a black suit and tie with patent leather shoes too.

      I like the approach in according with your wife’s attire!

      Best,

      CP

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.