How To Dress For Prom: Black Tie Basics
Prom dress codes can vary depending on your school. Overall, however, they tend to be either black tie or black tie optional. You can learn about these specific dress codes using the preceding links and they go into a lot of detail.
Otherwise, we’ll continue to focus on how you can dress for prom here.
Firstly, we quickly want to highlight how important it is to look the part. Attention to detail really counts and you may regret it if you don’t make the effort. On the night, it might be absolutely fine. However, you may not feel the same way when looking back at the photos in ten year’s time. Trust us, we know!
We can break down a costume for prom with the following five factors:
We’re going to go through each one separately and then bring it all together at the end. Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
Should I Rent Or Buy A Tuxedo?
Actually, we want to touch on this first before we go any further! This is because whatever you decide here will impact your choices further down the article.
In most of our tuxedo guides, we’ll straight up recommend that you buy one. However, prom’s a little different. First of all, you might not have the budget. Similarly, you might still be growing but let’s be honest, you’re unlikely to get that extra inch once you’ve hit 18.
If you can afford it, go for it! It’s a great investment and you’ll be glad that you have it in the years that follow. This is especially the case if you attend weddings and more events in college. You’ll also enjoy a better fit and quality with one that you buy.
Nevertheless, renting is okay at this stage. We would, however, suggest that you only rent the suit and skip the tie and shirt. You can often get much better at decent prices elsewhere.
Lastly, if your prom is black tie optional, it might be both frugal and smart to instead buy a suit. You’ll then have one that you can use for future job interviews and work.
What Suit To Wear To Prom
Firstly, if it’s black tie optional, you can essentially choose between a black or navy suit. Try to opt for something single-breasted with no more than two buttons. Otherwise, you can go for a tuxedo as we briefly explained above.
While we’ve already discussed whether you can buy or rent your suit for prom, try to make sure that it’s something that’s either new or in excellent condition. After all, it’s a special occasion. If you already have an appropriate suit, get it pressed, and you’re probably good to go.
However, if you don’t have anything that’s appropriate and you’re not sure where to buy your suit, we highly recommend going custom. Sounds expensive, right? Not necessarily!
For instance, Indochino is one of our favourite custom suitmakers. Yet, they’re rarely more expensive than $350. You can also get 10% off with our exclusive discount code “BESPOKEUNIT” when you spend more than $399 USD or $539 CAD.
You can also get your measurements done in one of their stores or simply submit them online. Bear in mind that a few weeks are needed to make the suit.
If you’re in a hurry, somewhere like Suitsupply would be a safer choice.
What Jacket To Wear To Prom
If you’re opting for a tuxedo, remember that the lapels should be faced with satin or grosgrain, and look for a model with side vents and no pocket flaps.
Meanwhile, black tie optional is a little more relaxed. Therefore, you can go for a regular suit with a notch or peak lapel. If we had the luxury of choosing between the two, peak lapels are more formal. However, notch ones are fine too.
What Pants To Wear For Prom
Firstly, it’s essential that the trousers should match the jacket. We don’t just mean the colour but also the style.
If it’s a tuxedo, there should be satin facings on each outseam that complement the facings of the jacket. As is always the case with tuxedo trousers, avoid pleats, cuffs, and especially belt loops!
What Shirt To Wear For Prom
As mentioned above, we advise that you skip the rental shirt. Sure, if you’re on a tight budget, it would probably suffice. However, shirts are cheaper than suits and getting your own adds some attention to detail.
Evening shirts for tuxedos are a beast of their own. In short, they can have wing collars or spread collars, bib, pleated or plain fronts, and covered buttons or studs. In all cases, the shirt ought to be white and they should have double “French” cuffs.
You can learn all about this in detail with our evening shirt guide, which also recommends the best brands. For instance, we even featured the one worn by James Bond in Casino Royale!
One of our favourite brands is currently Eton, which have produced a wonderfully elegant evening shirt that’s perfect for prom. If you’re worried about looking over-the-top, it’s got a classic spread collar, hidden buttons, and a plain front. It almost looks like a regular dress shirt but it ticks all the evening shirt boxes.
Admittedly, it’s a little pricey for prom. Nevertheless, you’d be hard-pressed to find better for the occasion.
Finally, if you’re wearing a regular business suit to a black-tie optional prom, avoid wearing an evening shirt for tuxedos. While it might feel like you’re making the right gesture, the result can look a little off.
Instead, opt for a classic dress shirt with a spread collar and double “French” cuffs, ideally in white. Overall, a dress shirt from a Jermyn street brand like Hawes & Curtis would be ideal. If you want to see some examples of the best dress shirts, head to our dedicated guide.
What Tie To Wear For Prom
Again, your choice in tie greatly depends on your suit. If it’s a black tie optional occasion and you’re wearing a regular suit, a typical necktie is absolutely fine. Meanwhile, you can also choose to wear a bow tie if you want. In both cases, aim for a solid colour and try to avoid something too garish.
Conversely, the rules are a little more stringent if you’re wearing a tuxedo. In all cases, you should wear a bow tie and we strongly recommend that it’s black. Indeed, it’s quite common to wear a colour that matches your date’s outfit. Yet, we’d say that you should use a pocket square or cummerbund for this.
Your rental get-up will more likely than not come with a pre-tied bow tie. If you can afford to spend a few extra bucks on a bow tie that you tie yourself (called a “self-tie” bow tie), please do so. You’re going to look a whole lot better than every other guy at the prom if you do.
Best Prom Shoes To Wear
Whether you’re wearing a suit or a tuxedo, in both cases they should be paired with black shoes. Do your best to avoid any other colour and try to avoid the misguided fashion for wearing sneakers. While it might seem cool at the time, you might not think that when looking at the picture in ten years!
It’s true that rental places will recommend black patent leather shoes for you, or at least they’ll give you something that looks like patent leather. By all means, wear them if you have nothing else.
There’s no guarantee that rental shoes will be comfortable, and a night of dancing is a terrible time to find out that they aren’t so consider investing in a pair instead.
Patent leather isn’t necessary for a black tie optional business suit. Instead, you can wear some classic cap toe Oxfords. These are also a great investment as you’ll be able to wear them again in the future.
In fact, patent leather isn’t strictly necessary for a tuxedo but it is recommended if you can. If you own a decent pair of black dress shoes, shine them up well and wear those.
Should you choose to wear regular Oxford shoes but don’t yet have a pair, we highly recommend Beckett Simonon. They offer excellent value for money at under $200 and you can get an extra 20% off with our exclusive “BU20” discount code.
However, they take around 10 weeks to ship since they’re made-to-order so you’ll need to plan ahead. Otherwise, Ace Marks is another fantastic shoe brand. Their Italian shoes are a touch more expensive but they ship extremely quickly.
Finally, if you want to wear proper tuxedo shoes with your suit, check out our complete guide to the best tuxedo shoes to see our top recommendations!
Should You Wear A Vest Or Cummerbund To Prom?
Although it’s become more common to simply not wear either, a waistcoat or cummerbund are great opportunities to add a splash of colour. Keeping your bow tie black, you can instead match your date’s carefully-researched colour scheme with this.
Of course, this only applies to a tuxedo. If you’re wearing a business suit, you can opt for a three-piece if it’s available or just move on.
Needless to say, a cummerbund or vest are worn separately and you don’t wear both at the same time!
Whatever you do, don’t wear a crazy-coloured bow tie-and-matching-vest-or-cummerbund set. This is going to make your head look as if it were being wrapped like a Christmas present.
If you want to wear a differently-coloured cummerbund or vest, keep it to a dark, muted color like burgundy, dark blue, or bottle green. Hopefully, this will match your date!
Finally, discover the best cummerbund brands and more on how to wear one with our detailed guide.
Accessories, Pocket Squares & Braces
There are a number of accessories that you can wear to spruce up your attire. Our main advice here is to avoid mixing metal colours. For instance, if your cufflinks are silver, the shirt studs should be too.
Some rental stores will provide you with a variety of options. Otherwise, The Tie Bar is an excellent spot to pick these up and their prices are very attractive too.
With regards to braces (suspenders) and pocket squares, these are traditionally white. However, it’s not uncommon to add a pop of colour here. If you do decide to use the pocket square to add colour, it can match the cummerbund. However, avoid also wearing matching suspenders as this will be too much.
Additionally, pocket squares are typically silk and solid colours. As mentioned above, The Tie Bar has a great selection that you can look through.
In terms of watches, this might be a little bit more challenging. However, you can refer to our dress watch guide for some pointers.
One last accessory that we’d just like to touch on before finishing is socks. As you can expect, it’s best to wear black socks with a tuxedo or a even a business suit for that matter.
We highly recommend the over-the-calf models made by Boardroom socks. If you’re not used to over-the-calf socks, they may seem odd at first. However, they’re excellent at staying up rather than falling down and looking untidy.
Now that you know what to wear to prom, let’s take a look at a few other factors to bear in mind when preparing.
To Match or Not To Match?
There’s often a lot of drama around matching your date. We’re absolutely fine with the concept but the results can sometimes be excessive. However, it can be tastefully and subtly achieved if you’re strategic with your use of colour.
To explain this further, one of the keys to black tie is that the spotlight is actually on the women. Their dresses are often quite fancy and are complemented by all manner of jewellery. The men, gentlemen that we are, take a backseat by wearing simple black and white.
If you go nuts and wear too many bright colours, it risks diluting this message. Nevertheless, if you want to pay hommage to your date by matching some colour, there are subtle ways of doing this.
For instance, you could wear a matching boutonnière lapel flower or choose a cummerbund or pocket square that accents her colour scheme. Either of these options will neatly get the message across without undermining the principles of black tie.
Other Etiquette Tips
Some of this will be stuff you already know and is common sense, but as this is your first “formal” event, here’s a quick refresher:
- Make sure you’re well-groomed. Get a haircut about a week before prom so that your hair looks great but natural on the big day. See our hairstyle hairstyle guide for inspiration.
- If you keep any facial hair, make sure it’s well-kept. We have full guides on beards and moustaches too!
- SHOWER AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH. It’s also perfectly reasonable to keep some mints on you too. Your date will appreciate it.
- Be on time.
- Take pictures with your family and his/her family. This is a big deal for them and it may be for you too in a few years.
- Make sure your date gets home safely. Walk him/her to their door if they permit you to do so.
The prom is your first foray into formal events and is a good test run for adhering to a dress code and a standard level of conduct while out on a fancy date. After all, it’s an event that marks a certain coming of age.
Making sound decisions around what you wear and how you comport yourself will not just make for great-looking pictures, but fond memories for years to come.
Now that you have read our guide to dressing for a prom, consider reading some of our related content: