In this article, we’ll be discussing the creative black tie dress code. If you were looking for information on a different dress code, see our guide to dress codes.
Though they can be stylistically limiting, dress codes have their benefits. They can unify a work force’s image, lower school children’s distractions, and allow dining and entertainment establishments to create and maintain a high-end look.
Sometimes, though, dress codes can be quite a challenge to adhere to successfully. Creative black tie absolutely falls into this category.
To be totally honest, it’s our feeling that this dress code has simply diluted black tie, compromising its integrity by breaking long-held sartorial rules. In this way, it’s a dress code that requests men to wear sartorial oxymorons, things that are neither suits nor tuxedos.
On the other hand, it’s an increasingly common dress code, especially amongst those in the entertainment or creative industries, such as public relations or design firms. When it’s done tastefully, it can actually stretch the boundaries of classic black tie while still falling within them.
If you’re attending a creative black tie event, how should you dress?
A Men’s Guide To Creative Black Tie
Also known as “Hollywood black tie,” creative black tie is just that: a creative twist on the black tie dress code. The best way to do it is to inject a bit of color into the otherwise black-and-white ensemble. Further down the article we’ll give you a list of pitfalls to avoid.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that black tie is the basis of the dress code. You’re taking a tuxedo and making modifications to it. What you aren’t doing is taking a suit and trying to “tuxedo-fy” it.
As such, the foundation of creative black tie is the same as black tie. You can see our article on black tie for a full garment-by-garment run down, but here’s a brief one regardless:
- Black or midnight blue jacket faced with satin, most commonly a one-button single-breasted peak lapel with side vents and flapless pockets
- Matching trousers, outseams faced with satin
- Bow tie that you tie yourself, like a big boy
- White French cuff shirt
- Vest or cummerbund (neither worn with the other)
- White braces (optional)
- Silk hosiery
- Black patent leather oxfords, Venetians, or opera pumps. Black calfskin oxfords with a high shine are acceptable.
- Shirt studs (if wearing a bibbed tuxedo shirt)
How Do You Get Creative With Black Tie?
The key is to inject a color that’s neither black nor white nor ridiculous. Your best bet is to do so in these two places:
Note that we said “a color” and not “colors.” To add one color to a tuxedo is creative. To add more than one gets you into monkey suit territory, so decide on one color and stick to it.
Some good colors to experiment with are the ones you’d typically find on velvet smoking jackets: burgundy, royal blue, tobacco, and bottle green. If you don’t know which colors would look best on you, we have a whole guide to help you!
*Editor’s Note*: A red cummerbund with a black tie is a can’t-miss combination.
If you haven’t been paying attention up to this point, start now: it is extremely important that you don’t match accessory colors. A matching waistcoat and bow tie is something you see at prom, and even then it’s not a good idea.
One exception to this rule is a little-used dress code referred to as “Red Sea rig.” It allows for matching red bow tie and cummerbund and the absence of a jacket, as the Middle East (the location of the Red Sea) is so hot that wearing a jacket is unfeasible.
Grooming & Creative Black Tie
While traditional black tie generally calls for a clean shaven face or a neatly-kept beard, creative black tie allows you a bit more wiggle room. Stubble is generally acceptable, and your hairstyle can be as wild as you like.
Okay, maybe not Carrot Top wild, but you can have some fun with it.
What To Avoid For Creative Black Tie
Even though it says “creative” on the invitation, you don’t want to get too creative. Here are some common mistakes that we often see people make that you can easily avoid:
- Crazy colors: Certain colors like bright yellow, orange, or avocado green totally compromise the integrity of wearing a tuxedo in the first place.
- Neckties: Men in Hollywood wear neckties with tuxedos all the time, and it makes no sense. This isn’t creative, but rather a misunderstanding of what black tie is supposed to be.
- Poor fit: While this isn’t specific to the creative black tie dress code, it’s of such importance that it warrants a mention here. A poorly-fitted dinner jacket is one thing, but a poorly-fitted dinner jacket with a bunch of color involved is just clownish. If you need a primer on how a suit (or tuxedo) should fit, we have a great guide for you.
- Wearing a vest & cummerbund simultaneously: This is like putting your spare glasses on over your regular glasses. It offers no additional functional benefit, and you’ll look stupid.
- “Sporty” details: Notched lapels, center vents, pocket flaps, and two- or three-button jackets are all country-inspired sartorial details and are mere sartorial oxymorons when put onto a tuxedo. Remember that formality (or semi-formality, really) is rooted in the absence of sporty details like this.
These are clothes for fun, sure. Just not outdoor, physical activity-driven fun.
Let’s pour a good-natured glass of Haterade and take a look at Joey Fatone of N’Sync, your sister’s favorite boy band of the 1990’s:
From what we can see, he did one thing right and opted for peak lapels, and the jacket seems to have a one-button stance. His beard and hair also look neatly groomed. With that said, he dropped the ball in many ways here:
- He’s wearing a necktie, and it’s poorly tied to boot
- The fit is, to be succinct, garbage
- He made the incredibly misguided decision to wear sneakers
Our friend Laurence Fishburn comes closer, but still misses the mark:
Like Mr. Fatone, Mr. Fishburn did a few things right. He’s wearing black tie-appropriate shoes, and it seems that the overall fit of his garments is good, if a bit conservative.
Like Mr. Fatone, Mr. Fishburn also has some big misses:
The orange jacket, while good for his warm skin tone and surely a handsome piece on its own, is a bit nuts for a black tie ensemble. Furthermore, it has pocket flaps and notched lapels, sporty details that don’t make sense with black tie.
The necktie, while tied much better than Mr. Fatone’s, is still a necktie. Combined with the jacket, this outfit is neither suit nor tuxedo, leaving him in sartorial purgatory.
Creative Black Tie Summary
Again, creative black tie is a variant of black tie wherein you can add one color to your ensemble to liven it up a bit. It is not an opportunity to dilute the tuxedo with sporty details, insane colors, or other ultra-trendy ideas.
If you simply add one color to your outfit and otherwise play by the rules, you’ll look natty as all get-out and still tick off the “creative” box that was requested of you on the invitation you received.
For more on dress codes, click here.