In this article, we’ll be discussing the creative black tie dress code and how to dress for it. An increasingly common dress code, creative black tie can be somewhat confusing for the novice and even challenging for the expert.

Creative black tie essentially marries conventional tailoring with fashion and often results in much of what we see during entertainment events and award ceremonies.

While we’re staunch supporters of traditional tailoring, we’re also aware of creative black tie’s relevance today. Therefore, we’ll help you in finding what to wear for it while staying loyal to the dress code.

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How To Dress For Creative Black Tie

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What Is Creative Black Tie?


Although they can feel 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.

Additionally, they can be quite fun as you have to find creative ways to express yourself stylistically within the confines of the code.

Still, some 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?

Creative Black Tie Overview

Also known as “Hollywood black tie,” creative black tie is just that: a creative twist on the black tie dress code. The easiest and most efficient way to do it is to inject a bit of colour into the otherwise black-and-white ensemble. If you’re still unsure, we’ll give you a list of pitfalls to avoid further down the article.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that black tie is still the core of this dress code. You’re taking a tuxedo and making modifications to it. What you aren’t doing is taking a suit and trying to make it work as a tuxedo.


As such, the foundation of creative black tie is the same as black tie. You can see our guide to 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 double “French” cuff shirt.
  • Vest or cummerbund.
  • Braces in white but potentially a different colour.
  • Silk hosiery.
  • Black patent leather tuxedo shoes. Black calfskin oxfords with a high shine are acceptable.
  • A formal dress or evening shirt.

Next, we’ll talk about how to adapt this for creative black tie. If you can, though, we highly recommend that you check out our black tie resources to learn more about how it works. Furthermore, they will recommend various brands for each garment in case you need to do a spot of shopping:

How Do You Get Creative With Black Tie?

The key is to inject a colour that’s neither black nor white nor ridiculous. Your safest option is to do this with either the vest or cummerbund.

Creative Black Tie Ensemble

Note that we said “a colour” and not “colours.” To add one colour to a tuxedo is creative. Meanwhile, adding more than one is a slippery slope towards going too far.

Some good colours 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 colours would look best on you, we have a whole guide to help you!

We’re particularly fond of dark wine or burgundy reds. If you are looking for one, our guide to cummerbunds has a list of excellent retailers. Hawes & Curtis is one of the brands we would recommend the most as they have a selection of colours while offering Jermyn street quality.

Similarly, avoid matching the colours of your accessories. For instance, a matching waistcoat and bow tie sounds good on paper but the result may be a bit garish and reminiscent of prom.

Nevertheless, there’s an exception to this rule, which 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.


It originated in the Middle East (the location of the Red Sea) when British officers found it too hot to wear a jacket. In fact, it’s one of the believed origins of the cummerbund with black tie.

Grooming & Creative Black Tie

Man Trimming Stubble In Front Of MirrorWhile 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.

As a result, stylish stubble is generally acceptable, and your hairstyle doesn’t have to be toned down. Similarly, you can be a little bit more liberal in your choice of fragrance or cologne rather than having to go with something too conservative.

Nevertheless, do try to prepare and make an effort. It is an event, after all! However, we’re quite confident that you already thought of that!

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 colours: Certain colours 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, but it’s somewhat misguided. 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 colour 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 a bit silly.
  • “Sporty” details: Notched lapels, center vents, pocket flaps, and two- or three-button jackets are all country-inspired sartorial details and are actually 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.

For instance, let’s take a look at the following outfit that was worn by a celebrity:

Joey Fatone in black tuxedo

From what we can see, he did one thing right and opted for peak lapels (not pictured), and the jacket seems to have a one-button stance. Although you can’t see it due to how we cropped the photo, his beard and hair also look neatly groomed. With that said, he dropped the ball in many ways here:

  • He’s wearing a necktie with a sloppy knot.
  • The fit is overall poor.
  • He wore sneakers!

The celebrated and talented Laurence Fishburne comes closer, but unfortunately misses the mark:

Laurence Fishburn in orange jacket

Mr. Fishburne 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.

However, there are a few missteps:

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, notched lapels and a horn button, which are sporty details that don’t fit with black tie.

There’s also a necktie. Combined with the jacket, this outfit is neither suit nor tuxedo, leaving him in a sort of sartorial purgatory.

Creative Black Tie Summary

Again, creative black tie is a variant of black tie wherein you can add one colour to your ensemble to liven it up a bit. It is not an opportunity to dilute the tuxedo with sporty details, insane colours, or other ultra-trendy ideas.

If you simply add one colour 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.

What Next?

Now that you have read our guide to creative black tie, consider reading some of our related content:

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About The Author – Paul Anthony

Paul Anthony Sidebar PicPaul is a the founder and creative director of Bespoke Unit. His interests range from: suits, shoes, watches, sport, and travel. See his full profile here, and read latest articles.

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