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Men's black tie dress

Black tie is a dress code for formal evening events, and is worn to many types of social functions. For a man, the major component is a jacket, known as a dinner jacket (British) or tuxedo (Canada and the U.S.), which is usually black but is also seen in midnight blue. A woman's corresponding evening dress ranges from a conservative cocktail dress to the long evening gown, determined by current fashion, local custom, and the occasion's time.

The term tuxedo is itself variously used in different parts of the world. It always refers to some form of dinner jacket, and sees most use in North America, where the term originated. There, it is commonly taken to mean a modern variation on the traditional black tie, while in Britain, it is sometimes used to refer to the white jacket alternative.


Black tie dates from 1860, when Henry Poole & Co. (Savile Rowmarker's founders), created a short smoking jacket for the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII of the United Kingdom) to wear to informal dinner parties as an alternative to white tie, the standard formal dress. At that time, lounge suits were starting to be worn in the country, and the new dress code was an evening lounge suit intended for use in a relaxed atmosphere out of town.

In the spring of 1886, the Prince invited James Potter, a rich New Yorker and his wife, Cora Potter, to Sandringham Housemarker, his Norfolk hunting estate. When Potter asked the Prince's dinner dress recommendation, he sent Potter to Henry Poole & Co., in London. On returning to New York in 1886, Potter's dinner suit proved popular at the Tuxedo Park Clubmarker; the club men copied him, soon making it their informal dining uniform. The evening dress for men now popularly known as a tuxedo takes its name from Tuxedo Park, where it was said to have been worn for the first time in the United States, by Griswald Lorillard at the annual Autumn Ball of the Tuxedo Clubmarker founded by Pierre Lorillard IV, and thereafter became popular for formal dress in America. Legend dictates that it became known as the tuxedo when a fellow asked another at the Autumn Ball, "Why does that man's jacket not have coattails on it?" The other answered, "He is from Tuxedo Park." The first gentleman misinterpreted and told all of his friends that he saw a man wearing a jacket without coattails called a tuxedo, not from Tuxedo.

While the Americans initially called the new garment a tuxedo, the term has since been inaccurately used, particularly in America, to denote any form of formal or semi-formal dress including white tie, morning dress, and stroller. Two years later, it gained the name dinner jacket (DJ) in Britain, a name it has also kept in the North-Eastern U.S.

The elements of black tie

Men in black tie attire.
However, they all lack one of the elements of traditional black tie: a waist covering (either a waistcoat or cummerbund).
Unlike white tie, which is very strictly regulated, black-tie ensembles can display more variation. In brief, the traditional components are:


The typical black-tie jacket is single-breasted, ventless, and black or midnight-blue; usually of wool or a wool–mohair blend. Double breasted models are less common, but are equally acceptable. The lapels may be faced with silk in either a grosgrain or a satin weave. Traditionally there are two lapel options, the shawl collar, derived from the smoking jacket, and the peak lapel, from the tailcoat. The former is older, while the latter is considered more formal. A third lapel style, the notched lapel, has only recently gained popularity, and has been accepted by some as "a legitimate ... less formal alternative," although, despite some precedent, it is disdained by purists for its lounge suit derivation. In France, and elsewhere, the jacket is called le smoking, the shawl-collared version is le smoking Deauvillemarker, while the peaked-lapel version is le smoking Caprimarker.

The double-breasted jacket is slightly more modern than the single-breasted, and less formal; while it was originally considered acceptable only for wear at home (similarly to Prince Albert slippers or a smoking jacket), it is now equally correct in all situations, though traditional rules regarding slightly different selections of accessories may be followed. While more common with a peaked lapel, a shawl lapel is appropriate. All buttons that can be done up, are, including any inner ones which might normally be left undone on a double-breasted lounge suit. While two-button variants are sometimes seen, the traditional single-breasted jacket has a one-button closure.

Black was known to take on a green hue in early artificial lights, hence midnight blue was introduced by the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor), and remains the only acceptable alternative colour for the standard dinner jacket.

The white dinner jacket is often worn in warm climates. It is usually ivory in colour rather than pure white, and does not have silk-faced lapels. It is worn with exactly the same clothes as a normal jacket, except for the most formal variations (such as a winged collar). In the U.S. and Canada a white dinner jacket is traditionally worn only from Memorial Day in the spring to Labor Day. (This rule applies also to white summer clothes, including shoes and suits.) In the UK, the traditional rule is that white dinner jackets are never worn, even on the hottest day of summer, but are reserved for wear abroad. Some exceptions to these rules are, in America, its use in high-school proms, and in Britain some concerts, famously for instance the Last Night. In other tropical climates, such as in Imperial Burma, the less formal colour was desert fawn.

A second alternative to the standard jacket is the smoking jacket, a less formal velvet jacket with a shawl lapel and silk frogging. As a house coat, it is correct to choose to not wear everything else required for full black tie under the smoking jacket.

It is poor manners for a man to remove his jacket during a formal social event, but when hot weather and humidity dictate, the rank man (of the royal family, the guest of honour) may give men permission by noticeably taking off his jacket. In anticipated hot weather Red Sea rig is specified in the invitation, although this dress is esoteric in civilian circles, and is particular to certain expatriate communities.


Black tie trousers have no turn-ups (cuffs) or belt loops. The outer seams are usually decorated with a single silk braid matching the lapel facing. Customarily, braces (suspenders) hold up the trousers; they are hidden by the waistcoat (if worn) or by the coat. The trousers traditionally feature a pleated front, flat-front trousers being a modern innovation in this context.

Waistcoat or cummerbund

The waist is dressed in either a waistcoat (vest in American and Canadian English) or a cummerbund when wearing a single-breasted coat. The waistcoat should be low-cut; traditional models may be of either the 'V' or rarer 'U' shape and may be backless or fully backed, double or single breasted, and should have shawl lapels. Single breasted styles should have no more than three buttons, and double no more than three rows. Before the War, while black tie was still gaining acceptance, men would wear a white waistcoat, along with other details such as stiff fronted shirts; this was to create a more formal effect when for example ladies were present.

The cummerbund, derived from military dress uniform in British India, is worn with its pleats facing up, and is normally of the same cloth as the bow tie and lapels. Maroon, the colour commonly worn to accompany black tie, may be used for the cummerbund in very informal or summer situations (though note that this is not to match the bow tie, which was always black). A cummerbund is never worn with a double breasted jacket, and a waistcoat now very rarely. Since this style of jacket is never unbuttoned, the waist of the trousers is never exposed, and therefore does not need to be covered, though before the war an edge of waistcoat was often shown between the jacket and shirt.

Recently, and particularly in America, it has become more common for men to remove their jackets. Because of this, full-back waistcoats have become more common; unlike the traditional waistcoat, these are often high, single breasted, and with the full five or six buttons of a daytime waistcoat.


Attached wing collar (of the half-collar shape, with longer wings than a standard attached wing collar) and fake bow-tie
The shirt is conventionally white or off-white (cotton or linen). Its front is either marcella, pleated, plain, or more rarely a stiff front (as with white tie).

Before World War II, stiff shirts with winged detachable collars were common, just as worn with white tie. However, such shirts are no longer common, and an imitation of this type, a semi-stiff shirt with an attached wing collar, has become very common, particularly in the U.S., although traditionalists reject the use of these new attached wing collars and argue that a shirt with a classic fold-down collar (as is found on a normal shirt) has become . So, many traditional shirt makers, particularly British ones such as Turnbull & Asser (except by special request), do not sell shirts with an attached wing collar. Indeed, the use of wing collars at all varies nationally, so for example in Britain the standard collar is a turn-down collar, as advocated by the Duke of Windsor.

The original and most formal version of the dress shirt fastens with matching shirt studs and cuff links. One can also wear a buttoned shirt with either a fly-front placket; if the buttons are visible (very informal) they should be mother-of-pearl. Soft shirts have French cuffs; stiff shirts (as in white tie) have single cuffs. The studs and links should be in silver or gold settings, featuring onyx or mother-of-pearl; various geometrical shapes may be worn, from circles (most common for studs), octagons, or rectangles (most common for links). Formal links (double links) have two faces connected by a rod or chain. Between silver or gold, there is no consistent traditional preference, but mother-of-pearl used to be reserved for white tie.

Bow tie

The black silk bow tie can be woven in barathea, faille, grosgrain, or satin and is knotted by hand. Its shape can be butterfly (tall), batwing (thin), or semi-butterfly (intermediate; this style is most common). A good quality synthetic bow-tie is untraditional, but hard to distinguish from silk in certain weaves. Particularly when wearing grosgrain lapels, weaves like barathea and grosgrain are favoured for being more discreet than reflective satins. A pre-tied bow tie may be seen as unattractive, or give the impression that the wearer has not yet learned to tie a necktie.

Some choose now not to wear the classic black bow tie, or even go so far as to wear matching non-black tie and cummerbund. As a contemporary alternative to highland dress, a tartan bow tie is very occasionally worn. At traditional events however these innovations are not acceptable.


Traditionally, the most formal shoes are patent-leather court shoes (opera pumps) decorated with a grosgrain bow, as worn with white tie. A more popular, less formal alternative is the black leather lace-up Oxford shoe, in patent leather or calfskin, with a rounded plain toe. Too informal for black tie are shoes with open lacing, such as the Derby shoe (Blüchers in the U.S.). Rare alternatives include the black button boot (primarily of only historical interest) and the monogrammed Albert slipper to be worn only at home.

Hosiery should be black, knee-high silk socks, traditionally held in place with suspenders (or garters in American English).


In general, the aim when choosing accessories is to keep colour to a minimum, as the whole aim of traditional monochrome formalwear was to be subtle, allowing the ladies to stand out in brighter colours. If colour is used, it always kept to a single colour, usually quite dark; muted reds, such as maroon, are a traditional choice.

Handkerchief and boutonnière: A white handkerchief in linen (silk and cotton are modern alternatives) is worn, as traditionally any breast pocket must be filled, and optionally an additional boutonnière (buttonhole) such as a blue cornflower, red or white carnation, or rosebud may be worn. In Francemarker, the boutonnière is usually a gardenia, and boutonnière and handkerchief may not be worn simultaneously.

Outerwear: Overcoats are black, Oxford grey, or dark navy Chesterfields. A guard's coat was also once popular, and a lighter topcoat can be worn in summer. Historically, an Inverness coat was also worn. Until recently gloves and scarf were always worn, and if chosen now they are still white kid and white silk.

Hat: The standard hat is a black (or midnight blue) Homburg; in summer, a straw boater is a rather Edwardian option. (Top hats may only be worn with white tie and morning dress.)

Timepiece: If worn, a wristwatch should be slender, plain, and elegant; alternatively, a pocket watch may be worn on the waistcoat. Traditionally, however, visible timepieces are not worn with formal evening dress, because timekeeping is not considered a priority.

Decorations and orders: Military, civil, and organisational decorations usually worn only to full dress events, usually of State or other sovereign organisations. Miniature orders and awards are typically worn on the left breast or left lapel of the jacket, and neck badges, breast stars, and sashes are worn according to country-specific or organisational regulations. Unlike white tie, where they are always permitted, the dress code will usually give some indication when decorations are to be worn with black tie.

Black-tie social occasions

Black tie is worn to private and public dinners, dances, and parties. At the formal end of the social spectrum, it has replaced white tie which was once standard evening dress. Black tie is worn only after six o'clock in the evening, or after sundown during winter months. Black tie's daytime equivalent is the stroller.

Corresponding forms of dress

Mess dress

In dining out formally, the armed forces officer and non-commissioned officer normally wear a mess uniform equivalent to the civilian black tie and evening dress. Stylistically, the mess uniform varies according to the wearer's regiment or corps, but usually comprises a short Eton-style coat reaching to the waist. Some include white shirts, black bow ties, and low-cut waistcoats, while others feature high collars that fasten around the neck and corresponding high-gorge waistcoats. Usually, mess uniforms are brightly-coloured (in the British Army scarlet is most common) and ornamented with gold and lace and gilt buttons, all corresponding to the colours of the regiment or corps of the wearer.

In the Royal Navy there is a distinction between "mess dress", which is worn at white tie events, and "mess undress", which is worn at black tie events. Both are worn with a black bow tie, however mess dress is worn with a white waistcoat instead of the usual colour, and may be worn with a stiff shirt and wing collar. The stiff shirt and wing collar were abolished for mess undress in the 1960s, and were made optional for mess dress in the 1990s.

Red Sea rig

In tropical areas, primarily in Western diplomatic and expatriate communities, Red Sea rig is sometimes worn, in which the jacket and waistcoat are omitted and a red cummerbund and trousers with red piping worn instead.

Scottish Highland dress

Scottish Highland dress is often worn to black and white tie occasions, especially at Scottish reels and céilidhs; the black tie version is more common, even at white tie occasions. Traditionally, black tie Scots Highland dress comprises:

  • Black jacket — Prince Charlie, Duke of Montrose, Sheriffmuir, Argyll, Regulation Doublet, and Brian Boru are suitable (a black or red mess jacket is also an option)
  • Black waistcoat
  • Kilt, a men's skirt-shaped garment made from tartan-patterned fabric
  • White shirt
  • Black bow tie
  • Black Ghillie brogues or black dress shoes
  • Kilt hose (monochrome, diced, tartan. Off-white hose are often seen but are deplored by some, such as the late David Lumsden of Cushnie)
  • Flashes
  • Dress sporran
  • Sgian dubh (optional)
  • Dirk (optional)

Traditional black tie Lowland dress comprises: black tie variant of the normal black tie, with tartan trews worn with a normal dinner jacket or a Prince Charlie jacket; trews are often worn in summer and warm climes.

A common white tie equivalent is a lace jabot over a collarless shirt, although it is also acceptable to wear a black bow tie for white tie (white bow ties are not traditionally worn with kilts). Regulation Doublets, Prince Charlie, Duke of Montrose, Sheriffmuir, and Argyll jackets are suitable.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary. (1989) 2nd. Ed. dates used

Further reading

  • Apparel Arts magazine, an account of 1930s fashion and style; some issues more relevant than others, such as those reproduced with comment at The London Lounge: Vol II. No. II and Vol I. No. III (numbering: London Lounge, not original)
  • The Black Tie Guide provides extensive background and references for most topics in this article
  • The Emily Post Institute provides a breakdown of traditional categories of progressing formality in dress for men & women.

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