Formal dress, also referred to as “formal wear” and often used synonymously with “black tie” by many, is a term used to describe the formality of the attire worn at social events such as weddings, balls and dances, and award ceremonies. Rules of dress etiquette within the category of “formal dress” are classified as black tie, black tie preferred, black tie optional and creative black tie. Although the rules of formal dress apply mostly to men, women can usually deduce the appropriate attire given the hour and location of the function.
Black tie is the most formal of the formal wear dress. For men, the crux of the black tie event is the tuxedo. The tuxedo consists of a short, black coat with silk lapels and matching black trousers with a ribbon of silk running down the side of each leg. Although the style of tuxedo is optional, what is obligatory is a stiff, white formal shirt paired either with a black bow tie and cummerbund, or a matching black vest and tie. Also a must are black socks and black, patent leather formal dress shoes. For women, knee-length fancy cocktail or full-length dresses, or dressy separates, are appropriate. Women should also wear simple yet classy jewelry.
Black Tie Preferred
If your invitation says “black tie preferred,” you can assume the host prefers for all party-goers to dress in more formal attire. However, this gives men some leeway if they are not able to afford a traditional black tie ensemble. Although they may choose to go with formal black tie attire, a white dinner jacket or a dark, more contemporary-looking tuxedo will suffice. Although acceptable, non-formal suits might be too informal for some black tie occasions.
Black Tie Optional
Black tie optional is a dress code more accepting of less formal attire, particularly for women. Although men should still opt to wear some variation of the classic black tuxedo, it’s women who have more freedom to express themselves through their dress. Straying away from the conventional black cocktail or evening dress, women can choose more non-traditional colors or accessories that add a punch of style to what can become an otherwise stuffy affair.
Creative Black Tie
Creative black tie requires men to wear a tuxedo jacket but allows for more personal expression with regard to the color of the dress shirt and print of the corresponding accessories. This is perhaps one of the most confusing choices for men, though, and can, unfortunately, end in a disastrous faux-pas. As a result, creative black tie can make a laughingstock of many men.
Unless you are well-versed in formal dress etiquette, it’s best to consult with the host or party planner if you are unsure what constitutes proper attire. For men, a tuxedo is always appropriate for any black tie event. Women should make their selection with respect to the type and location of the function, as well as the time of day. If the cost of the attire is an issue, consider renting your tuxedo and dress from a formal attire or bridal store rather than purchasing them.