How to Nail the Black Tie Optional Dress Code [Style Guide]
The black tie optional dress code is awesome—but what does it truly mean? Event dress codes are always a little tricky to interpret, especially for men. Luckily, the expert tailors at Oliver Wicks have prepared this handy guide to the ambiguous black tie optional dress code, just for you. We’ll walk you through what to wear to a black tie optional event, how it differs from both black tie and formal wear, and everything else you need to do to nail this dress requirement like a pro.
It isn’t as ambiguous as it sounds, luckily. It means you have the option to go with traditional black tie menswear, but you could also step down to a formal-appropriate suit without being out of place.
For weddings, it’s typically an indicator that the bridal party will be in full black tie, but they’re giving their guests some flexibility. In short, they’d really like everyone to be in black tie, but understand that some people won’t be able to be, and would then like their most formal dress possible. It is sometimes introduced as “black tie invited” or “black tie encouraged.”
It goes without saying that you need garments that aren’t just appropriate, but which also fit you well and look elegant on you. As the Oliver Wicks slogan goes, the suit that fits you! If you’ve received a black tie optional invitation, make sure your chosen wardrobe fits well and looks smart.
So, how do you build a stylish look that will fit the occasion and the dress code? While there’s some flexibility built into this dress code, that flexibility can be intimidating to work around. How do you decide what to wear to a black tie optional wedding? Let’s take a look.
First up, remember that this dress code still allows for full black tie wear to be worn. If this is a wedding, and you’re concerned about “showing up” the bridal party, you can put those concerns aside. As we mentioned above, most couples (and event organizers) will choose “black tie optional” when they want the guests to wear black tie, but understand that some people won’t be able to meet the standard and therefore, don’t mind a slightly less formal look. So, you can’t go wrong with actual black tie wear.
For the ladies, black tie requires a full-length evening gown and can be a little intimidating to dress for. For us men, however, we luck-in—there’s a very set look for men’s black tie, and you honestly don’t have to overthink this one.
If you want to go for a full black tie look with minimal hassle, a tuxedo is your default. You absolutely cannot go wrong with a black tuxedo, a proper white pleated-front shirt (or “bib front”) made for tuxedos, shirt studs or cufflinks, black formal shoes—like Oxfords or patent leather shoes in black—and a black bowtie. You can use discreetly hidden braces, or opt for a cummerbund or waistcoat if you prefer. Keep your accessories sleek, classic, and minimal, and you are sorted.
However, there is an alternate black tie standard that is acceptable for men—the “tropical black tie,” or an ivory dinner jacket, crisp white dress shirt and subtle cufflinks, black tuxedo trousers, formal black leather shoes (again, Oxfords will always work), and the same black bow tie and accessories that you’d use with a tuxedo. While white and white-adjacent shades are typically forbidden at weddings, an ivory dinner jacket is an exception to the rule—but, other than your dress shirt, keep white out of the rest of your attire.
If you’re looking for safe, tried-and-tested, and easy-to-choose men’s attire for a black tie optional wedding, both of the above classic black tie outfits will serve you well.
There is a little flexibility in this dress code, you don’t have to dress in a full black tie dress code. However, the happy couple will be trusting you not to take it to extremes—a wedding is never the time to strut your stuff in an attempt to show up the bride! And this is still a very, very formal dress code, so you shouldn’t get sloppy.
However, you can depart from the black tuxedo a little if you’d like to show some personality. If the event is in the evening, it is always wise to stay with somber, elegant colors, but a charcoal or navy tux is also perfectly acceptable. If the event is earlier in the day, a stately maroon or forest green will work too.
Likewise, you could replace the traditional ivory dinner jacket in the ‘tropical black tie” option with an elegant dinner jacket in navy, charcoal, or maroon/forest green for earlier events. While a black bow tie is, strictly speaking, the only appropriate color, you could get away with one that matches your jacket or tuxedo, or one with a pattern for some visual interest. Tread lightly, however.
One last thing on this - Don’t feel that you have to ‘spice up’ a traditional black tie outfit. A sleek black tux/white shirt is a tried and tested, well-respected combo. Some gents feel that they need to ‘do more’ with it… but that really isn’t the case. Less is often more - Especially with the classics!
If you’d like to use the black tie with a dinner jacket look we explained above, know that the pants should always be smart, black tuxedo pants. How do these differ from regular suit or dress pants? It’s pretty easy! If you’ve ever looked at a tuxedo closely, you’ve doubtless noticed the satin lapels that characterize the jacket. Tuxedo pants, similarly, have a subtle strip of self-colored satin running down the outside leg seam. While you will get away with formal black dress pants with the dinner jacket in black tie optional, it’s not strictly correct. However, if this is the case, make sure they are tapered (come into the ankle), smartly pressed, and fit you impeccably.
Not sure how to know if your trousers are a great fit? Did you know that the expert tailors at Oliver Wicks have compiled a simple, easy-to-follow series of measurement and fitting videos that will have you powered up to find the best possible fit in less than 15 minutes? And they’re free, with no purchase necessary! All you need to do is hop over to our website and create an account. You’ll find the link at the top of every page on our website.
If you do not have easy access to a full black tie look, what can you do? Black tie optional wedding men’s attire actually leaves room for you to draw from the full formal dress code. A dark and smart suit, white dress shirt with cufflinks, and a conservative tie with black leather formal shoes (you guessed it—Oxfords will always be appropriate) and dark socks are perfect.
Rather than a black suit, which is a little funerary, we suggest a crisp navy or dark charcoal as classics that can’t go wrong. Many of the custom-made-to-measure suits we offer will work for black tie optional. Keep your accessories understated and elegant—think a nice dress watch, metallic and simple cufflinks (if you’re opting for french cuffs), and a pocket square that coordinates with your outfit. If your suit requires a belt, use simple black leather to match your shoes and keep the buckle conservative (no big logos or excessive ‘bling’).
As you probably won’t wear a bowtie with this look, you can use an elegant tie. We suggest sticking with the shade spectrums we’ve mentioned above, as you don’t want to get too splashy and attention-seeking with this dress code—blues, deep reds or greens, and silvery to dark grays. A subtle pattern would be acceptable, but it should be conservative—something you’d wear for business formal or business casual, rather than something for fun.
You’ve likely noticed that even on the topic of expressing personality, we’re still being quite reserved with our recommendations. That’s because the goal of this dress code, to a certain extent, is to blend in. If you’re a guest at a formal event, then your outfit shouldn’t be taking any attention away from the hosts, or theme of the night.
“Formal Dress” is often a bit of an iffy one to interpret. Sometimes the guests really mean “Black Tie”, or “Black Tie Optional”, but they may also just mean formal suits. If we see this on an invitation, our first move is to call up the hosts, and ask for clarification. Don’t feel silly doing this, at all! If anything, they’ll appreciate the effort you’re making to adhere to what they’re looking for. One clue that you can look for is to check the time of day of the event - If it’s in the evening, it’s more likely, but not guaranteed, to be a call for Black Tie… but make that phone call to be sure!
In a black tie optional dress code, it is best thought of in terms of the other tag we mentioned above—black tie preferred. They’d really like you to come in menswear that fits the black tie dress code, which is tuxedos. If you don’t have the means or interest to do this, however, a formal suit is still acceptable. If this were black tie instead of black tie optional, these formal suit choices would not be options.
Hopefully, you now feel fully confident to build a black tie optional look that will be elegant and classic without upstaging the bridal party or looking out of place. Remember that at its most basic, black tie optional means you can choose from black tie wear or formal dress codes, but lean toward the most formal look that you can.
So what should you avoid? Let’s take a look at some faux pas people often commit with this dress code.
As we have examined, you have a little more leeway with colors than for full black tie. But this look still needs to be elegant and somber. A day event with black tie optional will leave a tiny bit more room for colors, but nothing bright or flashy at all. And no pastels, pale linens, and so on, for example, as you’d find at less formal summer weddings.
Use white with caution - It’s ok for shirts and pocket squares, but not much more. The ivory dinner jacket is the only exception to that rule. White is reserved for the bride, (or host/speaker, if it’s not a wedding, but they want to stand out at an event).
White tie, the most formal dress code, and a step above black tie, requires gents to wear gloves with their tuxedos. This is inappropriate with full black tie, so it is completely off the table for black tie optional.
Black leather dress shoes that aren’t too flashy are the go-to here. While you can use shiny patent leather dress shoes with a black tuxedo, nothing else will cut it. So, no brown, no sneakers, no comfy loafers, no elaborately punched leather, and so on.
Yes, we’ve seen some flashy designer sneakers on black tie red carpets among celebs in recent years, but it’s not for elegant eventing.
With a tuxedo, you need a black bowtie at Black Tie level. A regular black tie may be ok at Black Tie Optional… but that’s risky, and we wouldn’t recommend it. With a formal suit, you can use a smart tie. And whatever you do, make sure you have one of the two! No open necks for this dress code.
Suit singles always cause a bit of confusion at events. We did mention the ivory dinner jacket and the possibility of using a navy or charcoal alternative. However, this means a full and proper dinner jacket, with the “fancy” silk or satin lapels that make them look very much like a tuxedo jacket. Not the classic blazer or sports coat! While those garments are elegant additions to any man’s wardrobe, they are a no for this occasion.
And there you have it! That sneaky little “optional” may at first have looked scary in this dress code, but it really isn’t. Now you know how to master this look like the pro you are, you can tackle any black tie optional dress code with confidence and style.
While the Oliver Wicks tailors are best known for their exquisite European and Italian-inspired made-to-measure suits, did you know that we can also tailor a tuxedo for you, from ANY fabric? ? All are still covered by the 365-day tailoring promise that comes with every Oliver Wicks garment.
If you’re looking to find yourself the perfect black tie optional tuxedo/formal suit, or need help assembling the perfect look, tailoring the garments you want to wear, or anything else, our helpful team is always available at email@example.com to answer any queries. So, don’t be shy to reach out to us today!