How to do Black Tie: The ‘correct details’

Evening wear has changed over the years, but some details stay the same. THE RAKE dives into the origins to get the ultimate black tie’s essential rules manual. 

How to do Black Tie: The ‘correct details’

Black tie isn't merely a dress code; it's an ode to elegance and importance. This sartorial code signifies grand occasions – be it an awards ceremony, a milestone birthday soirée, or a prestigious ball. Dressing impeccably is non-negotiable.

Ironically, the inception of black tie in 1885 symbolized a loosening of ties, so to speak, among the well-to-do. Edward VII swapped his restrictive tailcoat for a blue silk smoking jacket and matching trousers crafted by Henry Poole & Co of Savile Row. This revolutionized evening attire, offering comfort without sacrificing formality.

However black tie is a nod to history and a commitment to making memories in style. We look back at the ‘correct details’ of the evening wear to get the ultimate manual to master black tie formalities in modern times. While some advice pertains to that era, the majority remains relevant.

The wing collar and the neckband of the dress shirt should have a forward slope. This slant not only gives a flattering neckline but contributes to greater comfort around the neck. 

Shirt bosoms should be short enough so that they do not extend below the waistband of the high-rise trousers to prevent them from bulging. Less width will also help to preclude ballooning bosoms.  

Pleated bosom shirts became more popular for wear with the evening jacket. The latest trend is toward many narrow pleats on each side. Those first set a fashion are wearing shirts of this type. 

Black woollen socks with white clocks are authentic alternates with clocked black silk or lisle socks for accenting evening clothes, formal or semi-formal.

Stiff bosom shirts always have stiff cuffs. Pleated bosom shirts, correct only with the dinner jacket, carry double cuffs. Sleeves should be long enough to show ½-inch of the shirt cuff below the coat sleeve. 

White butterfly bow ties are correctly worn in front of the collar wings with the tailcoat. The black or blue silk club-shape bow tie is gaining favor for wear with the dinner jacket.

The backless waistcoat, tailored either in white pique, black or midnight blue silk, has become an established fashion simply because the absence of extra fabric in back makes it much more comfortable than those with backs.

Grosgrain silk facings on lapels have widest acceptance for tailed coats and dinner jackets. The more lustrous satin-faced lapels, though less popular, have gained high fashion rating. 

The white knitted or woven silk muffler, invariably worn throwover fashion, may have an embroidered monogram as a personal note. Most widely used are the oblong shaped mufflers. 

White gloves are obligatory for formal and for semi-formal evening wear, White kid or mocha are acceptable with the tailcoat; white mocha good taste with the dinner jacket. (Indoor gloves were rarely worn even by this time other than for weddings.)

The pleated cummerbund in black, midnight blue or maroon silk may be substituted for the black, midnight blue or white waistcoat with the evening jacket; either the midnight blue or maroon being acceptable for resort wear. 

The tailcoat should be long enough to cover the waistcoat. In other words, the waistcoat should be short enough to be concealed by the sides of the tailcoat. 

The Hamburg hat in black or midnight blue felt is proper with the dinner jacket. The derby correctly worn for business or country is never acceptable with evening clothes.

The shiny high silk collapsible opera hat are the only two formal hats of established tradition to top off the tailcoat. 

Pleats of trousers for tailcoat or dinner jacket should have the folds opening toward the center. This gives proper fullness for appearance and comfort. 

Trousers should be long enough to break slightly over the instep. A single silk braid down the sides is acceptable; double braid with tailcoat, optional. 

The dark blue or oxford grey overcoat is expressive of evening formality. Other colors are definitely not in keeping with either the dinner jacket or tailcoat.

Illustrations: Esquire, November 1940