Black Tie Breakdown


The appearance of Black Tie on an invitation indicates unequivocally that the host expects tuxedos to be worn.  Black Tie Required or Black Tie Only means the same thing but can come across as heavy-handed.  Hosts should avoid the latter unless they are certain that there will be guests too naïve or inconsiderate to infer the mandatory nature of the former.

There will likely be those few guests who will wrongly interpret Black Tie to simply mean “formal” and arrive in whatever they feel appropriately dressy.  A gracious host will excuse the appearance of the uninformed among them, viewing the transgression as a valuable learning experience for these guests.  As for the willfully inconsiderate, the host’s congeniality need last only as long as the evening.


Wear proper black tie or send your regrets.  It’s that simple.

Hosts and organizers do not specify this dress code because they want you showing up in a black suit.  Rather, they have put a tremendous amount of effort into making the evening exceptional and are relying on you to respect the unique elegance and traditional uniformity that black tie so brilliantly imparts.  Yet there always seem to be those men who feel the party is all about them and they can dress as they please.  “Some guys,” observed The National Post, “especially younger fellows who feel they’re really successful, take pride in flouting dress codes and showing up in business suits, often not dark, and without a tie . . . Perhaps kids think it’s too much trouble to rent or buy a black tie.  Grow up or don’t show up.”

And if you’re tempted to make an ironic statement, carefully consider the advice ofDetails Men’s Style Manual:  “Don’t try to bring back lost styles.  You might think you’re sending up the self-serious but you’re really just being rude.”

“Black Tie Preferred”, “Black Tie Requested”


This terminology is used by those who want to host a very formal party but do not want to exclude guests that cannot afford a tuxedo.


Invited guests genuinely unable to meet the expense of buying or even renting a dinner jacket may wear a dark suit and tie instead.  Guests that own or can easily afford a dinner jacket but cannot be bothered to wear one should politely decline the invitation.  To do otherwise is boorish as it tells the organizers in no uncertain terms that their preferences are irrelevant.

“Black Tie Optional”


Black Tie Optional (or Black Tie Invited) allows hosts to suggest that men wear tuxedos but not to insist on it.  This code is often employed in the context of large gatherings of civic or business groups, such as a dinner sponsored by a chamber of commerce.

The reality, though, is that this dress code is basically the formal equivalent of “business casual”: an attempt to please everyone that ultimately benefits no-one.  As Canadian fashion columnist Russell Smith explains in Men’s Style, it is frequently a cop-out employed by insecure hosts:

It means that the planners of the party began by envisioning a glittering formal affair, with neatly groomed men in stark black and white as sober backdrops for the dramatic colour and flashes of flesh of the women.  And so they wrote “Black Tie” on the invitations – and then immediately had doubts . . . What if we are excluding those without resources to own a dinner jacket?  What if we are insulting the men with beards and Jethro Tull albums who don’t believe in such elitist dress and who may refuse on principle to come to such a stuffy affair?

Consequently, these hesitant hosts deprive men of the reassurance and clarity they seek from a precise dress code, forcing them instead to partake in a no-win guessing game.  If the large majority of men decide to wear dinner jackets then the minority who dress in suits may appear inconsiderate and classless.  Conversely, if the majority shows up in suits then the minority will likely feel put out.

Smith advises party planners that such anxieties are illogical.  Firstly, no guest in this day and age will honestly expect to be barred from a Black Tie party if he can only afford a dark suit.  Secondly, the “optional” aspect will be gleefully seized upon by the Jethro Tull brigade (described by Smith “rock music critics or Canadian novelists”) as permission to show up in their comfy sweaters thus guaranteeing a motley party instead of the swank affair envisioned by the host.  As for the sensitive men who feel that owning a dinner jacket would be vaguely decadent?  “Well, if they are opposed to decadent glamour,” says Smith, “then they shouldn’t want to attend the party at all.”


Guests faced with the frustrating dilemma posed by tepid hosts that can’t decide between the standard “Black Tie” and “Business Attire” codes should contact the organizers to find out how they expect their guests will actually dress.  If this information is not available then experts offer a number of choices that are perfectly kosher:

if a man enjoys any opportunity to wear his tuxedo he should do so (this was Frank Sinatra’s preferred solution to the “optional” conundrum)

if a man fears being mistaken for the wait staff he should opt for a dark suit, white dress shirt, conservative tie, dress socks to match the suit and well-shined calfskin dress shoes

if a man refuses to play this no-win guessing game he should steer clear of the event altogether

“Creative Black Tie”


This designation is defined by Emily Post’s Etiquette as a “tuxedo combined with trendy or whimsical items” (usually related to the party’s theme) which most experts suggest be limited to the shirt, tie or accessories.  GQ’s Style Guy describes it as “Dressing like the fashion victims you see on the Oscars.  Tuxedos with black shirts.  Tuxedos with no ties.  Tuxedos with bolo ties.”

However, the details are largely irrelevant because the code should be avoided by hosts out of consideration for their guests.  As Russell Smith points out, “If the words ‘black-tie optional’ on an invitation hit a panic button for most men, the words ‘creative black tie’ are even worse.  Who would want to go to a party, unless it’s a fancy dress ball, to be judged by his costume?”

It appears that party planners are getting the message judging by a 2008 Wall Street Journal article titled “Uncreative Black Tie Please” which reported on a backlash brewing against “goofy” dress codes.  It quotes a spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute as saying that “The range of options can often be more frustrating rather than helpful for the invited” and that good manners require a host to make guests feel comfortable, not insecure.  A Fort Lauderdale event planner who learned her lesson the hard way tells the newspaper “I would rather throw a party and receive 25 calls after, saying ‘What a great party that was,’ than [get] 25 calls beforehand asking, ‘What does this mean?’”

The moral of the story: leave the Black Tie code to its intended purpose of providing clarity, uniformity and sophistication.


Guests should be equally leery of this unfortunate by-product of 1980s glitterati.  The expert consensus is that only those men who are well versed in sartorial style and the fundamentals of proper black tie can ascertain what type of ensemble successfully qualifies for this category.  In the hands of the uneducated it can all too easily be used to degrade the venerable dinner jacket into a sophomoric gimmick.  As Smith so succinctly puts it, “There is nothing more pathetic than a failed flamboyant.”  Black-tie aficionados should instead heed the advice of A Gentleman Gets Dressed Up which reminds us that when confronted with such “clever” dress codes as Creative Black Tie, “a gentleman has every right to dress as traditionally as he chooses.”

Some Style Terms All Men Should Know.

The Button-Down Collar Shirt is one of those all-important pieces that remains a cornerstone of American style.

The Cardigan‘s staying power is remarkable in and of itself, but it becomes even more extraordinary when you consider that the design reaches back to the 1850s.

Cufflinks date back to the reign of French king Louis XIV, when they were known as “sleeve buttons.”

Pinstripes were about as flamboyant as it got in the ’20s, which made it a natural favorite for mobsters and rum-runners during the Prohibition Era.

Sport Shirts and Dress Shirts

What’s the easiest way to tell the difference between a dress and a sport shirt?

The lines are a bit blurred and there are exceptions on both sides of the fence, but in general, dress shirts tend to be more conservatively styled and colored since they’re meant for, well, being dressed formally. They tend to have stiffer collars (to withstand things like neckties underneath them and suit jacket lapels on top of them).

Sport shirts get away with more patterns, bigger and bolder patterns, pockets, epaulets, decorative stitching and buttons, button-down collars, etc. Sport shirts can get away with collars that are less stiff.

Guide to the Pinstripe Suit

Pinstripes are nothing more than a pattern of very thin stripes, commonly found on suits. Such suits used to be considered too formal to be worn outside business meetings and 9-to-5 jobs. However, leading designers soon realized they can make this pattern work for a wider range of social situations… So they started to include pinstripe suits more and more in their collections.

The stripes are more or less visible from a distance, depending on the contrast they make with the suit’s color.

When can you wear a pinstripe suit?

Pinstripe suits are suitable for a wide array of occasions. Wear them at…

  • weddings
  • business meetings
  • formal dinners
  • restaurants, at special occasions




1. Fit your shirt, back side facing up, over the rectangular end of your board (not the pointy end). Moisten the shirt with a water-filled spray bottle if it’s not damp.


2. Finish ironing the back and flip the shirt over to the front. Pull the shirt down so the shoulder seam lies flat on the board and iron out the wrinkles. Repeat on the other shoulder.


3. Take the shirt off the board, flip the collar up, and lay it down so the back of the collar faces up. Spray and iron. Then fold a crease in the collar and iron it in.


4. Lay a sleeve lengthwise on the board and, pulling it taut from the cuff with one hand, iron it with the other. Keep it rotating so you don’t iron a crease into it—your sleeve shouldn’t look 2-D. Then open the cuff and lay it flat so the inside faces up. Iron. Repeat with the other cuff.







The Straight Point

Think superminimal American style, not the oversize big-tie-knot Italian look.

The Button-Down

The old-school all-American look. Has never gone out of style and never will.

The Semispread

Perfectly balanced. Not too wide or narrow. Not too hip or square.

The Spread

Got a Wall Street power suit? Pair it with a spread collar and a substantial tie.

Dress to Impress

Interviews are a crucial time to make a lasting first impression. You absolutely must give off the impression that you’re a serious,dependable person.

Wear either a suit or a pair of chinos paired with a blazer. The dress shirt is a must. The only accessories you can wear during an interview to give off that professional vibe are watches and ties.

A word of caution about dressing for an interview: don’t overdo it. You need to impress your potential employee through your knowledge first and foremost. You don’t want to take the focus off that by wearing colors that are too bright.

Importance of a Well Fit Shirt

Some guys just buy their shirts in small, medium, or large. No wonder they don’t fit so well. You should know your measurements—neck size and arm length—and not just for the sake of it. These numbers are the key to making you look better. If your collar is so loose it hangs off your neck, or so tight it makes your face blush, you’re stuck with it. So take action—get measured.

Make sure you can comfortably fit one finger between the collar and your neck. If two fingers fit, the collar’s too big.

The Odd Jacket

Blazers, Suits and Sports Jackets

Add jacket refers to any blazer that was designed without an accompanying pair of coordinating pants. Over time, the odd jacket evolved into a highly versatile piece and became even more flexible as a must-have wardrobe item — with the acceptance of jeans as day-to-night wear. The odd jacket often has distinctive detailing, such as an unusual design, unexpectedly placed pockets or is composed of off beat fabrics.