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Style Basics

What does black tie optional mean? (Dress codes explained)

By on July 28th, 2014

So you’re on the guest list for a black tie event. Good for you. But looking closely at the invitation, it’s a bit confusing. What does black tie optional mean? Is that a tuxedo? A dark suit? Something else?!

Now you have to figure out what to wear. Sure you know it’s black tie and all men know what black tie means, right? Well, if you’ve been to a black tie event before, the answer is a ‘ya, not so much.’

At some point, most guys find themselves asking the question “what does black tie mean?” Use this article as a cheat sheet and share it with your style challenged friends.

Black tie events

Black tie, black tie required and black tie only really mean the same thing:

You need to (get to!) wear a tuxedo.

And don’t think this is a bad thing. Really, it just means you get to channel your inner James Bond for an evening.

Here’s the thing to bear in mind: Hosts that organize a black tie event have gone to great lengths to offer an elegant evening. So this is not the time to make a style statement and try to set yourself apart (we’re looking at you, grey suit sans tie). There are plenty of times to push the boundaries of men’s style, but this isn’t one of them.

And a lot of these events are really about the women. Think about it, you have all the men in black and white, more or less acting as a background to the colorful and elegant dresses that women wear.

So find yourself a great looking tuxedo with a white pocket square and you’ll be all set.

What if your invitation says Black Tie Preferred?

So this designation gives you a little more leeway. If you can’t afford a dinner jacket (tuxedo) then the host is basically saying that it’s OK to wear a dark suit and tie. However, if you have a tux hanging in the closet or you can rent one, then you need to wear it.

If a tuxedo is not an available option then grab your darkest suit and buy a black tie. White shirt of course. By the way, if you need a refresher, here’s an article on the difference between a tuxedo and a suit.

A note to hosts: Be clear!

The difficult thing about all these designations is that anything other than black tie required can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Young guys have a tendency to dress too casual whereas others may feel that they will overdress and so on.

What happens is that you have an event that just turns into a gathering that looks a lot like a business meeting. Yikes!

So, if you’re planning your own formal event, you’ll save us all a whole lot of pacing outside the closet by just being clear in your wording.

Wrap up: what does black tie optional mean?

And let’s not forget, your significant other was probably already in the car and on her way to a boutique to buy her dress before you even finished telling her about the event. So you better dress like a man she wants to stand next to!