Your invitation arrives in the mail. Your cousin's getting married, or you've been invited to a formal business dinner and you're uncertain about what to wear. Sure, you know the occasion requires you arrive in a tuxedo because the "dress code" is stated on the invitation, but you're still not exactly sure what the dress code means.
Nothing's worse than showing up to a formal affair dressed improperly, and since no alpha male should ever be put in that position, the following Black Tie dress codes have been broken down and deciphered to take the guesswork out of dressing for the party.
Black Tie or Black Tie Required
Gentlemen, it gets no more formal and straight forward than this. If this is on the invitation, you can, without reservation, plan on wearing a formal tux with all the bells and whistles. For those who think differently and prefer to show up in your own version of black tie, stay home and don't embarrass yourself or your host. It's that simple. To wear anything other than a tuxedo is offensive and disrespectful to the host and other attendees.
Black Tie Preferred or Black Tie Requested
This pretty much says it all – the host prefers the guests to wear a tuxedo, since the affair is a formal one; however, the words preferred and requested indicate a tuxedo is not mandatory. Typically, the reason a host opts for this dress code is so that men who do not own, or cannot afford to rent a tux, are not excluded as guests. It's really very thoughtful and compromising on the part of the host or hostess, so don't abuse it. If you have access to a tuxedo, wear it, but if you don't, wear the most appropriate suit you own. Black is the color of choice, but if you don't own a black suit, dark suits in charcoal and navy are acceptable. Regardless of the color suit you wear, an elegant white dress shirt is the best option; however, if you have to default to a colored shirt, keep it solid and quiet. If you choose to wear a suit, dress it up with a fancy, stylish tie and dressy accessories that will elevate the status of the suit. You're not attending a business meeting, so conservatism is not the goal, but tastefully dressy is.
Black Tie Optional
Doesn't this mean the same thing as preferred and requested? Basically, yes, but the terminology is usually reserved for large civic and business gatherings, and is not normally found on private event invitations. The affair may be different, but the message is the same – wear a tux if you can, but, if not, resort to a suit. The dress code for this type of event is often looser and unfortunately violated, since the attendees often come from a diverse range of people; some of who may object to wearing a tux for personal reasons. Still, if wearing a tuxedo is not offensive, nor violates your personal belief system, show respect to the host by wearing a tuxedo. If not, apply the same dark suit guidelines found above.
Creative Black Tie
Don't do it unless you're headed to an MTV Music Award Ceremony! The "creative" piece of this code is a leftover from the 1980s when fashion knew no bounds. No surprise that this creative license was, and still is, primarily implemented by younger men wanting to express their individualism... and that it does, but not in a good way! Sure, we still see celebrities strutting their creative selves, but today's universal position on the matter is not what it used to be. Etiquette experts discourage this dress code across the board, no matter how old the gent is. Hosts should avoid the code because it tends to confuse the guests on how to dress, and guests should avoid falling for the bait. However, if you choose to get creative, limit it to the shirt, tie and accessories. For the rest who would rather not, it's totally acceptable (and recommended) to show up dressed in traditional tuxedo garb.
Today's tuxedo fashions offer men more options than ever before, regardless of the dress code. Following the recommended dress code is always the way to go; however, there can still be some uncertainty as to what that is, especially among those who don't often wear a tux. If you find yourself in this position, you can always phone the host or hostess and ask what's required, or discuss it with a professional at the tuxedo rental shop. Do whatever it takes to arrive looking like the best dressed man there!
by Aaron Marino