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Black Tie Etiquette - Rathbones Tailor

Black Tie Etiquette - Rathbones Tailor


You’ve received an invitation, dress code: Black Tie. For some, this might instigate panic. What do they mean black tie? Any suit with a black tied tie? A black suit with a bow tie? What if the bow tie isn’t black? Does my outfit still meet Black Tie dress code regulation?!

First things first, Black Tie or Tuxedo or Dinner Jacket? Which is which and what am I expected to wear? In fact, they are all variations of the same outfit! Boiled down: Black Tie is the dress code, the Tuxedo (American) or Dinner Jacket (British) are what you wear. For ease, in the rest of this article we will refer to the complete outfit as the Tuxedo.

The traditional components for a tuxedo are a tuxedo jacket, trousers, waistcoat or CUMMERBUND, dress shirt, bow tie and black socks & shoes. However, as previously mentioned, these aren’t a dress code straitjacket like the WHITE TIE dress code, but leave room for personal preference and flavour.

The Jacket: A single or double breasted tuxedo jacket in BLACK, MIDNIGHT BLUE or WHITE (usually associated with hotter climates) with silk lapels. It is these silk lapels that will identify most easily a tuxedo jacket from a regular black suit jacket.

The Trousers: A black or midnight blue trouser (to match your jacket) with a slight taper and a single silk or satin braid covering the outer seams.

As with the function of the waistcoat (see later) the braiding is to hide any connecting seams to give the sense of seamlessness. Very smart indeed! If you opt for a different coloured jacket (eg white/burgundy) then go for a black trouser. Note: to keep tuxedo trousers up, one should use braces, not a belt. Although your waist covering (waistcoat/cummerbund) will obscure it from view, a belt is not the traditional method for hoisting ones tuxedo trousers.

The Waist Covering: Remember the seamless elegance? Well where your shirt meets your trousers you’ll want to cover that with the help of a waistcoat (same colour as your jacket) or CUMMERBUND. Traditionally the cummerbund is of the same colour as your trousers. There are more colourful alternatives available, however Rathbones Tailor suggests that if you take a colourful cummerbund you do not match your bow tie. Less really is more with black tie. Note: cummerbund pleats face upwards.

The Shirt: A white dress shirt with a bibbed front. Double (French) cuffs and either a wing or turn down collar. Whereas in America the wing collar is most popular with the black bow tie, here in the UK the classic turn down collar is considered more appropriate. The flash of black around the neck is considered unsightly. Remember, seamless elegance.

The Bowtie: Traditionally a black or midnight blue bow tie depending on your jacket colour. However, as previously mentioned, an injection of colour is available through the bow tie. You can never go wrong with black, but if you opt for a more colourful approach then avoid matching it to other accessories (cummerbund/hankie) or people might gather round expecting a magic trick!

The Shoes and socks: Pure and simple, keep it black. A black patent leather shoe is most traditional however a polished black shoe is more than acceptable. A flash of a colourful sock, though not traditional, can be fun. Just limit the colours in the overall outfit.

The Hankie: Although small, the effect can be mighty! Traditionalists will say a white/off white pocket square is all one needs for detail. Try telling Frank Sinatra who was famous for his orange hankie while donning black tie. Less is definitely more with black tie, but if you’re confident enough to throw a bold colour in your top pocket then let the rest of the ensemble be classic blacks and whites.

So there you have it. Black Tie dress code demystified! Time to head out on the town with full confidence in your ensemble. All outfits in the BLACK TIE & TUXEDO section of Rathbones Tailor adhere to these rules, a black tie safety net shall we say.


  1. A tuxedo jacket differs from a suit jacket mainly because of its lapels, which are silk fronted and more decorative in shape.
  2. If going off piste with your jacket colour keep the trousers black.
  3. Seamless elegance: silk braid on outer leg of tux trousers, waistline covered, turn down collar.
  4. Less is more! If you want to inject a bit of colour then keep it to a minimum. Avoid matching accessories or you risk being mistaken for the entertainment.
  5. Whatever you decide to wear, stand tall and wear it with confidence. You now know what to wear and why and the tuxedo is one of the most flattering looks. Try to avoid Sean Connery impressions, although after a couple of vodka martinis it’ll be forgiven.