How to wear black tie without wearing black

Model 2 wearing a Navy Velvet Paisley Jacket

Stand out from the crowd in your alternative black tie outfit
Image: Navy Paisley Velvet Jacket from Samuel Windsor

Your invitation says black tie, but is there really any need to be quite so conformist? If you’re the sort of chap who takes sartorial elegance seriously, you’ll be interested to know that black is not your only evening wear option. In fact gents, colour is what makes your black tie outfit stand out from the crowd.

What is black tie?

Buy a selection of contrasting waistcoats to liven up a traditional black dinner suit

Buy a selection of contrasting waistcoats to liven up a traditional black dinner suit
Image source: Samuel Windsor evening wear

There is in fact no such thing as black tie because traditionally, a dinner jacket and trousers is midnight blue. The dress code we think of as being the smartest of all – bar white tie – is in fact a dressed down version of late 19th century evening wear designed by future king Edward VII who was fed up with sitting on his tails.

Keeping the bow tie, silk lapels, but ditching the uncomfortable straggly bits, the outfit soon made its way across the pond where it was taken up with gusto at the Tuxedo Club of New York – hence the American term for the ensemble. So that’s black tie – under artificial lights, midnight blue looks darker.

White jacket

A white dinner jacket is ideal on a cruise

A white dinner jacket is ideal on a cruise
Image source: Samuel Windsor evening wear

Taking a cruise? You’ll never get a better nor more appropriate opportunity to wear your white dinner jacket than when cruising the Med, the Nile, or any other warm weather location. The fact that white is colour of the Royal Navy’s tropical uniform is justification enough – a maritime setting is the perfect place to wear white.

Failing that, a white dinner jacket tends to be a summer only option. Wear yours with midnight blue or black trousers, and you’ll stand out without looking like a milky bar on legs. If blazing white is too stark for your colouring, pick from the wide range of cream fabrics on offer.

Alternative colours

Try a coloured velvet jacket with matching waistcoat

Try a coloured velvet jacket with matching waistcoat
Image source: Samuel Windsor evening wear

Of course if you happen to be a member of HM armed forces, you’ll have your own colourful drinking costume – sorry – mess dress to wear to the ball. But for the rest of us, looking like a mad parrot is somewhat more problematic. That fine arbiter of dress codes, Debrett’s has this to say:

“In the country for dinner parties with neighbours, and especially in his own home, a man may wear a velvet smoking jacket, usually navy blue, burgundy or dark green, with a black bow tie, dinner jacket trousers and evening slippers.

Natty waistcoats

Model 1 wearing an Emerald Waistcoat from Samuel Windsor

Add a touch of luxury with velvet
Image: Emerald Waistcoat from Samuel Windsor

If it’s not your party, but you still like the idea of throwing some colour at your black tie outfit, your best and most appropriate option is to wear a coloured waistcoat under your dinner jacket. This way, you have formal covered but retain a little of your individuality – try a crushed velvet waistcoat, the texture adds interest and never goes out of fashion.

If you do choose to wear a coloured waistcoat, do bear in mind that later, when you strut your stuff to ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees, you’ll be the focus for anyone with a phone. Don’t be surprised when your swanky moves make it onto Facebook. Just saying.

Texture

A navy polka dot jacket provides a subtle twist

A navy polka dot jacket provides a subtle twist
Image source: Samuel Windsor evening wear

If you’d like to sport a slightly different take on black tie, but don’t want to go for a coloured jacket, black velvet ticks most of the conventional dinner suit boxes, but with a warm and luxurious textured feel.

Feeling a little more adventurous? A navy polka dot jacket could be the way to go. The important thing to remember with colours and textures is not to overdo it. If you’re going for a full velvet suit, keep your look monochromatic, and if you’re wearing a bright jacket and/or waistcoat, stick to the traditional navy or black for the rest of your ensemble.

Accessories

Add a blue cummerbund and bow tie for an elegant dash of colour

Add a blue cummerbund and bow tie for an elegant dash of colour
Image source: Samuel Windsor evening wear

Nothing sets a black tie outfit off better than a pair of patent leather Oxfords, a matching cummerbund and bow tie, a silk pocket square, and a decent set of cufflinks. But no more. The key to black tie success is simple elegance. Keep your look refined, with just a hint of colour and you’ll turn heads, not stomachs.

Tell us what you think. Do you dare to wear colour at black tie events? Leave us a comment below or visit our Facebook page. We’d love to see your photos!

Posted in How To - Style.

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