Together with David from Grey Fox blog I've put together a series of guides on dress codes. This is the first, on black tie, and there will be others to follow on morning dress, cocktail wear and smart/casual. They'll appear both on my blog and the Grey Fox blog, and we aim to make them handy go-to guides setting out the rules and requirements for each dress code, to ensure you don't make any embarrassing faux pas' whilst dressing to kill!
There are many variations on black tie in particular, especially on the red carpet but we'll be sticking to the traditional British style rules for our guidelines.
Your jacket should be black or midnight blue and have either a peak or a shawl collar which is trimmed in satin or grosgrain with covered buttons in the same fabric. The purists say it should NEVER have a notched lapel as that makes it too similar to a business suit, but there are many options (high and low end) sporting this collar shape.
Peaked lapels are a good choice if you have narrow shoulders (it diverts your eye out to your shoulders thus broadening them). If you have a very square face or very broad square shoulders then opt for a shawl collar which will soften the angles a little.
It's up to you if you wear double or single breasted according to your preference and figure shape, but if it's single breasted it's traditionally one button although two button is acceptable.
The original school of thought is that the line of evening wear should be as clean as possible, and that means jet pockets instead of flap pockets and no vents at the back. This rule has been greatly flouted though and many of the modern jackets have both these "forbidden" things. If going for vents, it's preferable to choose double over single for a more classic, elegant look.
Some think that grosgrain is superior to satin, and I'd be inclined to agree. If it's of a lesser quality, satin can easily look cheap, whereas I don't think grosgrain does.
The trousers should be in the same fabric as your jacket and have a matching single braid (double is for white tie) down the side in the same fabric as the facings on your jacket. They should have a side fastener rather than belt loops, and can be worn with braces. They should not have turn-ups at the hem.
Your evening shirt should have a Marcella or pleat front and a turn down collar - never a wing collar which is for white tie (although interestingly in his book "Dressing The Man", Alan Flusser gives this as an option - maybe it's an American thing?) It should have a double cuff and be worn with simple elegant cufflinks. Personally, I love the understated formality of the Marcella front, but with the revival of the seventies at the moment, I wonder whether the frill front will also be revived?!
This should be a self tie bow in either silk or grosgrain to match the lapel of your jacket. If you don't know how to tie it check out La Bowtique for the best video - as he says, it's just like tying your shoelaces. Also check out his guidelines on what shape bow tie to choose for your face shape.
Your socks should be in a fine knit black rib and calf length so as not to show any leg when sitting down.
It used to be a sartorial crime to show your trouser waistband so the cummerbund or waistcoat were worn to cover it. If wearing a waistcoat it should be a low cut single breasted style and usually has a shawl collar. Cummerbunds seem to be having a resurgence again, and I recently learnt that the pleats should be facing up - this is because dress trousers didn't used to have pockets, so it was a handy place in which to store your opera or concert ticket.
It's generally thought that cummerbunds work best with shawl collared jackets and waistcoats with a peaked lapel style.
A white linen or silk pocket square may be worn in the top pocket or if you’re going for a more contemporary look perhaps a spot one.
Patent or high shine Oxfords are the most fitting choice, although I've noticed patent Derbies also being worn (and shown in image 3). You could also wear dress slippers, as long as you feel confident wearing them. They're better suited to slim gentlemen, as on a heavy man they could look as if he has women's ballet pumps on. Avoid shoes that are too casual, chunky or extreme in taste.
See this post with David's comments over on the Grey Fox blog.