How to wear black tie - the dress code explained

Clients have been asking me recently about dinner suits and where to buy them. Invariably they're not keen to spend too much money on the outfit as it doesn't get worn too much. Here are the high street ones I recommended to them and to go with it, I've written a guide to wearing black tie. You know what they say - "you have to know the rules before you break them" (and plenty do) but at least you'll be informed on what to look for and then you can make your choice.

Reiss dinner jacket with trousers - personal styling advice for men

"Poker" black peak lapel dinner jacket - Reiss - £295 (Nice peak lapel with one button  fastening but it does have double vents at the back)

"Poker" black tuxedo trousers - Reiss - £135 (These have no side stripe, but instead have some satin facing at the waistband)


Your jacket should be black or midnight blue (which looks darker under artificial light) and you can choose between either a peak or a shawl collar. This will be trimmed in satin or grosgrain with covered buttons in the same fabric. Avoid getting a jacket with a regular notch lapel as it looks too similar to a business suit, and is thought of as the cheap way of producing a dinner jacket.

It's personal preference as to whether you choose a peak lapel or shawl collar - I'd tend towards peaked lapels if you have a round face to give it some angles (not echo it with the curve of the shawl lapel) and it's also good if you have narrow shoulders to draw the eye up and out which gives the impression of broadening them. And the opposite is true, so if you have very angular features or broad square shoulders then a shawl collar will soften it a bit.

Single breasted jackets will traditionally just have one covered button but 2 are acceptable. Double breasted adds a little bulk so if you're tall and thin it could be worth trying this out but if you're already rotund then stick to single breasted.

The original school of thought is that the line of evening wear should be as clean as possible, so that means on jackets you'll find jet pockets instead of flap pockets and there should be no vents at the back. It's not very strictly adhered to though, so if you do find vents on a jacket it's preferable to go for double rather than single for a more classic, elegant look.

Suit Supply dinner suit - black tie style guide for men

"Lazio" peak lapel tuxedo jacket - Suit Supply - £259 (I like the curved shaped wide lapel on this and it's 100% wool).

Black Brescia tuxedo trousers - Suit Supply - £140 (It has these trousers linked as the matching ones to the jacket above - these have a grosgrain stripe though and from what I can see the jacket has satin facings, so best to double check first.)


The trousers should match your jacket and have a single stripe down the side of the trousers in the same fabric as the lapel of your jacket (satin or grosgrain) Double stripes will only be found on trousers to go with a tailcoat for white tie. They shouldn't have belt loops (though as you'll see below, many do) but have a side fastener instead. If you need them to be held up you can wear them with braces. Also, to carry on the clean look they shouldn't have turn-ups at the hem.

M&S tuxedo jacket and trousers - black tie styling advice for men

Navy slim fit shawl collared tuxedo suit - Marks & Spencer - £139 (The cheapest of them all - a client of mine got this and was happy with it, though he ordered online and said the trousers came up comically small, so I'd suggest you size up if buying online!)


The dress shirt to go with this look should have a Marcella (also called pique) or pleat front or you may notice some frill ones coming back into fashion with the return of seventies trend....a daring look! Although you'll see many wing collars being worn (especially in the States) this should really only be for white tie.......for black tie, it's a regular turn down collar. The shirt traditionally has either a fly front which conceals the buttons, or shirt studs instead of buttons.

Accessories for black tie outfits - personal style advice for men

White pleat front dress shirt with studs - M&S - £45

Black silk barathea self tie bow tie - Charles Tyrwhitt - £34.95

Pure silk cummerbund - M&S - £22.50

Black Oxfords - Dune at John Lewis - £105


If you're going for a cheaper suit, then I'd suggest going for the more elegant option of a self tie bow tie rather than a pre-tied one. There are plenty of videos, like this one, to show you how to tie it - have a little practice before the big night out so you don't have a last minute panic -  someone once told me, it's just like tying your shoe laces, which you do every day! Again match the fabric of your bow tie to the facing on the lapel of your jacket.

Make sure you have some calf length (so you don't show any leg when sitting down) socks to hand - preferably in a fine knit black rib.

Keeping with the clean look of evening wear, your trouser waistband should be covered. If you've only been able to get trousers with belt loops (you'll recall this is a no-no for dress trousers) I'd suggest using a cummerbund to cover it. Wear it with the pleats facing upwards. You could also wear a waistcoat in a low cut single breasted style which will usually have a shawl collar. Some people think that cummerbunds work best with shawl collared jackets and waistcoats with a peaked lapel style, but as far as I know there are no hard and fast rules on this.

You could finish off your look with a white linen or silk pocket square or even a black and white spot if you'd like a more modern look.

Massimo Dutti black dinner suit  - personal style consultant for men

Black slim fit shawl collared tuxedo jacket - Massimo Dutti - £229 (If you're looking for a different way of styling it - try it with a black polo neck as shown here!)

Black slim fit tuxedo trousers - Massimo Dutti - £109 (Slim fit and contemporary)


The most popular shoes to wear are patent Oxfords though if you don't want to invest in these, some polished Oxfords will be fine. Derbies (which have open lacing rather than closed) are considered less formal but could be passable but avoid brogues which orginated as country shoes so wouldn't be fitting for evening wear. In general avoid anything with too much of a tread, or too chunky or casual looking and go for leather soles rather than rubber.

Jaeger dinner jacket and dress trousers - personal shopping for men

Regular fit wool mohair dinner jacket - Jaeger at John Lewis - £235 (Mohair gives a nice sheen to the fabric)

Regular fit wool mohair dress suit trousers - Jaeger at John Lewis - £124 (Regular fit so good if you're not stick thin)

"My wedding anniversary party was brilliant. Everyone was saying how slim and well I was the suit. Thank you very much."

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