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Perfect Your Black Tie (Tuxedo) – Menswear Experts’ 11 Tips

Do you want to take your classic tuxedo outfit to the next level? Do you want to add more personality to your outfit? Do you want to highlight your style and truly stand out from the crowd of the other Black Tie wearers? Then you’ve come to the right place!

If you need a refresher on the basics of black tie and how to put together a classic outfit, we got you covered in The Most Comprehensive Black Tie Guide.

The Most Comprehensive Black Tie Guide

1. Choose Unusual Dinner Jackets

The first way to create an unusual tuxedo outfit is to change up your dinner jacket. The jacket you wear will be the first thing people notice.

Preston in a sequined jacket

Be wary of how unusual you’ll go

Sequinned Jacket?

You can go all in and go as bold as you can by choosing something like a peacock-colored sequinned jacket, but frankly, for me, that would be over the top. It’s important to select a jacket that doesn’t just suit your style but also the nature of the event.

Let’s say you go to a wedding; you don’t want to overshadow the bride and groom with your bold tuxedo. So, an easy way to change to a classic single-button, peaked lapel jacket is to change the button configuration or the lapel style. It’s popular with tuxedo rental companies to have a notched lapel, but never go that way, because it’s too informal and doesn’t suit the nature of the garment. But you could go with a double-breasted dinner jacket. While most double-breasted suits have a 6×2 button configuration, in which you button two buttons, most tuxedos have a 4×1 configuration. So, only the bottom button is buttoned, which gives you a more exposed shirt front, which is nice to highlight your tuxedo shirt style.

You can opt for a double breasted jacket.
You can opt for a double-breasted jacket.

If you want to stick with your single-breasted jacket, you could think about a link button closure, which also opens up that jacket a little more and shows a little more of your shirt front, or maybe you want to be even more subtle and just have your buttons covered in the same fabric as your silk lapels.

Rather than with your peaked lapels, you can also go with a shawl collar. There are slim shawl collars, there are wider ones, there are ones with a buttonhole so you can wear a boutonniere, and there are some that don’t have that. And yes, the shawl collar comes with single-breasted and double-breasted jackets.

Shawl collar on different tuxedo models.
Shawl collar on different tuxedo models.

If that’s not enough for you, you can also change the color of the jacket. The first alternative to the standard black is midnight blue. Some people say it looks blacker than black under artificial light. In recent years, also lighter shades, such as navy, have become popular for evening wear. Really, it’s just a subtle style variation that’s appropriate in all the places where a classic Black Tie would also be appropriate.

Any color of tuxedo more formal than any outfit these days.

YOU CAN GO BOLD

Change Up The Jacket’s Color

If you prefer a bolder look, go with a bolder color, even though traditionally, they were more associated with summer Black Tie. Frankly, though, these days, if you wear a Black Tie outfit, you are more formal than 99.99% of people out there, even if you go with a bold-colored dinner jacket. I think blue dinner jackets, brown, purple, bottle green, burgundy, or rust are fantastic colors that are just fun to wear, especially if you already have your basics covered. Really, the sky is the limit.

The bolder the color, the more it’ll stand out. A true classic is the off-white or ivory dinner jacket, which I particularly like to wear during the warmer months of the year or on a cruise. And no, I don’t mean the blinding plain white dinner jackets you can get at the tuxedo rental shop. I mean a genuinely off-white color. Whether you wear them peaked with a shawl collar, they have an incredible pedigree rooted in classic men’s fashion. Also, the neutral off-white color provides a canvas for maybe another colorful accessory in your outfit, such as a colorful boutonniere or a pocket square.

Ultimately, Black Tie typically looks so good because the color palette is reduced. You have elements of black, white, off-white, and maybe one other color. If you overdo it, it doesn’t quite look like a tuxedo anymore. If you’re interested in learning more about non-traditional dinner jackets, we have a more in-depth section in our Black Tie Guide on the website.

Non-Traditional Dinner Jacket Guide

I have to mention a very classic, bold color for a dinner jacket: scarlet red, which was traditionally associated with hunting evening wear. You definitely need some confidence to wear it, but the last time I visited the vintage store Rudolf Beaufays in Hamburg and made a video about that, I found this really nice three-piece dinner ensemble in scarlet red. Unfortunately, it was too small for me, but fortunately, Preston can wear it.

Preston in a scarlet red mess jacket.
Preston in a scarlet red mess jacket.

If you want something like that, it’s going to be really hard to find it. So, you’re better off going custom so you can get exactly the color, details, and shapes you want.

Apart from the tuxedo jacket color, you can also play with the texture of the fabric, as well as the patterns. Most traditional tuxedos are tailored from a plain weave or barathea weave fabric. If you live in a hot climate maybe a high twist fresco may be interesting; not only will it have a different structure, and maybe a bit more color depth, but it will also wear a lot cooler. I think during the winter months, velvet is an exceptionally nice material, but I’ve also seen people have things like a corduroy dinner jacket, or maybe a jacquard woven silk material that has a really intricate pattern.

No matter what type of fabric you choose, keep in mind how you’re going to wear it. If you’re going to dance a lot all night, having a super heavy warm fabric will just make you sweat a lot.

If the dress code invitation says “Creative Black Tie,” of course, you can even think bolder and experiment even more. I think tartan dinner jackets are classic yet highly unusual. Yes, it can be something like a black watch tartan, but also something like red and blue, for example. Off the rack, I pretty much can only think of Ralph Lauren, especially their Purple Label line, where they have bold, unusual dinner jacket options. But fear not, most made-to-measure companies have all the things you would want for an unusual dinner jacket these days.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label: What to Buy & Avoid (Review)

Personally, I think another cool option is to have some more reflective or almost metallic effect in your fabric, so it has this changeant element, so as you move, the fabric looks different, depending on how the light shines on it. Another great classic is dupioni silk. It’s rather shiny, but it has these usual casual knobs that come from the irregular thickness of the silk yarn. It also has this beautiful changeant effect and typically has one darker color and one lighter.

If all these jacket options don’t cut it for you, maybe turn back the clock and go with a vintage-inspired Black Tie outfit in the form of a mess jacket.

Vintage Mess Jackets

GOLDEN AGE INSPIRED

Mess Jacket for Black Tie

A mess jacket is cut like a tailcoat, body coat, or morning coat, so the lines in the back are different. They sometimes have buttons in the back as well, and it comes to a point in the middle. It also doesn’t button in the front and looks like a tailcoat without the tail. Truly, this is a look that’s very 1930s or maybe something that has a nautical or military vibe, because that’s typically the only place where you can see them these days.

If you wanted to be more relaxed, you could think about getting a traditional smoking jacket; something that you would wear over your other clothes when you’d go to smoke in the smoking lounge afterwards, and that’s typically made of velvet. It’s heavy, it can have a quilted lapel, it can have turn-ups and cuffs, and it’s usually cut a little more roomy because it would traditionally go over something, it’s cut a little longer, and it has a more homey feel, but because they’re made of velvet typically.

Raphael in a smoking jacket.
Raphael in a smoking jacket.

I like wearing a smoking jacket when I entertain at home and I still want to be elegant. Sometimes, I don’t wear it with a bow tie, but just with an ascot, just depending on how I feel.

Maybe you love the dinner jacket you have, and you don’t want to change it–how about changing your pants?

2. Change The Bottoms

No matter what jacket option you choose, what color and texture, most men opt for a pair of black or midnight blue pair of trousers with a single galon stripe on the side that indicates that it is a tuxedo trouser, and it doesn’t have cuffs or turnups but plain hems.

Tuxedo Pants
Tuxedo Pants

I think it can look really sharp if the hems are angled a little bit so the pants really hit the back of your shoe, but you still see enough of maybe your opera pumps and your evening socks or your shoelaces, especially if you choose evening shoelaces. Evening shoelaces? Well, if you’re hearing about this for the first time, check out our selection on our website.

A few years back, Ralph Lauren did a really great ad about the classic Harrison trousers where someone wore a black dinner jacket with a pair of tartan trousers, and it looked awesome. Yes, there are even men who wear a matching tartan dinner jacket and pants, but that’s much more unusual. Given the generally more formal nature of Black Tie, I personally would either go with a different color jacket or a different colored or patterned pair of pants; not both. Why? Well, I find it’s too bold otherwise.

But if you’re not afraid of the bold, maybe you want to go with a mess jacket and a tartan kilt. This is a combination that is rooted in Scottish heritage. It was also traditionally used in Irish and Welsh cultures.

Let’s say you don’t want to upgrade your tuxedo because you feel you don’t get enough wear out of it anyway; there’s still stuff you can do, especially with accessories.

3. Beautiful Boutonnieres

While most men will have a pocket square, typically a white one that matches the color of their shirt, you could think about a lapel flower, also known as a boutonniere, especially in a contrasting color; in a classic red, a boutonniere will immediately pop on your tuxedo. It will immediately add personality and charm to your overall look. Classic options include a little spray roses or carnations.

Boutonnieres

YOU CAN CHOOSE FROM

A Wide Range of Colors

The typical color ranges were white and various shades of red and burgundy, but frankly, the sky is the limit. Pale yellows, pinks, purples, or combinations thereof are all acceptable. I mean, even green carnations can look very sophisticated. Typically, solid-colored flower boutonnieres work better than multicolored ones, but I’ll leave the choice up to you.

Now, where can you get a boutonniere? Traditionally, florists would be able to make them. Unfortunately, these days, in most places, if you want a real boutonniere, it is quite an undertaking and by the time you have it, you have to quickly wear it. Otherwise, the petals will start to wilt, and it will look really sad. Also, real flowers can stain your garments.

Years back, when I was on a cruise, and I wasn’t able to find the boutonnieres I wanted, I decided to design my own, made of silk and velvet, so I had something that I could travel with, that would never wilt, and that was available all day, every day. If you want to figure out if a real or a silk boutonniere is better for you, check out our other guide on that subject.

Real vs. Fake: Which Boutonniere Flower is More Stylish?

If you want to take a look at our selection of a hundred different flower choices, in different sizes and colors, head over to our shop. Obviously, I’m biased, and I love our silk boutonniere. But, every once in a while, if I find a nice flower, I’ll still pick a real one.

4. Plentiful Pocket Squares

Another option to upgrade your Black Tie outfit is with a colorful pocket square other than white. It’s easiest to do with solid-colored patterns in maybe silk, such as red or purple, but green or blue will work as well. Just make sure there’s enough contrast. A navy pocket square on a black background just is not going to cut it.

You can choose colored pocket squares for Black Tie--not just white!
You can choose colored pocket squares for Black Tie–not just white!

If you want to, you can go with two tones. There can be a subtle pattern in the pocket square; or let’s say you are into gambling, you could get a pocket square with the four suites on them, embroidered in different colors. The base is still white, but it’s not the plain old white pocket square.

Personally, I sometimes like to incorporate purple into my pocket squares. I also like the silk material because it’s a bit more reflective than, let’s say, a linen pocket square. Remember, how you fold a pocket square will also impact the way it looks. To learn our favorite folds for pocket squares and how to achieve them step-by-step, check out our other guide.

How to Fold a Pocket Square – 8 Stylish Folds for Gentlemen

5. Match Your Materials

A really unusual way to upgrade your black tie outfit is by choosing different contrasting materials. What do I mean by that? In a traditional tuxedo, the lapels are typically faced in a different material than the rest of the garment. You have the galon on the side and sometimes cuffs or turn-ups. That contrast of fabric creates visual interest. Also, you have things like your bow tie, maybe your cummerbund, or your shoelaces that have a different material than your base fabric.

Silk is typically the contrasting material in Black Tie

TYPICAL BLACK TIE MATERIAL

Silk Satin

In 99.99% of the cases, the contrasting material used in Black Tie is made out of satin, which is a certain kind of weave of a fabric that reflects the light in a certain way. There are different types of satins. There are ones that achieve the shine with weft, ones with warp, and there are differences in quality. How are they different? Typically, the cheaper satin has a very unusual shine, and you can feel it also when you touch it. The cheaper ones are just not as graduated and elegant.

Alternatively, you can have a grosgrain, which is basically little ridges; or a wider grosgrain, which is wider ridges; or you can have a barathea facing; or a silk moire facing, which makes it look like it’s silk that was watered.

Very few retailers bother to stock anything other than satin bow ties and accessories such as cummerbunds, but at Fort Belvedere, we love Black Tie and we love changing our outfits and being unique. Because of that, we offer a wide range of different materials for cummerbunds, for our bow ties, and for our shoelaces, so you can truly stand out from the crowd without being overly bold.

If you go custom with your dinner jacket, just think about the different materials you could add and how that could elevate your tuxedo jacket from the rest that anyone else will have, which is typically satin.

6. Beyond the Basic Butterfly

The sixth thing you can change to elevate your outfit is to change the bow tie shape. After all, the entire dress code is named after the bow tie: Black Tie and that’s what most people wear. But, even if you want to stick with your black bow tie, you don’t have to stick to one particular shape.

You can choose a different colored bow tie--not just the basic black!
You can choose a different colored bow tie–not just the basic black!

Of course, you can also choose a different color, and yes, a burgundy bow tie is technically not black anymore, but it’s still accepted for the black tie dress code if the rest is in a very harmonious black and white look. Again, don’t change too many things because that will water down the effect of Black Tie.

In terms of shapes, the most classic shape is probably the butterfly bow tie. It comes in different sizes, and it’s a very safe and correct option. If you got that covered or you want something different, you can go with a batwing bow tie, which is a slimmer style; or maybe a diamond bow tie, which has pointed ends. The vast majority of all bow ties have two ends that look the same, particularly for evening wear.

The idea came up of a single-end bow tie, where you just have one layer of the bow tie shape, which can look very elegant. And if you want a rich selection of bow ties, you can find them all in our shop. Most importantly, all of our evening bow ties come in fixed sizes, so if you want to open up your bow tie at the end of the day or if you want to wear it with a detachable collar so everyone can see that it’s a sized bow tie, this will look really elegant.

For a more vintage look, you can also go with a continental tie, which is tacked under your collar. Personally, I’m not a big fan of that. I much prefer the 1920s and 1930s bow tie styles, which were often a little smaller than what you can find today. But, depending on your face shape, a larger bow tie may also be more flattering.

We have an entire guide that helps you how to find the right black bow tie for your face shape and ensemble, and you can check it out. And no, you don’t need a continental bow tie to tuck it under your collar. Some people also did it with regular bow ties, something that was done in the 1900s and then became popular for a brief period in the 1960s again.

7. Step Up Your Shoes & Socks

The seventh way to really enhance your black tie outfit is to step up your shoes and your feet accessories. Too often, lackluster shoes will drag down the entire Black Tie outfit. And I get it, you might say, “Well, I already have these black cap-toe Oxfords. Why not wear them with my tuxedo?” And it’s okay if you mirror-polish them. There’s nothing wrong with it, but if you really want to step it up, you probably have to get a dedicated pair of evening shoes.

First, it can be a pair of patent leather Oxford without a toe cap. Having the toe cap makes it less elegant, so you can also go with a whole cut, for example, or you can choose opera pumps.

Opera Pumps
Opera Pumps

No, I’m not talking about loafers, but opera pumps, which are cut much deeper. Most shoe manufacturers don’t know the difference, and they will sell you patent leather loafers, basically, but they don’t show as much of your socks, and they’re not the right choice.

While most men will never own a pair of black, patent leather opera pumps, some even have boldly patterned, velvet ones. Sometimes, you also see people wear the traditional Albert slipper in a velvet fabric or leather with their evening outfit.

If you already have a laced pair of shoes, whether it’s a plain derby, a pair of Oxfords, or maybe a patent leather pair, you can still change the shoelaces and maybe get a pair of satin shoelaces if you have a satin bow tie, or grosgrain shoelaces if you have a grosgrain bow tie. It will just elevate the look and make it all harmonious.

Another really fun way to stand up from the crowd is to not just go with black, silk, evening socks, but different colors. For example, a bottle green, maybe a blue, maybe burgundy, they’re all really fun colors. Let’s say you’re not a fan of silk socks. You can also get maybe fine cotton socks in a stripe, but they have to be made with a really fine machine so they don’t look like they’re heavy winter socks.

Personally, I like two-tone socks because they add a cool sparkle to an evening outfit. It can also be fun to match the color of your socks to another element in your outfit; whether it’s your bow tie, your jacket, your pocket square, or your boot, it creates a consistent outfit and look, tying it all together, while still providing the contrast between your trousers and your shoes.

I almost forgot to say, you always want over-the-calf socks. Showing your hairy legs at a Black Tie function is a no-no.

8. Swap Out Your Shirt

One thing that you typically don’t change when it comes to an advanced Black Tie outfit is the tuxedo shirt. Most people will wear white tuxedo shirts. Traditionally, you have one with a turn-down collar and French cuffs because they were designed to be a softer, more comfortable alternative to the stiff, detachable collar on front-pleated shirts that you’d wear with White Tie. Some men like to get that stiffer White Tie shirt with a detachable collar to get more of a vintage feel.

Purple Tuxedo Shirt

Other color OPTIONS

You Can Wear Non-White!

Every once in a while, you’ll also come across an evening shirt that’s specifically made as an evening shirt with studs for a tuxedo that is non-white. I picked one up from Eton, for example, that has this oversized Prince-of-Wales-inspired pattern in purple. Frankly, I don’t wear it often because it’s very difficult to pull off. Maybe I like the look with an ivory dinner jacket. I think it’s a bit too dark for a regular tuxedo jacket.

Whatever it is that you do, try to keep it a simple, solid white. It’s really great to highlight it for melody.

9. Outstanding Outerwear

The ninth way to upgrade your Black Tie outfit is to go beyond the tuxedo itself, but look at the outerwear and the accessories; your overcoat, your gloves, your hats, your scarves, and so forth; not only are these the icing on the cake, but it can also be very functional during the colder months of the year when, traditionally, you wear Black Tie more often. 

Unfortunately, true evening overcoats have fallen out of favor, so you can’t get them off-the-rack. It’s something you truly have to make custom or bespoke. Employing my secrets to vintage shopping, which you can learn more about here, I found a vintage overcoat secondhand on eBay, and I love wearing it for Black Tie functions.

Vintage Menswear: 25 Tips & Tricks for Thrift Store Shopping

How is an evening overcoat different from a regular one? Well, they have silk-faced lapels and, often, they just have one single button. You could also have a cape, and if you want to learn more about that, check out the in-depth section in our Black Tie guide.

It’s a lot easier to find accessories, such as gloves or a scarf, that you can wear with your tuxedo, even without an overcoat. If you don’t want to invest in an evening overcoat, I’d suggest you go with something in black, midnight blue, or maybe navy, and that will do the job as well. In that case though, opt for those specific evening scarves and white gloves. It will really make a difference in the way you look.

During the summer months, Preston often wears a boater hat with his off-white dinner jacket; or you can go with a traditional Homburg hat. Because most people don’t wear hats these days anymore, even a black Homburg hat will really make you stand out from the crowd.

Yes, I know sometimes you see top hats being worn with Black Tie ensembles, but historically, the long top hat was worn with a long tail coat; never with a tail-less tuxedo. Again, though, if you feel like it in this day and age, no one will say, “Oh, my God! What you wear is wrong,” because they have no clue about how things were worn traditionally.

Top hats are worn with long tailcoats.
Top hats are traditionally worn with long tailcoats.

Looking at old-fashioned illustrations, you can even see people wear pith helmets with their Black Tie ensembles. I’d say, only do that if you’re truly in the tropical jungle, where this makes sense. 

10. Seasonal Sensations

The tenth way to change up your Black Tie outfits is to consider seasonality. So, if you already have your Black Tie outfit where you live, it might work really well there, but maybe you go into a climate that is very different, either it’s very cold or very hot, you might think of getting something that is more suited for that environment.

That way, no matter where you go, you’ll always have a Black Tie ensemble that will work for you. I mean, more Black Tie options will make you look cool, while also feeling cool.

Green and red cummerbund

Change up the color scheme

Red & Green Cummerbund

You may want to add more of a whimsical element with color tones of green and red during the Holly Jolly season; change up the color scheme of your cummerbund.

Traditionally, you could also wear a waistcoat and change up the color of your waistcoat and go with something in scarlet red, or maybe a pale green can be a really cool way to change the look. For example, for warm-season Black Tie, I’d skip the waistcoast and go with a cummerbund, versus in the cooler months of the year, a vest may be ideal to keep you warmer, especially if you don’t of an evening overcoat. 

11. Fitting Fragrances

Finally, last but not least, to expertly craft a Black Tie ensemble that satisfies all the senses, think about your fragrances. Yes, just like accessories, fragrances have formalities, too. Some things make you want to go to the beach straight away, while others are more opulent and really well-suited for your velvet dinner jacket, for example.

Fragrances have formalities, too!
Fragrances have formalities, too!

Typically, formal evening fragrances will come from the woody, spicy, leathery, or tobacco-scent families. What you’re looking for is a complex melody of notes that will change throughout the evening. So, maybe if you see someone at the beginning of the evening, you will smell somewhat different than later in the evening, which will automatically be interesting. So, if I want to exude the timeless elegance of the Golden Age of Menswear in 1930s and 1920s, I go with the Roberto Ugolini Oxford scent.

If I want something that’s a bit more unusual that goes well with velvet, I go with a 17 Rosso or the Diciassette Rosso. If I feel like I want to exude some elevated dignity, I go with High Heel White, which, despite its name, is a unisex fragrance that has elements of vanilla, and it’s a fantastic scent for men in the evening. If you want to add romantic opulence to the evening, I go with the Quattro Rosso scent.

Roberto Ugolini Fragrances

Another cool option is probably Green Irish Tweed, and despite tweed being normally not something that you wear with a tuxedo, I think it is a good scent for Black Tie ensembles.

I’m super curious: how do you upgrade your Black Tie outfits? Please share with us in the comments or send us your pictures at [email protected] or tag us on Instagram with @gentlemansgazette.

Outfit Rundown

Today, I’m, of course, wearing a more unusual Black Tie outfit. It consists of a dinner jacket that is double-breasted with a 4×1 button configuration and a shawl collar. Even though it was custom-made, unfortunately, the collar was slimmer than I had it intended to be. It has nice turn-ups. It has dark mother-of-pearl buttons, and a cool turquoise lining. No, most people will never get to see it, except maybe they see it a bit on the underside of my turnup cuffs. I’m combining it with a pair of midnight blue tuxedo trousers that are part of a different tuxedo. And yes, it doesn’t have the plain satin galon, but it has a grosgrain galon that is striped horizontally, which is quite elegant and different.

My evening shirt is from Eton, and it has an inserted bib with a very fine patterned weave, and not the typical pleated shirt. My shirt studs and cufflinks are from Ford Belvedere. They’re matching and monkey’s fist knot cufflinks. They’re in silver, which works well with my silver Reverso watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre, and this is an original Reverso with an old black and white dial that is perfect for evening wear. It also works well with my silver ring, which is a carnelian stone, which picks up the burgundy color of my jacket.

My socks are burgundy silk socks from Ford Belvedere that pick up the color of the jacket, make it all harmonious, and my shoes are prototypes for Ford Belvedere. They’re patent leather opera pumps with a satin bow. Also, my pocket square is just a white linen pocket square, and I intentionally kept it simple with a TV fold, because I already had so many other visual accents, such as my rose boutonniere, which is made with a velvet fabric in red, but it still provides enough contrast to the jacket, and then I have this black velvet single-end bow tie from Fort Belvedere, which is also highly unusual but works with the dress code and my jacket.

The scent I chose for this outfit was the Quattro Rosso from Roberto Ugolini because I like the scent, and of course, the color of the bottle also works well with it.

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