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The Holiday Black Tie Dress Code, Explained

Get into the Festive Spirit with Holiday Black Tie

Glad tidings to you and your kin! As the hibernal paradise of winter is awakened with twinkling lights, the music of happy laughter, and the fizzing of champagne, you know that “’tis the season” for holiday parties. When those parties happen to be elevated and formal in appearance, there is no dress code more likely to make everyone “holly and jolly” than Holiday Black Tie.

Illustration of a man and woman in a snowy scene wearing formal clothes
Step into formal winter style with Holiday Black Tie. [Image Credit: “Winter” (1919) by George Barbier]

In this article, you will learn what Holiday Black Tie is, how it differs from conventional Black Tie, where you are likely to wear it, and how to employ this fun and frolicsome dress code properly. We guarantee that your dashing ensemble will be a gift that keeps on giving at any festive soiree.

Interested in other dress codes?

What is “Holiday Black Tie?”

Black Tie Reimagined for Holiday Occasions

The Holiday Black Tie dress code is a formal festive attire typically suggested for special occasions during the holiday season. It contains most of the essential elements of traditional Black Tie but with the introduction of seasonal elements intended to add a whimsical and celebratory element to the occasion, and may be considered a seasonal version of Creative Black Tie.

These festive elements can be very bold, taking the form of tartan-patterned dinner jackets, plaid evening trousers, and bright red cummerbunds, or more subtle, such as a colorful pocket square, mistletoe for a boutonniere, or even just an unexpected shape of black bow tie.

Leather bound travel books on a shelf

What’s in a

Name?

“Holiday Black Tie” can be known by several other names. They include:

  • Festive Black Tie
  • Christmas Black Tie
  • Festive Formal Wear
  • Formal Holiday Attire

How Holiday Black Tie Developed

Black Tie Surpasses White Tie as the Favored Festive Formal Look

There has always been a natural inclination to dress up in one’s finest around the holidays when parties and family gatherings abound. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, these gatherings tended to assume a very formal atmosphere and were typically celebrated in full White Tie.

However, because these parties often took place in private residences, there was an increasing impetus to dress in Black Tie, which was considered more intimate and casual during that period. By the 1950s, Black Tie had become the standard attire for most holiday parties and festivities, largely supplanting White Tie.

Have you ever made these White Tie mistakes?

Holiday Black Tie Today

Four men gathered around a bar in Black Tie
Holiday Black Tie remains a popular dress code wherever friends come together to celebrate during the holidays.

Perhaps because of its homey associations and the feeling that something special is in the air, Holiday Black Tie has persisted as a popular social dress code even as society at large has become more casual. The season seems a natural fit for formal parties as the cool weather brings socializing indoors, and the decorated homes and festive spirit provide the perfect excuse for dressing to the nines.

Not only do Black-Tie charity galas peak around this time of year, but it has also become the last bastion of private Black-Tie parties. This trend becomes apparent if one peruses historical menswear magazines: as the century progressed, formal wear articles, which had once been year-round staples, gradually dwindled to annual features in special December issues.

Distinguishing Holiday Black Tie from Black Tie

It is most helpful to consider Holiday Black Tie as a variation on Black Tie. Many of the essential elements remain very similar. While traditional Black Tie is judged primarily by the strict adherence to particular rules, with relatively minor opportunities for creativity and novel additions, Holiday Black Tie affords considerably more opportunities for personal touches in the form of both accessories and garments.

That being said, it is entirely up to you how bold you want your Holiday Black Tie ensemble to be. You can choose to make just a few minor alterations, or you can fully embrace the frivolity of the season with a specialty outfit perfectly suited to making merry.

Preston in a sequined jacket.

How much is

Too Much?

Holiday Black Tie affords you considerable leeway when it comes to selecting how bold to make your ensemble. It is therefore important that you use good common sense when determining how creative to be when it comes to selecting your garments and accessories. As a rule of thumb, if you have any doubt about whether your hosts would approve of a particular item, do not wear it.

Where to Wear the Holiday Black Tie Dress Code

During the holidays, you may have many opportunities to wear Holiday Black Tie because it is considered less stuffy and more creative than its more formal relation, Black Tie, and is, therefore, more in keeping with the season’s mood. You could show off your Holiday Black Tie attire at:

1

Illustration of figures in white tie celebrating

New Year’s Eve Parties

2

An illustration of three men in Black Tie attire

Formal Office Parties

3

Illustration of Black Tie

Gala Receptions

4

An illustration of a man in black tie with two women backstage at the ballet

Holiday Cultural Events

5

A black-tie dinner party, c. 1952.

Formal Private Parties

Holiday Black Tie FAQ

What is Holiday Black Tie?

Holiday Black Tie refers to a dress code for formal events during the holiday season. It is a more festive variation on traditional Black Tie.

What is considered Black Tie attire?

Black tie attire typically consists of a black tuxedo or dinner jacket, a white dress shirt, a black bow tie, black formal shoes, and black dress socks, with a waist covering, usually a cummerbund, of some kind.

How do I dress in Holiday Black Tie and not regular Black Tie?

To distinguish a Holiday Black Tie ensemble from a Black Tie ensemble, you can opt for a black tuxedo with a subtle pattern or a velvet dinner jacket. Accessories like a holiday-themed pocket square or unique cufflinks can also add a touch of personal flair.

Can I wear a colored bow tie instead of a black one for Holiday Black Tie?

Yes, you can. While it is generally recommended to stick to a black bow tie for formal black tie events, if you’re attending a more casual or festive holiday gathering, you may consider wearing a bow tie in a color that complements the overall holiday theme.

What type of shoes should I wear with my Holiday Black Tie outfit?

With Black Tie attire, it is customary to wear elegant black leather shoes. Oxfords or patent leather shoes are popular choices. Make sure they are well-polished and match the formality of your outfit. Opera pumps are also a vintage option, while evening slippers are increasingly popular as part of Contemporary Black Tie.

Is it appropriate to wear a black suit instead of a tuxedo for Black Tie events?

No, it is not. Black tie events specifically call for a tuxedo rather than a regular black suit. Tuxedos provide a more formal and sophisticated look, while black suits are typically reserved for less formal occasions. While suits can be worn as part of the Black Tie Optional dress code, they are not appropriate for either Black Tie or Holiday Black Tie events.

The Components of Holiday Black Tie

The Jacket

A Holiday Black Tie dinner jacket can be as sedate or as bold as you please.

Preston in a classic Black Tie attire

Conventional Black Tie Jacket

If you prefer for your major garments to provide a simple background for the rest of your ensemble, consider opting for a plain dinner jacket that you would typically wear with Black Tie and provide seasonal pop with the addition of accessories.

Photo of a Black tie dinner jacket with unique geomtric texture

Taking time for

Textures

If you want your dinner jacket to be black or midnight blue but still desire to make an unexpected impression, consider a jacket that features unique texture, like the waffled diamond pattern seen here: the jacket tastefully stand outs despite being a very typical black color. Textures generate visual interest without having to rely on novel colors for a dashing effect.

The Velvet Dinner Jacket

Bold Jacket Patterns

Matching Tartan Jacket and Pants

Don’t tremble at

Tartan

Since the 1950s, tartan has enjoyed increasing popularity as a favorite fabric for Holiday Black Tie, perhaps because it often features combinations of the typical Christmas colors green and red. Whether worn as a full suit fabric or just an accessory, tartan could be a charming edition to your ensemble this holiday season, but be aware: the larger the garment, the bolder the effect.

Vintage Variations

Preston in a scarlet red mess jacket.
For a truly bold entrance, you might consider vintage formal wear, like this scarlet red mess ensemble, for a Holiday Black Tie event.

Learn more about dinner jackets!

The Trousers

Comparison photo of black and tartan evening trousers
Traditional black and Tartan formal evening trousers.

Similar to dinner jackets, Holiday Black Tie trousers can be either very traditional or very bold. In most cases, however, you are best served with conventional black evening trousers: they will provide a solid, simple foundation for the entire outfit and harmonize well with all of your accessories.

If so inclined, however, you may opt for evening trousers in a unique color or pattern for a bold look. In most cases, they will be part of a dinner suit, matching the same pattern as their accompanying jacket, although there are exceptions to this rule.

In either case, the trouser sould featur a fabric, usually silk, galon stripe that runs along the outer vertical seam.

Scottish Lowland Evening Dress with tartan trousers

Mixing Tartan Trousers and

Black Tie

You may observe combinational patterned trousers and jackets in variations on traditional Scottish evening dress. These variations are typical of the regional components of this mode of formal dressing.

The Bow Tie

While the dress code may be called “Black Tie,” when it comes to Holiday Black Tie, your bow tie does not have to be black. Rich colors like burgundy or forest green, jewel tones like emerald or cobalt blue, and even festive patterns like tartans can all be used for your bow tie.

Make a Subtle Impression with a Unique Bow Tie Shape or Texture

Find your perfect bow tie!

The Evening Shirt

As a plain surface on which to showcase the other elements of your Black Tie ensemble, it is generally recommended that you wear the same evening shirt that you would for conventional Black Tie as you would for Holiday Black Tie. By this, we mean a shirt designed to take studs and cufflinks with either a turndown or a wing collar and either a bib-shaped marcella front or pleated bosom.

While novelty holiday evening shirts do exist, with detailing like unique colors or ruffles, they tend to be distracting and appear dated.

Purple Tuxedo Shirt

Should you wear a

Colorful Shirt?

Occasionally, you will encounter a formal evening shirt in a fabric color other than white: pale green, pink, and light lilac are common options. While certainly a striking look, in many instances, it will be difficult to appropriately harmonize such shirts with the other elements of your ensembles. We therefore recommend that you stick to white in most circumstances.

Learn more about evening shirts!

The Waist Covering

Unless you are wearing a double-breasted dinner jacket that you intend to keep buttoned at all times, you must wear some variety of waist covering as part of your Holiday Black Tie ensemble. The most popular option today is a cummerbund, which can appear in a holiday theme or in traditional, stagely black: in the latter case, however, consider the use of a unique texture, like grosgrain or barathea, for a stylish effect. As with your bow tie, how bold you wish to appear is largely a matter of personal choice and the nature of the party.

Blackwatch Tartan cummerbund set

Should your tie and cummerbund

Match?

For the most classic look, if you are opting for either a bow tie or cummerbund that is not black, the corresponding bow tie or cummerbund should be black, or at least a solid color that picks out a color or tone in the other article. A matched set tends to appear artificial and the introduction of additional patterns could become confusing to the viewer.

The Studs and Cufflinks

Evening Dress Set with cuff links, studs and vest buttons
A vintage set of evening dress jewelry including cufflinks, studs, and waistcoat buttons

Formal evening shirts take studs and cufflinks for closures instead of buttons. Because they are a small detail, many men have a strong urge to wear novelty studs and cufflinks as an easy way to add whimsy to their ensemble. While this cheaky approach is perfectly acceptable for most Holiday Black Tie events, we do encourage you to practice decorum when making your selection and ensuring that your final selection is tasteful and in keeping with the spirit of the evening.

Film still of a man wearing crystal studs
Tyrone Power wearing novelty crystal studs with his Black Tie ensemble in Blood and Sand (1941). [Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]

For a versatile option that appears effortlessly elegant and still has personality, consider investing in a more sedate pair of studs in a classic monkey’s fist knot. Because studs are on full display against your chest, a more dignified design choice could make a better impression than a row of Santa heads or holly bundles.

Fort Belvedere Offers Studs and Matching Cufflinks in Three Tones

Photo of bold Black Tie jewelry

What about other kinds of

Jewelry?

Bold elements not traditionally seen in conventional Black Tie, such as collar jewelry, can be right at home as part of Holiday Black Tie. These elements provide unexpected flash and are a great way to convey your personality, which is one of the most important things you can do at a party intended to have a fun atmosphere in which you can meet and learn about new people.

Photo of Maximalist Black Tie ensemble
Maximalist accessories are more in keeping with the casual aspect of Holiday Black Tie than they are trditional Black Tie.

Learn about more Black Tie accessories!

The Pocket Square

In the traditional Black Tie dress code, you are essentially limited to a white pocket square in linen, silk, or cotton. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere of Holiday Black Tie, however, this dress code affords considerably more latitude. In fact, you can reasonably wear a pocket square in almost any color or pattern, provided that you are able to conceptually unite it with the holiday theme of the event.

The Boutonniere

box of assorted boutonnieres
The choice is yours when it comes to boutonnieres to harmonize with a Holiday Black Tie ensemble.

As with pocket squares, Holiday Black Tie provides almost unlimited options when it comes to boutonniere colors. In general, you will be best served selected a flower that is hardy and associated with the winter, to follow the theme of the occasion. You may also select a boutonniere consisting of wintery greenery, such as a bunch of holly or a bough of mistletoe.

Want a boutonniere that will never wilt?

The Socks

Photo of an Array of formal evening socks worn with opera pumps
On the right occasions, formal evening socks in a variety of stately colors can be worn.

Socks are one of the best and easiest ways to inject personality and unexpected visual interest into an ensemble without appearing overdone or distracting. Because socks are covered by your trousers, they will only be glimpsed occasionally, but they can have a big impact when they seen.

In addition to black, the best sock colors to wear will feature in colors associated with Classic Menswear that have a formal air. These include dignfied, darkers colors like burgundy, dark green, and light and dark navy. In all cases, they should be made with fine silk to capture the lusterous shine and refined thinness of formal evening socks.

Crazy Christmas Socks

Should I wear

Novelty Socks?

While Holiday Black Tie is a fun and festive occasion, many novelty socks have cartoonish or juvenile elements that may be at odds with the atmosphere of a formal evening. Therefore, be mindful of the expectations of your host and fellow guests before deciding to wear your light-up Rudolph’s nose socks.

In the Market for Colorful Silk Socks?

The Shoes

While Holiday Black Tie is more casual than Black Tie, you should still limit yourself to the selection of footwear typical of formal evening attire. You can, however, stray into slightly less formal options than the typical opera pumps and well-shined oxfords. Of particular interest will be formal evening slippers, which add a plush decadence suited to frolicsome holiday parties.

Master formal evening footwear!

The Outerwear

Photo of Formal evening overcoats c 1905
Historically, men had access to a wide range of formal evening overcoats. Nowadays, the options are more limited.

When it is cold and blustery, the proper outerwear will keep you warm and comfortable as you make your way to party. We are not suggesting that you need themed holiday outerwear – no matter how much fun a red, fur-lined opera cape might be – but you should ensure that you have a coat and accessories that will protect you, and your clothing, from the chill and elements typical of winter.

Fort Belvedere: Your First Stop For Formal Evening Outerwear

Find your next quality overcoat!

If You Don’t Want to Wear Holiday Black Tie

Photo as Raphael pops bottle of champagne Black Tie
Whether in Holiday Black Tie or not, we hope that you always have fun at your formal affairs!

If, for whatever reason, you do not feel comfortable wearing Holiday Black Tie, you can always revert back to wearing traditional Black Tie: the point of Holiday Black Tie is to have fun, and if it would not be fun for you to devise a creative or clever ensemble, you can wear your regular formal evening attire without spoiling the event. Just arrive ready to make merry and there will be no issues.

Brush up on the finer points of Black Tie

Conclusion

Photo of two men one in a tartan dinner jacket one in velvet dinner jacket
Whether in tartan, velvet, or any fabric, we hope that you have a wonderful time at your Holiday Black Tie affair!

With the advice we have offered in this guide, we hope that you feel fully prepared to enjoy all that your holidays parties have to offer while focusing on the fun, without having to worry about what you are wearing. Holiday Black Tie is an invitation to get creative and get into the holiday spirit, so we hope that you are ready to deck the halls and rock around the Christmas tree!

Have you ever worn Holiday Black Tie? If so, tell us what you wore, and if you have not, tell us what you would wear!

www.gentlemansgazette.com

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