With the end of all pandemic restrictions and the beginning of the festive season you might be invited for various formal parties. While most of them will not oblige you to respect a strict dress code and a classic navy blue suit will do just fine, others may impose a “black tie” only. This can be stressful if you are not entirely sure what that code means, so let’s see how we can “decode” it.
Where did everything start? Till the end of the nineteenth century men from the upper class wore tailcoats for all evening appearances. First time when a shorter dinner jacket appeared was in 1865 when Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII swapped out his evening tailcoats for a blue silk smoking jacket with matching trousers, designed especially for him by Savile Row tailors Henry Poole & Co. It was a sign of relaxation of traditional dress codes. The new dinner jacket was much more comfortable and relaxed and gained quick popularity, particularly during less formal events organized in the countryside. The smoking dinner jacket was introduced in the United States of America in the late 19th by the members of Tuxedo Park private club in New York State (thus ‘tuxedo’). After World War I, the tuxedo became semi-formal evening wear, while the evening tailcoat was restricted to the most formal or ceremonial occasions. Between the wars, double-breasted jackets, turn-down shirts, and belts became popular for black tie evenings. Since then, black tie is often referred to as semi-formal. In the period after World War II the tuxedo started to be considered as more formal than in preceding years and this trend continues today (probably because we’ve completely abandoned tailcoats, apart from royal ceremonies).
The style of a tuxedo has evolved over a century but some rules stayed the same. The main color is black (or white for events held in the tropics), although midnight blue is also acceptable. Traditionally a smoking jacket should close for 1 button but the double-breasted version is a nice alternative. The jacket can have either a shawl or peaked lapels covered with satin, black or navy blue depending on the color of the main fabric, as well as the welts of the pockets and of course the buttons. Traditionally the tuxedo’s pockets are double welted and the jacket has no slits at the back. The pants of such an ensemble should traditionally be finished with satin stripes on the sides of the legs and worn without the belt. To fit the waist well, it is recommended to hold the pants with white suspenders or insert tightening side adjusters. The belt should be covered with satin as well.
You can wear a waistcoat made with the same fabric or a silk cummerbund for a less formal look. As for a shirt, it should be white, finished with a semi-Italian (or a wing collar for more formal finishing) collar and cuffs with cufflinks.
Last but not least, when is the black tie dress code appropriate? Of course, it’s easy when you are invited and the host states the dress code on the invitation card. Traditionally, the tuxedo is an evening wear and it should be worn after 6 p.m. It is very appropriate for evening parties (both in professional and private context), balls and gala dinners. Since it is an evening outfit it is not recommended for weddings but today's trends do not have the austerity and care for conventions that they used to have.