Men’s formal wear—including black tie, white tie, and alternatives—makes a surprisingly consistent statement considering the vagaries of modern fashion. The original motivation behind these styles dates back to Regency
times, but became standard during the Victorian era
; very few major (successful) alterations have stuck since then. Today, as always, the right tuxedo is able to instill in any man an unmistakable sense of timeless elegance and class—a look and attitude that no other form of attire can come close to capturing.
Despite its lengthy history and sought-after appearance, though, men’s formal wear can present something of a mystery today. What are
those slight differences in wardrobe that stand between making you look like Cary Grant or a cater waiter?
“What is it about wearing a tuxedo […] that makes us feel confident, beautiful, splendid, even invincible?
We put on formal wear and suddenly we become extraordinary.”
- Vera Nazarian
This is exactly why we’ve compiled this formal wear guide: to turn that “black tie required” invitation in your mailbox into an event to look forward to rather than an obligation you dread. Why settle for outdated, poorly tailored, and badly styled formal wear looks when there are so many handsome, almost magically transformative wardrobe choices out there? By creating this guide, we want to help you develop the confidence required to make these choices. This is a confidence that comes from knowledge; knowledge of different tuxedo styles and their histories, of classic accessories and how to wear them (as well as how to personalize them), and of your appearance down to the tailoring of your clothes.
After all, consider the reason why James Bond tugs at the heartstrings of women and men alike (it’s ok, admit it!): and it’s not just his adventurous jet-setting lifestyle or his license to kill. No, it’s his tux—classic, elegant, and worn with the confidence and pride of a man who knows
he looks good without having to think about it.
We want to give you
that same confidence: the ability to select a style that’s right for you and to wear that style proudly, yet unaffectedly, into any ballroom or other formal venue you might face. You should be able to make an impression without trying too hard, and be comfortable enough to wear your clothes rather than letting them wear you.
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Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding[/caption]
In order to help you develop this confidence, we’ve created a comprehensive and easy to follow guide to help you build up the knowledge necessary for achieving your 007-like poise. This guide is your complete destination for answers to any questions you might have concerning men’s formal wear: What are the rules for correct black tie attire? How does black tie differ from white tie? What is a dinner jacket? How does one select the right cummerbund? When should one wear a bowtie versus a straight tie—and what kinds of straight ties are acceptably formal? (Just to name a few!) Whether you are thinking about purchasing your first tuxedo, investigating rental options, trying to determine how to respond to a formal event invitation, or just fascinated by the history of formal wear, this guide is intended to be your one-stop resource.
This formal wear guide discusses quite a few topics in extensively researched detail. So, before moving on throughout the site, it’s important to provide our visitors with a roadmap of the different sections, so to speak.
Beginners’ How-To Guide
This section should be the first stop for any visitors with little or no experience with formal wear. Here, we will explain in just enough detail how to find and wear a tuxedo, without overloading you with too much overwhelming information all at once. This section will include a simple step-by-step guide to looking your best, including descriptions of and guides to wearing both required and optional accessories. This how-to guide includes several acceptable options for each piece of your completed look, including tuxedo jackets, dress shirts, tie and bowtie options, trousers, waistcoats and other options, shoes, and more. With this handy guide, you will be able to choose your own fashion without running the risk of crossing the line of acceptability—something especially important for the first-timer.
Formal Wear, Formal Etiquette
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Ball at 20s, Kardovsky[/caption]
As steeped in history and tradition as it is, men’s formal wear is thoroughly entangled in extensive layers of necessary etiquette. In this section, we discuss these etiquette requirements surrounding men’s formal wear in more detail. For example, we’ll discuss how to respond to an invitation to a formal event, the difference between “black tie required” and “black tie optional,” the times of day when it is traditionally acceptable to wear a tuxedo, acceptable alternatives to traditional black tie in warm weather (or constantly warm climates), and more. This is a crucial reference for any man attending or considering attending a formal event, since it is at least (if not more!) as important to avoid etiquette mistakes as it is to avoid fashion mistakes. “Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm,” notes Virginia Woolf of the role and power of formal wear. “They change our view of the world and the world's view of us.”
Over 100 Years of Formal Wear
We’ve noted that men’s formal wear has had a long and fascinating history. In this section, we explore that history in thoroughly researched detail, from its Regency roots to mid-20th
century interpretations. Black tie (and white tie) is certainly one of the most unchanged types of fashion when compared to other styles that have come and gone over the years. In fact, it is quite possible that the only fashion subject to fewer changes over the years is equestrian apparel—the fashion that served as inspiration for much of men’s formal wear to this day!
However, you should not
take this to mean that the back tie style’s history, spread over hundreds of years, is even remotely dull. We will explore the origins of different black tie fashions, the ways in which slight rebellious changes grew out of individual decades, and ways in which the basic formula has been preserved—even perfected—to this day.
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Whether you are intending to buy your own formal wear or not, our history section is brimming with hundreds of years’ worth of facts and anecdotes. Black tie and other formal wear is a fascinating topic of study, since tiny alterations over the centuries can reflect massive societal and economic upheavals. The story of men’s formal wear is a muted, perhaps “classier” reading of the turbulent states of affairs among the aristocracy (and, eventually, those who wanted to dress like them)—just as modern men’s formal wear itself is a muted but always classy kind of attire. This section is meant to be an exhaustive resource for both fashion and history buffs alike!
Classic Black Tie Styles
Despite the myriad style options that evolved over the past few hundred years (or over the past few decades), it’s important for anyone interested in building a solid formal wear knowledge base to focus on the trends and traditions that make up classic
black tie styles. The classic style is a timeless one, and knowledge of the classics is an important tool for any fashion-conscious man to have in his arsenal. After all, if you want to bend the rules a bit, you have to fully understand the meanings, impacts, and origins of those rules! Alan Flusser agrees
, “If you're going to change or bend the rules, you should know what the rules are in the first place.” This knowledge will allow you to ensure that, while bending, you do not accidentally break those rules beyond all repair or recognition! After all, maintaining your own personal fashion-forward aesthetic should never come at the cost of unconscious rudeness or disregard toward the hosts of the formal event you are attending. Remember, one consideration that sets black tie apart from other choices of attire is this: unlike almost any other style, formal wear is as heavily steeped in etiquette
as it is in history and fashion.
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Morning Dress, 1901[/caption]
This is an equally important section for the formal wear newbie: after all, if you’re not sure what kind of tux to buy and you do not want to be responsible for a fashion faux pas
, you will always be safe with a classically cut and tailored tuxedo. As a more in-depth accompaniment to our beginner’s how-to guide, this section should be the ultimate resource for the man attending his first “black tie required” affair. Whether you choose to rent or buy, bringing a wealth of solid foundational information with you when making your style decisions will help to ensure that you come out with a tuxedo that will not merely prevent you from causing a scene (or, that more insidious result, gossip!); your tuxedo will be the height of class and respect no matter the century or situation in which you find yourself.
Classic White Tie Styles
In addition to classic black tie (or what was originally referred to as “informal” attire!), we also discuss various classic white tie styles: black tie’s extra-formal cousin. We will go over in more depth those details and differences in apparel that separate white tie from black tie; we will also discuss those kinds of occasions, which require the former rather than the latter. This section does for white tie styles exactly what our “classic black tie” section does for black tie: again, this section should be a resource and a guide for both the formal wear newcomer and the fashion icon (and anyone in between, for that matter!). Though there have been fewer (and admittedly less disastrous) attempts to modernize white tie styles, it is still a good idea to have the classic styles down pat—whether you are renting, buying for the first time, or merely adding to your already impressive formal wear collection.
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Atatürk in White Tie[/caption]
Note, though, that it wouldn’t be fair not to admit that there’s a very low chance you’ll ever need to wear a set of tails! As Bridges and Curtis put it, “Unless he is an attendant at a nighttime wedding party, invited to a formal ball, or tapped to receive a Nobel Prize, it is highly likely that a gentleman will never be faced with the necessity of being fitted for a tailcoat.”
Still, if you happen to be one of those lucky gentlemen, it is especially
important not to make a fashion mistake when wearing this most formal of formal wear options!
How to Bend—but not Break—the Rules
Once you are well acquainted with the classic styles of formal wear, it is safe to move on to more contemporary interpretations. In our “Contemporary Style Guide” section, we will both explore the myriad attempts to modernize formal wear, and highlight some contemporary changes that actually emphasize and pay homage to its classic roots. In addition, this should be your go-to guide when beginning the process of renting or buying your own tuxedo suits and accessories. We will provide you with tips and tricks for selecting the tailored suit that is right for you, including suggested styles for your body type. It has been said that tuxedos are the great equalizer—any man can look classically handsome and elegant dressed in formal wear! But it always helps to aid the magic of formal wear by selecting the perfect style—from cut to color to accouterment—for you personally.
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Bend the rules, don't break them[/caption]
Part of our style guide focuses exclusively on formal wear accessories: from shoes to ties, cummerbunds to pocket squares—and never, ever sunglasses
. We’ll use red carpet examples to help distinguish between the daring and the dare not: after all, part of our job is to help you look more Bond and less Bono! Though accessories are discussed throughout the site as an integral part of black tie, white tie, and all other formal wear styles; here, accessories become the star. This section fully investigates the wide range of formal shoes, ties and bowties, waistcoats and acceptable alternatives, types of shirt collars, cufflinks, lapel pins, and more; as well as what kinds of accessories make elegant partners and which should never be seen as part of the same outfit! We are aiming to take the mystery out of formal wear so that you can stride confidently into any “black tie required” event (or even around your house—admit it, wearing a tuxedo just feels good!).
How-To Guides for Every Formal Wear Situation
In order to make use of your style knowledge and sophistication, though, you must know how
to wear each component part of your tuxedo—including accessories and decorations: that’s why, in addition to descriptions of styles and tips and so on, our site includes extensive how-to guides. After all, formal wear wouldn’t be the same without all its intricate details—the cufflinks, the bowtie, the dress watch, the pocket square, and more! Among other things, you can learn how to choose the right tie (or bowtie) to go with your body type, shirt collar, and lapels; how to tie a bowtie; multiple knotting options if you choose to go with a straight tie instead; how to fold a pocket square so that you look put-together and classy, instead of excessively extravagant; when and how to wear a lapel pin and/or a boutonniere; when and how to use (or mix) nontraditional colors; and more. We’re here to help you with these all-important tricky bits—no matter what manner of formal wear trouble you find yourself in.
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Philip in White Tie[/caption]
Non-Traditional Formal Wear
Since classic and contemporary options aren’t enough (of course!), we also spend a section of this guide focusing on some non-traditional formal wear options: for example, aforementioned alternatives to black tie during the summer or in warmer climes; Scottish formal wear (hint: kilts are required!), fun vintage formal wear styles that you can rock without rocking the boat (too much, anyway), and more! We will explore the growing trend of women wearing what is traditionally men’s formal wear (a style taken to the limits of perfection by Janelle Monáe
, who understands the tuxedo’s understated elegance: “I want to be taken seriously as an artist, and wearing anything that shows [my body] off will be a distraction from the music. That's how my signature uniform, my tuxedo, came about. It's classic and timeless”). This is also the place to find answers to your questions concerning accepted attire for formal events too early in the day for a full tuxedo (or, “morning dress”).
Whatever your formal wear needs or interests, this guide is the right place to begin, and to follow your investigation to its satisfactory conclusion. We take the mystery out of formal wear, leaving you with all the knowledge, confidence, and poise to put together your own James Bond-worthy attire.
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New York: W.W. Norton, 1985.
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Boyer, G. Bruce. Elegance: A Guide to Quality in Menswear.
New York: W.W. Norton. (1985).
 A Gentleman Gets Dressed Up: What to Wear, When to Wear it, How to Wear it.
Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003.