The Guide to Black Tie Optional for Men

black tie optional men

Written by Tanya Zhang

I've always thought that the term "black tie optional" has an ambiguous ring to it. Exactly which part is optional? The tie? Or the tuxedo? The word "optional" implies that there is some leeway when it comes to the level of formality in the dress code, which can sometimes be more confusing than helpful. But fear not, let's dive into the topic to find out what exactly you can wear for black tie optional attire.  

Introduction to Black Tie Optional Dress Code for Men

The origin of this particular dress code is not clear, but it is believed to have emerged as a way to give guests more flexibility in their formal attire while still maintaining a certain level of elegance for the event. The "black tie optional" dress code emerged as a response to the evolving preferences and expectations surrounding formal affairs.

Its history is intertwined with traditional black tie, which originated in the 19th century as a standard for formal evening wear among the upper classes in Europe. The classic black tie ensemble for men typically includes a black tuxedo jacket, matching trousers, a white dress shirt, black bowtie, and formal shoes, while women traditionally opt for elegant evening gowns.

As societal norms shifted and dress codes became more relaxed in the latter half of the 20th century, event organizers began to introduce variations to the strict black tie requirement. The concept of "black tie optional" emerged as a compromise, allowing guests the flexibility to choose between traditional black tie attire or slightly less formal alternatives while still maintaining an air of sophistication.

The term "black tie optional" was likely coined by event organizers or fashion experts who sought to create a dress code that was less rigid than traditional black tie attire while still conveying a formal and sophisticated tone. Similarly, here is our guide on creative black tie.

The adoption of this flexible dress code reflects a desire to accommodate diverse preferences and foster inclusivity, recognizing that not all guests may have access to or feel comfortable in traditional black tie attire. It also acknowledges the changing landscape of formal attire, where hosts may seek to strike a balance between upholding tradition and adapting to modern sensibilities. Today, the black tie optional dress code remains a common choice for events seeking to blend elegance with flexibility, offering guests the opportunity to express their personal style while adhering to the desired level of formality.

black tie optional wedding attire dress code for men visual infographic

What Does Black Tie Optional Actually Mean?

With more formal affairs popping up on everyone's calendars, party attendees are expected to dress to impress with the range of semi-formal vs formal dress codes.

In this guide, we'll break down the dress code and how you might dress for the occasion, especially at a wedding party. Check out our other resources for men's dress codes like smart casualsemi-formal attire, black tie wedding attire, white tie attire, and what is business casual attire for men.

"Black tie optional" is a dress code often used for formal events such as a wedding party or gala. This dress code typically means that guests are encouraged to wear black tie and formal attire, but it's not mandatory.

In the term "black tie optional," the word "optional" refers to the degree of adherence to the traditional black tie dress code. It signifies that while wearing black tie dress code is preferred and in line with the formal nature of the event, it is not mandatory. Guests have the option to either follow the classic black tie dress code or choose a slightly less formal alternative that still aligns with the overall elegance and sophistication of the occasion.

Essentially, what's optional is the strict adherence to the traditional black tie attire. Guests are given the freedom to interpret and adapt their attire based on their personal style preferences and comfort levels while still maintaining a level of formality suitable for the event.

For men, black tie optional attire typically means they can choose to wear either a tuxedo or a dark navy suit and tie. For women, black tie optional means the dress code usually implies a formal evening gown, but a cocktail dress or a formal suit may also be appropriate.

In general, it's best to err on the side of caution and dress up rather than down if you're unsure about the dress code. When in doubt about black tie dress code, it's always a good idea to ask the host for clarification.

black tie optional look

What to Wear to A Black Tie Optional Wedding for Men

For a black tie optional wedding, men have the opportunity to embrace formal attire while also having a bit of flexibility. While the traditional expectation for men at a black tie event is to wear a tuxedo, the optional aspect allows for some variation. Opting for a classic black tuxedo remains a timeless choice that exudes sophistication and elegance. Paired with a crisp white dress shirt, a black bowtie, and polished black leather shoes, this ensemble ensures a refined and distinguished look suitable for the occasion.

Alternatively, men can choose a dark, well-tailored suit as a nod to the formal atmosphere of the event. A charcoal or navy suit, complemented by a white dress shirt and a subtly patterned or solid-colored tie, offers a stylish and contemporary interpretation of black tie attire. It's essential to ensure that the suit fits impeccably and is accessorized with attention to detail, such as cufflinks, a pocket square, and polished leather shoes.

Ultimately, the key for men attending a black tie optional wedding is to strike a balance between adhering to the formality of the event and expressing their personal style. Whether opting for a traditional tuxedo or a tailored suit, attention to grooming and accessories is paramount to create a polished and sophisticated look befitting the celebration.

For men attending a black tie optional wedding, the attire typically allows for two options: a tuxedo suit jacket or a dark colored suit and tie. If you're wearing a navy suit, check out our guide on what color tie with navy suit. Here are some guidelines to help you decide how to dress for a black tie optional wedding:

  1. Tuxedo: If you want to go all-out, a tuxedo is the best option for formal wedding dress codes. A classic black tuxedo jacket and dress pants, white tuxedo shirt, black bow tie, black patent leather shoes, and black socks are a timeless and elegant look.

  2. Dark Colored Suit: If you don't want to wear a tuxedo, a formal suit in black, navy, or dark gray is a good alternative. Make sure the suit is well-tailored and fits properly. Pair it with a white dress shirt, a conservative tie, black dress shoes, and dark dress socks. Try wearing a blue shirt with black suit if you're looking to impress!

  3. Shoes: Black leather dress shoes are the best choice to wear with a tuxedo, while brown leather shoes work well with solid colored suits. Your shoes should be polished and in good condition.black dress shoes for black tie optional

  4. Accessories: Accessories are an important part of any formal outfit. A black bow tie is a classic choice for a tuxedo, while a slim fit tie is appropriate for a dark colored suit. A pocket square can add a pop of color and personality to an outfit, and cufflinks can be a subtle way to add a touch of sophistication. A dress watch can complete the look. 

    black tie for black tie optional attire
  5. Grooming: Grooming is also an important part of dressing for black tie optional weddings. Men should be clean-shaven or have neatly trimmed facial hair, and hair should be styled in a neat and conservative manner. Nails should be clean and trimmed, and cologne should be used sparingly.

Aim to look formal and polished, but not as if you're going to a funeral or business meeting. Avoid wearing light-colored suits, loud patterns, or flashy accessories. Keep your hair and facial hair neat and tidy, and make sure your shoes are polished and in good condition.

Some ways to accessorize men's black tie optional wedding attire include wearing a black bow tie, polished black shoes, a pocket square, cufflinks, and a dress watch.

Black Tie Optional Wedding Etiquette And Best Practices
dark suit jacket for black tie optional

 Attending black tie optional weddings require a certain level of etiquette and respect for wedding guests and the occasion. Here are some tips to help you navigate the event:

Dress appropriately:

A black tie optional attire typically allows for a tuxedo or a suit and tie for men, and a formal evening gown or a dressy cocktail dress for women. Make sure to choose appropriate attire and follow the dress code specified so that you're not under dressed for a formal wedding.


Err on the side of formality:

If you're unsure what to wear, it's better to dress more formally than less. It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed.


Avoid casual clothing:

Jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, or any other casual clothing are not appropriate for a black tie wedding. Here's a separate guide if you're looking for casual wedding attire for men.


Accessories should be formal:

Men should wear a bow tie or necktie and dress shoes, while women should opt for formal jewelry, heels, and an elegant clutch.


Pay attention to fit:

Your attire should fit properly and be tailored to your body. Ill-fitting clothing can make you look sloppy or unkempt. Also make sure that your suit is clean, pressed, and free of wrinkles before the event. 

Our favorite slim fit dress shirts are Nimble Made. They fit slim guys perfectly off-the-rack with a generous exchange and return policy!


Be respectful of the occasion:

A black tie optional wedding is a formal event, and it's important to show respect for the couple and the occasion. Dress appropriately, act courteously, and enjoy the festivities.


When in doubt, ask:

If you're unsure about what to wear or have any questions about the dress code, don't hesitate to ask the couple or the wedding planner. They will be happy to help you choose appropriate attire.

    Frequently asked questions about black tie optional dress code

    What not to wear to a black tie optional event?

    When attending black tie optional events, it's essential to adhere to the suggested dress code for the occasion. Avoid overly casual attire such as jeans, t-shirts, or sneakers, as they detract from the formal ambiance of the event. Similarly, steer clear of overly extravagant or attention-grabbing outfits that may overshadow the elegance of the occasion. Instead, opt for refined attire that strikes a balance between formal and stylish, such as a well-tailored suit or a tasteful cocktail dress. Ultimately, remember that the aim is to complement the sophistication of the black tie invited event while expressing your personal style with class and grace.

    Is a grey suit ok for black tie optional?

    While a grey suit can be a versatile choice for many occasions, its suitability for more formal events may depend on the specifics of the gathering. In some cases, a well-fitted grey suit paired with a crisp white shirt and a complementary tie or bowtie can indeed meet the standards of black tie optional attire, especially if accessorized appropriately with formal shoes and accessories. However, it's crucial to assess the event's level of formality and the expectations of the host or organizer. If in doubt, err on the side of caution by opting for darker, more traditional colors like black or navy, which align more closely with the classic black tie attire.

    Can you wear a normal suit to a black tie event?

    While a normal suit can be perfectly acceptable for many formal occasions, it may not meet the standards of a strictly tuxedo event. Black tie affairs typically call for a higher level of formality, often requiring a tuxedo for men and an elegant gown or formal evening wear for women. While a standard suit may be suitable for black tie optional events, it's essential to elevate your attire with refined details such as a well-chosen tie, polished shoes, and tasteful accessories to ensure you adhere to the desired level of sophistication and elegance.

    What is a step down from black tie optional?

    A step down from this dress code could be a semi-formal dress code. In a semi-formal setting, guests have a bit more flexibility in their attire choices compared to black tie events. Men might opt for a dark suit paired with a dress shirt and tie, while women could choose a cocktail dress or a chic evening ensemble. Semi-formal attire strikes a balance between elegance and comfort, making it suitable for a wide range of events, from weddings to upscale dinners or holiday parties. Remember to pay attention to the specific guidelines provided for the event to ensure your attire aligns appropriately with the occasion's level of formality.

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