The black tie optional dress code is a trap—one we can help you avoid. Read on to get outfit ideas and inspiration for black tie optional wedding attire and more.
If everyone owned a tuxedo, there would be no black tie optional dress code—it’d just be black tie, or something else. That’s not reality as we know it (and it never really was), so when you’re invited to a black tie optional wedding, you probably feel the internal struggle over what the dress code actually means, and how to navigate it.
Skip the tux? Not so fast. We have some recommendations, and most of them involve a tuxedo.
For more information on dress codes, check out our full guide here.
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Black Tie Optional Attire Definition
In terms of Charlie Brown-level wishy-washiness, “black tie optional” is pretty up there. Like most dress codes, the name doesn’t offer the info you need to find the right look. Luckily, you’re mere words away from clarity, and for men, black tie optional is pretty simple: just wear black tie attire.
We know—if you don’t own a classic black tuxedo, it’d be a lot easier to opt for that suit you’ve worn to every event for the past 3 years. We don’t want you to be one of the four guys who didn’t wear a tux (and feel awkwardly underdressed), so if buying isn’t an option, you should seriously consider renting. (FYI: Renting doesn’t have to suck.)
If you take our advice, you’ll check all the boxes of the black tie dress code: black tuxedo, white dress shirt, black bow tie, and black dress shoes. Once you have the basics covered, follow our event-specific tips below to step up your game.
Black Tie Optional Attire for Weddings
The couple who asks for black tie optional attire is really, really trying to be chill about the whole tuxedo thing, but please believe that they fully expect you to wear one. Maybe you’ve already decided you’re not wearing a tux, and nothing will change your mind. In that case, see our “IF YOU MUST” section below.
To better understand why you need to aim high with this dress code, consider the following: When you ask a roommate or significant other to do the dishes they left in the sink “if they have the time,” what you really mean is “find the time.” Well, black tie optional is basically saying “if you have the tux,” so, y’know… let’s find you the tux.
You’re following the black tie dress code, so wear a classic black tuxedo like this peak lapel style. A shawl collar tuxedo would also be a good, modern choice. Each of these tuxedos have a single-button closure, which is more formal than the two buttons you’d typically find on a suit jacket.
No surprise here. A formal white wing tip shirt might be overkill for this dress code, unless you think this wedding will be really extravagant. Otherwise, a simple white dress shirt, or an elevated style with a fold-down collar are solid choices.
Put a bow on it—a black bow tie, specifically. It’s tempting to try some unique neckwear, but this isn’t the right time for your Cubs logo tie. (Honestly, there is no right time for that, my dude.) Different shapes and fabrics offer variety if that’s what you’re looking for.
POCKET SQUARE, CUFFLINKS, AND BUTTON STUDS
Don’t make this too complicated. The most obvious pocket square is probably the best (a simple white linen square), but if you try something with a pattern or print, keep it black and white. Cufflinks are encouraged for a black tie optional wedding, but if you want to embellish your shirt with button studs (optional), just make sure the metals are the same color (silver with silver, etc.).
Based on the all of our recommendations above, you know the shoes need to be either A) black or B) white. If you’re Elvis, either answer is acceptable. Not Elvis? Join the club and wear black patent leather shoes, or a more elaborate pair in patent and calf skin leather.
If you’ve been to a wedding, you might have noticed that vests on the wedding party is kind of a thing. It doesn’t have to be a thing, but… still, kind of a thing. So if you’re a guest in a vest, the odds are high you’ll look like you’re in the wedding party. On the other hand, this low-cut vest can elevate a black tux look and make it more formal.
IF YOU MUST (SUIT)
So you’re not wearing a tuxedo. We accept your decision, and though we don’t necessarily support that choice, we do support you. Because we’re friends, and we’ll never give up on you. Never.
But we still have standards, damnit. You’ll need a dark suit in navy or charcoal grey. Go lighter in color, and you’ll break the dress code (officially). In addition to your dark suit, you’ll want to keep the rest of your outfit elevated and conservative. Try a white dress shirt, a black necktie with a white pocket square, and black dress shoes.
If you were thinking about a black suit, heads up: that can be difficult to pull off in this situation. Black has a stylish, edgy history (think Johnny Cash, Reservoir Dogs / Pulp Fiction), but because you’re fudging black tie optional, you’d probably go full black and white with your shirt and accessories. And when it’s not a tux, a black and white outfit can give off accidental funeral vibes. Tread lightly.
Black Tie Optional Attire for Special Events
A special event with this dress code is probably encouraging you to loosely observe the black tie attire dress code while bringing some personality to your look. In this case, we won’t even offer the “IF YOU MUST” suit option we did for a black tie optional wedding, as you’ll stand out for the wrong reasons. But don’t go full creative black tie (a code that’s all about self-expression)—you’re still expected to wear black and white.
Both of our tuxedo recommendations for a wedding still apply here, but add to them the black notch lapel tuxedo and the midnight blue tux. The notch lapel tux has some of the design elements of a suit—a notch lapel, two buttons—but the satin accents that elevate it to tuxedo status. The style was a favorite of guys like Sinatra in the ’60s, and it still carries some of that swagger.
The midnight blue tuxedo might seem kind of out there, especially if you’re not known to be a clotheshorse, but hear us out. It’s actually a very traditional alternative to a black tuxedo, and it’s been around for longer than you’d think. Unless the place is lit like an office, midnight blue will look a lot like black. And if it is lit like an office? You’ll look like a boss. Maybe you like the look of a shawl collar—well, you can get that in midnight blue, too.
Again, it’s worth checking out our black tie optional wedding rec’s above, because all of those options hold up for a special event. Add to those a few modern alternatives, each with a fly-front placket that hides your shirt buttons for a clean finish.
We’re treating the black tie optional dress code as if it were just black tie, so you’ll need a black bow tie. A black silk butterfly is the standard, but there are a few ways to make it your own. Try a unique shape (diamond, or the batwing shape below), pattern (pin dots or polka dots), or fabric texture (velvet is perfect for the winter).
Pocket squares are usually an opportunity for self-expression, and a way to add personality to your look. You still want to stay in black and white territory, but don’t be shy. Let something unique peek from your pocket.
Black patent leather shoes are always going to be the go-to for black tie optional attire, so if you’re more comfortable in a lace-up, do that. But there’s a good chance you’re looking for some way to break the rules, and because footwear is nowhere near eye level, here’s your shot. Try a loafer (in black), you maniac. Our secret.
This is optional, but a vest can make any tuxedo feel a little more formal if that’s what you need. Check the black tie optional wedding section above for a matching black tuxedo vest, and pair this one with a midnight blue tuxedo. Or, skip it for a modern look.
More Options for Black Tie Optional
If you don’t own a tuxedo, and if you’re not exactly psyched to rent one, that means you’re thinking about making a big purchase. That could make sense if this is going to be your wedding tux, or if you’re constantly hitting up charity events and galas (or you’re into Gatsby cosplay or something). Buying a tuxedo would cover your needs, and you’d always have it. But for most of us, the need for a tux is rare, and the cost of a tux that actually fits is a little steep for a one-off wedding or event.
Checking out our recommendations for black tie optional events, you might have been surprised by the variety of tuxedos out there, and that’s where renting—if the tux fits—really wins out. It’s like having a closet full of unique tuxedos in different styles that you can pull from whenever you need them (without maxing out your credit cards).
We know how you probably feel about a rental tux, because we felt the same way. They’re usually a poor fit, with overly-generous sizing, and made out of beefy fabrics that have more in common with a hazmat suit than formalwear.
That’s why we changed rentals—better fabrics, a modern fit, delivered to you. See how we do it better here.
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