Style Essentials: What Does “Black Tie” Mean?

The term “black tie” actually refers to the black bow tie worn with a tuxedo suit. Simply put, a black tie event is one requiring traditional evening wear: for gentlemen, tuxedos; for ladies, formal dresses. But there are actually three tiers to the black-tie dress code. Below, a quick guide to evening wear expectations as identified on your invitation.

    1. White Tie or Ultra-Formal: The dressiest of all occasions. For men, full dress is expected, including a white tie, white waistcoat, and white wing collar shirt. A traditional tailcoat finishes the outfit. For women, evening gowns must reach at least to the ankle, but are preferably floor-length. Bare shoulders are often covered by shawls or stoles. Gloves must be worn and are only taken off during the meal.
    2. Black Tie or Formal: Your standard formal event. For men, a tuxedo is required. For women, an evening dress is standard, but hemlines may vary; choose from your best little black dress, an ankle-length number, or a floor-sweeping gown. A stole or wrap and gloves are optional.
    3. Black Tie Optional or Semi-Formal: An increasingly common dress code. For men, a dark suit and tie is offered as an acceptable substitute for a tuxedo. For women, the dress code remains the same, although short, cocktail style dresses will likely dominate the landscape.