Black Tie: A Coat of Many Colours?

Last week, we discussed some of the conventions associated with wearing Black Tie, following the start of the awards season. There is so much to say about this dress code that we thought we should pursue it further. This week, how to introduce colour successfully into what some perceive as a boring colour system, and how to tie a proper bow tie.

The white dress shirt should preferably have a turndown collar (as opposed to winged). Wing collars are the preserve of White Tie, which is the highest form of formal dress. Although, it is usual to find gentlemen in Black Tie sporting wing collars. Interestingly, John Robertson, fellow tutor at The English Manner, notes that:

bowtie“[He has] seen the black dinner suit with the wing collar and the black tie worn SO successfully that [he] would be the last person in the world to say it is incorrect. It comes down to confidence and flair. Especially amongst the younger set, I say go for it, just so long as you do it with style. As long as you are breaking the rules anyway, best to go all the way. Not only does this look require that you tie your own tie, to avoid any display of adjusting hardware as well, wear a single ended bow tie (the favourite of The Prince of Wales) or a properly sized butterfly (that matches your collar size).”

Introducing colour into the black and white colour scheme of the garments can be dangerous. Yet, like with the wing collars, if you know the rules you can break then with panache and élan. There was once an occasion where a gentleman attended a Black Tie dinner wearing:  a white business shirt, blue blazer, dark bottle green trousers and a bow tie. No one noticed that he wasn’t wearing a ‘proper’ dinner jacket, as the bow tie gave the over-riding impression.

It is probably fair to say that most of the male population would opt for a ready-tied bow tie over a DIY one. Whilst there are benefits with the former, nothing can look better than a ‘proper’ one, as the ready-tied variety do not look nearly as good and can be very obvious to the trained eye.

You can find instructions on how to correctly tie here:

http://www.societies.cam.ac.uk/cuhags/whitetie/howtotie.htm

However we would advise a trip to a gentlemen’s’ outfitters to learn how to tie a bow tie, rather than just relying on the web. Shops such as Gieves & Hawkes, T. M. Lewin, or Thomas Pink – all of which are accessible outside of London.

It is never good manners to question the authenticity of someone’s bow tie: especially by pulling it to see if it comes apart! It may be a good idea to carry in your pocket a ready-tied tie, in case your attempt at having a go yourself fails.

Cummerbunds are worn with pleats pointing upwards and are worn in the spot around the waist where a conventional belt would be worn. Belts themselves are not normally worn with Black Tie: opt for braces if you feel a cummerbund is not for you.  A cummerbund bridges the gap between the waist edge of the trousers and the beginning of the pleated or pique fronted shirt.

Other accessories you can add include evening studs: a lot of proper dress shirts do not have the front four buttons, but have holes for formal dress studs. Studs are often given as 18th or 21st birthday presents and can last a lifetime. For dress shirts with double cuffs, cufflinks are required. Please note that all ‘jewellery’ (or accessories) should compliment what you are wearing and each other. For example, if your studs are black with silver edging, your cufflinks should ideally be silver, too.

Another point to note is that in America, it is referred to as ‘Tuxedo’ (see last week’s post as to why), whereas Brits will call it ‘Black Tie’ or ‘Dinner Jacket’: the latter is never written on invitations, only the former. In France, the notation “Jacquet” on an invitation denotes Black Tie.

What do you think? Do you dare break the colour rules? Have you found any better instructions on how to tie your bow tie? Let us know by commenting on this post.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

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1 Response to “Black Tie: A Coat of Many Colours?”


  1. 1 Jay Remer 4 March 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I must confess that as a young man in the states I broke with tradition from time to time. The most aggregious time I suppose was when I wore a white jacket, blue dress shirt, black bow tie and red Lily Pulitzer trousers. I chose to wear this as an escort to one of ‘the’ private debutante parties of the season. I later married the young lady whom I escorted. On another occasion, the airlines snookered me and I wound up wearing jeans, a white shirt, black bow tie, back cowboy boots and a dinner jacket to a wedding rehearsal dinner in Hilton Head. The guests loved it and actually thought I’d done it on purpose. Luckily for me I had carried my dinner jacket on board and happened to have a white shirt (button down) and bow tie in my brief case (how dated is that?). As John Robertson aptly states, you simply need style. As illustrated above, style can translate into many other definitions. Keep up the column, William. I enjoy it! EG


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