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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Black Tie Guide By Peter Marshall

For those of you who know Peter Marshall's website then I don't need to tell you anything other than that the guide has been upgraded and it is worth having a look if you haven't been on the guide for 12 months.

For those of you unfamiliar to the guide, it is probably the leading online journal for etiquette and standards setting for black tie in the world. It is thorough and informative and it offers historical archives as well, to show a timeline evolution in evening wear. 

For those of you who are experimenting with smoking jackets, white dinner jackets, piping, rope, turned back quilted cuffs, velvet and silk - make sure you read this guide before you wear your next outfit. It will help you navigate a path to a more refined look.

An excerpt is below:

Defining Black Tie

Qualifying The Experts

While there is a universal understanding that black tie is a dress code, definitions of the code’s specific attire can vary widely.  The question then becomes, whose definition is correct?

Before we assess the validity of various definitions we first must place the black-tie code in context:

 the code is used specifically to maximize an occasion’s formality 
 "formal", in turn, is defined as the maintaining of tradition
 traditions evolve  (If they didn’t then the tuxedo would still be  unacceptable in mixed company)

Viewed in this perspective we can determine the qualification of a given definition's source:

the most relevant sources are experts on conventional etiquette and menswear 
because fashion experts focus on the short term their opinions are applicable only when a long-term pattern emerges
sources that heavily emphasize personal flair can be dismissed altogether as they run counter to black tie’s traditional emphasis on uniformity
published sources are more valid than amateur commentators as they are more likely to have legitimate credentials and to influence the population at large

The Expert Consensus

Upon examining the advice of this select group of pundits it quickly becomes apparent that the true definition of black tie lies in its details. 

Furthermore, despite the diversity of the experts sources and the century-long evolution of the dress code, the cumulated details are largely identical.  This fact completely discredits the argument that black tie is simply a matter of personal interpretation.

The Short Answer

Black Tie is a dress code that for men consists of the traditional tuxedo and accompaniments: a black dinner jacket and matching trousers, an optional black formal waistcoat or black cummerbund, a white formal shirt, a black bow tie or alternatively a black long tie, black dress socks and black formal shoes.  In hot weather a white dinner jacket may be substituted and the cummerbund is the preferred waist covering.

The Complete Answer

The simplistic summary above may be suitable for a dictionary but in a practical sense it raises more questions than it answers: What qualifies as a "dinner jacket"?  A "formal shirt"?  "Dress socks"?  Therefore, in order to actually assemble a proper black-tie outfit each of its components requires its own definition: 

1. jacket

    · black wool is the norm
    · midnight blue is equally correct
model can be:
    · single-breasted
    · double-breasted
lapels can be:
    · peaked lapel
    · shawl collar
    · notched lapel is most popular but not accepted by
and can have:
    · satin facing
    · grosgrain facing
no vents is most formal
one button is traditional for single-breasted models but two buttons are becoming acceptable
pockets should not have flaps

2. trousers

same material as jacket
single braid along outside seams to match lapel facings
cut for suspenders (braces in UK)
no cuffs (turnups in UK)

3. waist covering

optional waist covering is traditionally either:
    · black cummerbund made from silk to match jacket facings;
       best suited to shawl collar jacket; not particularly popular in
    · black low-cut evening waistcoat; best suited to peaked lapel
either is worn with single-breasted jacket models but not with double-breasted

4. shirt

white fabric, turndown collar
fronts can be either pleated or piqué (marcella in UK)
shirt traditionally has eyelets for studs; some authorities allow for fly-fronts
French cuffs (double cuffs in UK)
wing collar is considered unflattering or inappropriate for black tie by most authorities; some allow it but only in its traditional white tieform

5. neckwear
black self-tie silk bow tie to match lapel facings
black silk four-in-hand tie (long tie) has become a popular alternative although it is rejected by traditionalists

6.  footwear   

black shoes can be:
    · patent or highly polished leather oxfords (most popular)
    · patent or highly polished leather pumps (most traditional)
black silk or fine fabric hose, over-the-calf length

7. accessories

harmonizing black, gold or mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks
suspenders (braces in UK) of black or white silk  
optional white silk or linen handkerchief as pocket square


chesterfield coat is most conventional but any other dark dressy coat is acceptable; rain (trench) coats are not appropriate
evening dress scarf of white silk with tassels

Warm-Weather Variation

Acceptable year round in tropical climates and in summer in North America.

1. jacket

white or preferably ivory
self-faced lapels
all other details as per classic jacket

2. trousers
all other details as per standard black-tie trousers

3. waist covering
black cummerbund
4. shirt
as per standard black-tie shirt

5. neckwear
as per standard black-tie neckwear
6.  footwear   
as per standard black-tie footwear

7. accessories
optional colored silk or linen handkerchief as pocket square
all other details as per standard black-tie accessories

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