There’s a whole lot of confusion around the rules and etiquette of suits and ties when it comes to formal wear. Whilst in some corners these are still rigidly upheld, gradually the expectations around the sartorial requirements of formal events are shifting towards a more relaxed approach. So where do you stand with a formal suit, what are there features and what are some good factors to bear in mind when picking out evening wear for those more special occasions?

The White Tie

White Tie invitations are now quite rare. However, for a select handful of university societies and high society events these rules still apply, so if you move in these circles getting the look right might pay dividends. It’s not a typical industry awards ceremony look though. The White Tie dress code has been the outfit of requirement for Presidents, Prime-ministers and other state figures for official functions for centuries and is steeped in tradition and esteem.

This look is also known as ‘full evening dress’ so don’t be confused if you receive an invitation to an occasion with these instructions- it’s not time for the Tuxedo. Along with the white bow tie, a white shirt is also worn, typically very starched to give it a crisp finish. A white waistcoat is also worn, traditionally of the Marcella fabric weave and often with a double breasted fastening.

A black tailcoat and high waisted trousers complete the look – there’s very little room for manoeuvre as far as the fit is concerned, so if you prefer a more modern, closer fit of suit these elements of the outfit might feel unusual at first. The tail coat is completed with a wide peak lapel, which has also seen a resurgence in popularity in casual and business suits more recently.

Black Tie Evening Wear

Reserved for special occasions, the Black Tie look is still a formal look, although a step down from the White Tie. This is of course worn with a black tie, as well as a Tuxedo jacket and black trousers. Unlike the White Tie look there is a little more variation and flexibility permitted with the Black Tie dress code.

Whilst it has been tradition for the Tux and trousers to be black, it is becoming more common to see slight changes in colour options, with a midnight blue also being an acceptable option for the jacket and trousers. This is because the colour absorbs more light than most black jackets because of the die used, creating a darker finish than a black jacket which gives off a slightly green hue in some lights.

The good news for those who like to bring a touch of their own personal style to the formal look is that Black Tie traditions allow for a little more breathing space in this regard. The closer fit of suit, combined with the option for a lower waist trouser and a short skirted jacket can give a far more modern look to a formal suit than with the White Tie combination. If you want to play by the rules, then the shawl lapel is the traditional lapel and collar of the Tuxedo jacket. Also a subtle stripe down the outside of the trouser leg is also a characteristic feature of the Black Tie suit.

Whilst the Black Tie specification usually implies the wearing of a bow tie in black, it is also widely acceptable now simply to wear a more standard black tie along with a smart black or dark business suit or smart casual suit with a white shirt. Like with the White Tie look, this is completed with black shoes. You can also be sure to avoid the Michael Jackson look by sticking to black socks rather than white!
The Black Tie look, with a Tux or ‘dinner jacket’ is now widely accepted as formal dinner wear, particularly in the United States where, apart from White Tie dress codes for diplomatic events and Presidential dinners, the Tuxedo is the height of formality. There was much resistance from the British establishment when this was introduced as being standard evening and formal wear, but it is now the go to outfit for formal dinners and events and a Tuxedo or dinner jacket is a staple feature of most wardrobes. With a bespoke cut, you can make sure you’re looking your very best when the occasion calls for a formal outfit.