What Does the Black-Tie Dress Code Really Mean?

The holiday party season will soon be in full swing, and you may find an invitation arriving at your door — or your inbox — that calls for black-tie attire. Not surprisingly, the formal dress code can stir up some serious fashion anxiety for even the savviest of style enthusiasts. No one wants to get it wrong and show up inappropriately dressed to a swanky event. But what does black-tie really mean? Here, we break down the key rules on this tricky attire and share a few outfit and shoe pairings to inspire your shopping.

The Gentlemen

For men, the occasion always calls for a classic tuxedo look complete with a jacket, matching trousers (worn without a belt), formal shirt, waistcoat and bow tie. While there is some leeway with color, it’s best to stick to dark shades such as black and midnight blue for the tux and white for the shirt. If you’re after a modern look, slim-cut silhouettes are best, and both traditional and double-breasted jacket designs are acceptable. Opt for peak or shawl lapels in a different shade or texture to the rest of the jacket.

To help you stand out in a sea of dark tuxedos, pay attention to the details. Accessories such as a white pocket square, a stylish pair of cufflinks, a statement watch and subtly patterned socks can add a touch of flair to a formal look. When it comes to shoes, shiny patent leather styles are the best complement to a tux. But if patent isn’t your thing, a well-polished pair of black leather oxfords is a good alternative.

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Buy: Florsheim Tux Plain Toe Derby shoe $110

The Ladies

For women, the black-tie dress code typically calls for decadent floor-length dresses and gowns. Shorter styles such as midi and cocktail dresses are also acceptable, as long as they read fancy and not casual (think rich colors and fabrics suited to evenings). But do keep hemlines at or below the knee and stick with timeless silhouettes and styles rather than trendy designs. And don’t be afraid to experiment with color. Black-tie does not have to be black. Bold jewel tones, for instance, are a festive option for the holidays and winter months.

Plan your accessories carefully. If you’re wearing a simple solid-colored dress, use your add-ons to elevate and make a statement, whether it’s a killer pair of heels, glittery necklace or eye-catching clutch. Choose more understated pieces to accent a dress with a bold print or pattern.

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