Arguably more complex than any female dress code, the considerations (& possibility for sartorial faux pas) around Black Tie, can be a daunting arena for gents. As an investment piece that should see you through a decade, it’s an important purchase to get right. Picking the brains of the knowledgable gents over at GQ, fashion Editor Brad Homes shares invaluable advice on navigating every element, and how best to stand out in your dinner suit, for all the right reasons…
All in the detail
Invest in something that’s well made and fits properly. The facing material on the lapels should match the braiding on the trousers and ideally the button fabric. Grosgrain silk, rather than satin, is more elegant.
Fabric-wise, traditionally wool is first choice but you can also go for mohair. The beauty of mohair is it plays on the light – you get a luminescence you don't get from wool. Ideally, the jacket should have a closed back with no vents, so the silhouette is sleek and clean.
The right lapel
"Ideally, you should have a peak lapel. Wear a shawl lapel and there’s the risk it’ll look awful if you get the proportions wrong, and a notch lapel should never be worn on black tie. A peak lapel looks a bit more special, it draws the eye out to the shoulders and will accentuate that V-shape you want from a well-fitting suit."
Velvet: no longer underground
Velvet has that smoking jacket feel and is a firm favourite because it has a bit of a vintage look. If you do choose to wear one, pair with smart black trousers, not a whole velvet suit."
Double-breasted and three-piece suits
"A double-breasted dinner suit will have to be done-up all evening, because if you undo a double-breasted jacket, it looks dreadful. With a three-piece, a waistcoat looks really nice and is a good alternative to the cummerbund. And bear in mind a black tie waistcoat is a different shape: scooped to show off the pleats of a dress shirt."
A trend that’s been bubbling under for years, it gives a richness in low light you don't get with black, and in the right light stands out from a crowd. But you have to be comfortable with that because in anything other than low light it will look quite blue.
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Always a turn down collar – a wing collar is for white tie. The front part (the bib) should be pleated: nice tight, neat pleats look great though be careful to not veer down the ’70s ruffled look. And it's a double cuff too, best worn with some elegant silver cufflinks.
How to tie a bow tie
You can tie shoelaces, yes? Well this is similar. Go online and watch a video, then practice. In terms of the tie itself, match with the facing of the suit – satin with satin, grosgrain silk with grosgrain silk – but also don’t be shy to try a different texture or feel. Though a different colour or print isn’t recommended. You don’t want to be the ‘novelty bow tie’ guy.
They should be plain hemmed bottoms, no turn-ups. Have them pleated if you wish but a flat front is more popular at the moment, and the current style is slightly slimmer and always with a single braid down the side. Side pockets should be in line with the braid as it looks neater – and need we say no belt loops?
Cummerbunds are dated, but braces are great, and ensure trousers stay put and don’t slip down throughout the evening. The traditional accompaniment to a dinner suit is evening shoes but they are quite a statement, so a well-shined patent leather shoe is ideal. Wear knee-length black socks – nothing too woolly, preferably silk or cashmere – as there’s nothing more tacky that a flash of flesh when dressed up. And only opt for a pocket square if it coordinates well with the rest of the outfit.