Man wearing black suit and tie with a white dress shirt

Cracking the Dress Code: Formal Edition From White Tie affairs to Black Tie Optional, we've got you covered no matter the occasion

Another invite and another attempt to decipher the sometimes daunting dress code .

With categories like White Tie, Black Tie, and Lounge, it can be overwhelming and confusing at times.

Whether it’s charity gala or a formal wedding, dressing the part doesn’t have to be a cryptic task. Take a good look at our thorough infographic and rule guide below for your edification.

(Read next – Dressy Casual in the Age of Athleisure )

Table of Contents

White Tie

Also known as “full dress,” the White Tie dress code is the rarest and most formal of them all.

Even the White House only has a couple White Tie events in a year. Though for most people, an invitation to an event that has a White Tie dress code is a pretty unlikely one, it is great to know the rules if you’re ever given the honor.

First, you should know that this dress code the most strict. The required parts of a White Tie ensemble include a white waistcoat (style of vest) worn over top of a white full-dress stiff bosom shirt with a detachable white pique wing collar.

This shirt is secured white shirt studs and white cufflinks. A matching white bow tie is an absolute essential, hence the name of this dress code.

On the bottom half is worn black pleated trousers with a black satin strip that covers the outer seams (known as the tuxedo stripe).

These formal trousers can either be tightened with adjustable side tabs or held up by white suspenders that are worn under the waistcoat.

We should note that proportions are very important when it comes to full dress.

The trousers are high-waisted (by today’s standards) and the waistcoat must cover the waistband of the trousers but cannot extend below the front of the tailcoat.

Although this is this strictest code, you can add a subtle touch of your personal style with your choice of formal cufflinks  (silver, mother of pearl, etc.), adding a boutonniere, or maybe integrating a white pocket square .

Proper footwear is either the more traditional black patent court pump with grosgrain ribbon or black patent leather oxfords.

The most common events that call for White Tie attire are charity galas, official ceremonies, government ceremonies, and the opera.

Lord Grantham wearing White Tie/Full Dress in Downton Abbey
Lord Grantham
wearing White Tie/Full Dress in Downton Abbey

Ivory Cream Self-tie Bow Tie

Spruce up your wardrobe with this handsome menswear classic. Handcrafted with choice silks and rendered in an elegant ivory cream hue, this versatile freestyle bowtie will help you look your best without the cheesy look of a pre-tied.

Black Tie

The words “Black Tie” may conjure up memories of high school dances, but now that you are all grown up, this type of affair is a bit more involved than renting the generic polyester tux set from your local suit emporium (gross).

When you attend the company awards nights, your sister’s formal wedding, or charity event that calls for Black Tie suit, it’s important abide by the rules to look your best.

You don’t want your peers to get the impression that you’re as clueless as a pimply teenager. A classic black tuxedo is still the standard at these events.

The typical tuxedo jacket has a single button and is single breasted with a satin peak lapel and no vent.

A black bow tie and black patent leather oxfords are a must. Optional additions to the basic tuxedo include a simple (usually white) pocket square  or an elegant opera scarf if you’re feeling a bit spry.

Black Tie is the most commonly used dress code for any polished event and knowing how to dress for it is a great weapon to have in your arsenal.

A variation on the traditional Black Tie dress code is Warm Weather Black Tie which features a white jacket instead of black and is sometimes called upon for summer formal events.

Formal wear for men for evening weddings, company awards dinners, and some private dinners are all occasions that may require you to don a tuxedo.

Cast of AMC's Mad Men wearing Black Tie
Cast of AMC’s Mad Men wearing Black Tie

Black Pre-tied Bow Tie

To wear a bow tie is a sign of confidence. While bow ties are perfect for formal and elegant events, they also make a bold statement in more casual settings.

Black Tie Optional

The fact that the word “optional” is in the title is only begging for confusion.

A host may choose this dress code if they want to be considerate of the fact that not all guests may have a tuxedo.

At these events, it is acceptable to forgo the tuxedo (if you absolutely must) and opt for a polished black suit.

However, if you have the means, we still encourage you to wear a tuxedo of some sort.

Because of the precarious nature of the word “optional,” we suggest you to contact the host if you need clarification.

A Black Tie Optional event is still formal in nature but it has slightly more relaxed rules for attire.

A tie is still necessary and so are your polished black shoes. Accessories can be used to express personal style.

Instead of a bow tie, you can opt for a necktie with a handsome tie bar  or a classy lapel flower.

Tie bar placement is key, so if you are a tie bar rookie, check out our ultimate guide to tie bars .

You’re most likely to run into this category at weddings, stylish events, formal dinners, and galas.

Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston and Kevin Spacey sporting Black Tie Optional at the 2013 Emmy Awards
Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston and Kevin Spacey sporting Black Tie Optional at the 2013 Emmy Awards

Onyx Extra Long Tie

Suit up to perfection with the beautiful solid extra long ties by Peter Hayer. This microfiber onyx extra long tie features a refined satin finish,giving just the right amount of sheen that’s perfect for formal events.

Black Tie Creative

This variation on the standard Black Tie category allows the party to get started with a little festivity.

Black Tie Creative is an opportunity to showcase your personal style in terms of color, accessories, and collar and lapel style.

You may opt for the uncommon shawl lapel or a slim cut tuxedo in a dark saturated color like midnight blue or maroon.

A colored jacket, colored wingtips shoes, or a brightly colored bow tie are all fair game in this category.

Even going with a black shirt instead of white can add subtle creative flair.

Although this dress code offers flexibility, it is important to keep in mind that if the event is “Black Tie” at all, no matter how festive or creative it is, it is a formal event and your sartorial modifications should still honor a the formal atmosphere of the event.

Keep in mind that wearing a standard tux or an ensemble with “black tie optional” qualities is also perfectly acceptable.

A variant of the Black Tie Creative dress code is Festive Black Tie. How you should dress to this occasion depends on the given situation or theme of the party.

The most common example of a Festive Black Tie event is a company Christmas party, but there are infinite ways to twist it and that depends on the host.

Fun themes like “Black Tie and Boots” call for wearing a bolo tie with a tuxedo or sporting a Western-themed tie or cufflinks .

Ryan Gosling, Neil Patrick Harris and Chris Pine wearing Black Tie Creative
Ryan Gosling, Neil Patrick Harris and Chris Pine wearing Black Tie Creative

Princeton Black Pre-tied Bow Tie

Add an air of sophisitcation to any getup with the Princeton bow tie. With its subtle texture and shine, you’re sure to look effortlessly stylish.


A Lounge dress code event maintains formality while allowing for the integration of more color and options into your look.

Tuxedos are totally out of the picture for this dress code. A suit in a dark, neutral color such as classic black, navy, or gray is recommended.

Take a little liberty with your lapel and collar style as Lounge attire is less strict than the other formal dress codes.

Polished shoes are not necessary and both black and brown shoes work.

If you are feeling adventurous, mix in a pastel colored shirt or a subtly patterned tie to give your suit character.

Pairing a skinny tie with a nice tie bar can give your Lounge outfit a modern edge. This category can be worn to daytime formal parties or business dinners.

Hugh Jackman, John Krasinski and Joseph Gordon-Levitt wearing Lounge attire on the red carpet
Hugh Jackman, John Krasinski and Joseph Gordon-Levitt wearing Lounge attire on the red carpet

Wisteria Tie

If you like to express your individual style through your neckwear, then you will love this selection of Elite 100% silk solid color neckties.

Gone is the dread of another invitation with a dress code!

Now that you are seasoned in formal dress codes, take a little liberty when you can and remember when you shouldn’t.

The age-old rule of thumb has not changed, it’s better to be overdressed than under-dressed.

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