Black Tie-Optional: A Complete Guide

So, you’ve been invited to a black tie-optional event and want to know how you can keep things stylish while staying loyal to the host’s wishes too?

Well, here is your guide to the black tie-optional events.

The upper echelons of men’s formal wear include the white tie, morning dress, black tie, and black tie-optional. The white tie is the most formal of all men’s dress code, while the morning dress is the gentleman’s daytime equivalent to the white tie.

But the black tie is the most formal dress code many men will wear in their lifetime; it involves tuxedos and bespoke dinner jackets. Then we have the most misunderstood dress codes of all time, the black tie-optional

What is a Black Tie-Optional Event?

Black tie-optional events are semi-formal social events that happen in the evenings, just like the conventional black-tie events. The event could be a wedding, gala, bar-mitzvahs, birthdays, or just a get-together party.

Typically, the host of a black tie-optional event wears a black-tie ensemble and hopes that his/her guest will do the same, although it is not necessarily required.

Black tie-optional is the most generous dress code.

The black-tie optional dress code is a flexible one. When you get invited to a black-tie optional event, therefore, just know that the host wishes to retain some level of formality while allowing some flexibility on the dress code.

As a guest, you can keep things formal with tuxedos or made-to-measure dinner jackets and black tie. But you do not have a closet of dinner jackets and tuxedos, then a dark business suit will do.

Tuxedos aren’t certainly expensive, but because they require additional materials for the facings, they are priced higher than other suits.

For that reason, few gentlemen own tuxedos, and those made-to-measure dinner jackets can make a dent in your pockets.

The black-tie optional dress code exists so that even those who can’t afford dinner jackets and tuxedos, get to attend events by keeping their dress style semi-formal.

Examples of Black Tie-Optional Events?

From the Ivy League graduate lawyer with a high-dollar vocabulary to the small-town handyman whose idea of styling up is a blue jeans-collard-shirt combo, the black tie-optional dress code is suitable for every type of gentlemen.

Black tie-optional events, just like the standard black tie, take place in the evenings. Therefore, any black-tie event can become black tie-optional if the host wishes so.

The black-tie optional dress code is found in invitations sent out by the bride and bridegrooms, community leaders, businesses sponsoring galas, or large-scale events.

The black tie-optional wedding is an example of an event every gentleman gets to attend in their life. Here, formal dark suits are still the favorite, but since it’s a celebration, you can style things up with colorful ties and pocket squares.

While black tie-optional events allow guests to embrace semi-formal attires as an alternative to the more conventional dress code, the guest should keep it close to what is requested. So, what should you wear to a black tie-optional event?

Any invitation with a Black Tie or Black Tie-Optional dress code requests a tuxedo and black tie. It’s just that in the latter, the tuxedo isn’t a must. But if you wish to dress in the conventional black-tie outfit for a black-tie optional event, you are welcome to do so.

Here are the outfit options for a black-tie optional event:

Wear a Damn Tuxedo If You Have One or Can Afford to Rent it.

black tie-optional

You can always go for a standard black-tie look. In fact, if you have a closet of tuxedos, then you should look at the black tie-optional event as a good opportunity to dress to a high standard; usually, this means a black or blue midnight tuxedo and bow tie.

If you don’t own a tux, but desire to wear one to the event, you can rent one as long as you have the means to do so.

The average cost of renting a tux is about $196. But if you go for designer tuxedos, expect to pay something between $400-$500.

Most men’s clothes stores have tuxedo rental packages that include items like a vest, shirt, coat, neckwear, pants, shoes, cufflink, etc.

However, since fit will always be the most important thing to watch out for when assembling any outfit and something you own is most likely to fit you than a rented tux ever could, you should consider buying a tuxedo.

Especially if you find yourself invited to an increasing number of black tie-optional events or standard black-tie events, it happens that 99 times out of 100, an outfit you own is going to fit you better than a rented one.

Note, however, that because the host of a black tie-optional event is allowing some flexibility on the black-tie dress code doesn’t mean you skip the traditional rules of the black-tie ensemble when you wear a tuxedo.

If you wear a tuxedo to a black-tie optional event, please adhere to the conventional rules of proper black tie.

The optional in the black tie-optional dress code doesn’t give you the excuse to dress down parts of a traditional tuxedo or incorporate other informal elements.

The Optional Part – A Dark Business Suit

black tie-optional

The optional part is a judgment-free acknowledgment that not all gentlemen own a closet of conventional black-tie ensembles. The host still requests that you dress as formally as you can. What then should a gentleman who doesn’t own a closet of tux wear to a black-tie optional event?

Dark Suit options for black tie-optional event

When it comes to black tie-optional suits, both two-piece and three-piece suits are acceptable. Single-breasted or double-breasted suits are equally good choices. Just ensure that all pieces have been sourced from the same cloth and follow the following guidelines:

Black Suit

black suit black tie-optional

You are welcome to match the formality of the tuxedo-wearing guests using a dark suit of your own if you don’t have a tuxedo. Always stick to a very dark Suit when attending black tie-optional events to look stylish among other tuxedo-wearing guests. When wearing a dark suit to a black-tie optional event, however, stylists advise against pairing it with a black bow tie. Don’t make the mistake of trying to imitate a tuxedo.

 – Charcoal and deep navy suits

 – Charcoal and deep navy suits are acceptable too

 – Dark Brown Suit

dark brown black tie-optional

Avoid brown suits. Historically, the brown suit is associated with country wear, not suitable as semi-formal wear to an evening party. But you can always get away with brown if the Suit is very dark brown. The photo above is a great example of a fantastic dark brown suit. 

 – Deep brown suit

 – Faint pattern suit

Solid-colored suits are the best choice for black tie-optional events too. Though you can also get away with faint pattern suits such as the light and broad pattern kind.

Dress shirts

You have to contrast the dark Suit, so go with a white shirt. For cufflinks, both the French-cuffed and the barrel-cuffed white shirts are equally good choices for a black tie-optional ensemble.

The French-cuffed shirts are conventional shirts for actual tuxedos too. But never pair a real tuxedo shirt with a suit because you are going to look mismatched if you do so.

Shirts to avoid

You can wear a light blue shirt too and get away with it, but stylists say, it’s best to shy away from such color and any other colors, even the light pastel shade shirts. All shirt colors that would be too informal for an optional black-tie event should be avoided. Avoid patterned shirts too.

Go for a dark, conservative tie

black tie-optional

When it comes to neckwear, dark and solid conservative neckwear is the best choice to go with your dark suit. Therefore, instead of the patterned neckwear, go for the neckties that are dark, monochromatic, and solid in color.

This doesn’t mean that small, subtle patterns don’t work, just that solid colors are the best.

You can also wear a black necktie. But don’t attempt to imitate your tuxedo-wearing friends by wearing a black bow tie. Other great alternatives to the black necktie include neckties and bowties that are dark forest green, dark plum, navy, or burgundy in color.

Nothing adds more formality than a silk necktie. Therefore, if you want a formal look, go for a silk tie or something of the sort, i.e., with a bit of texture like the shantung silk tie.

Dark, over-the-calf socks

Black tie-optional events are not the times for crazy-looking socks. Please just ensure that the color of your socks and Suit’s pants match. You can also match the socks to your tie. All in all, avoid screaming socks colors.

Black leather shoes

The best shoes for a black tie-optional event are the black leather types. The classic black oxfords, for example, never disappoint. Both the plain-toed and the conservative cap-toe black leather shoes are equally great choices.

There are many black leather shoe style options in the market, but Oxfords, Ace Marks, and Beckett Simonon models are the best options to complete your dark suit look.

You can also wear well-shined black derby shoes as long as you style them conservatively. You can also get away with it by wearing very dark and well-polished brown shoes.

For tuxedos, you can wear shoes suitable for a particular occasion. These can be the funky loafers or some other patented leather slippers.

What Accessories Can You Wear to a Black Tie-Optional Event?

mens accessories, mens accessory box, suspendermen, suspenders,

Need a box full of dapper men’s accessories? Give our Top Shelf Box a look. It even comes with a pair of suspenders in every box. 

You can always add a few conservative accessories to your dark suit ensemble for black tie optional events. Avoid wild socks and novelty braces if you don’t want to look out of place. Nevertheless, when it comes to optional black-tie events, you have a bit of freedom with the accessories than any other part of your ensemble.


You can wear any solid colored metal cufflinks. Silver and gold are, however, the fan-favorite color choices. The cufflinks can either stand part or match the color of your tie. And they can also have some understated designs, but since it’s a semi-formal affair, avoid cufflinks with logos, insignias or miniatures.

 Pocket squares

The color of the pocket square should match that of your shirt. A white pocket square is the most classic option. And if it has some edge details in a color that harmonizes that of your shirt, tie or socks are good for you

For weddings, there is room for a splash of colors. Style things up with some colorful pocket squares to match the celebration or even use a lapel flower. The best pocket square material is linen or silk.

What about dinner jackets?

Let’s face it, tuxedos are a bit ultra-orthodox now, and no one wants to be confused with the wait staff. But while you could certainly wear a dark business suit and get away with it, a black tie-optional invitation offers so many style opportunities to pass up.

Dinner jackets are great alternatives to the classic black and midnight blue tuxedos. You can achieve the nonchalant Sean Connery 007 look with an eggshell, midnight blue, or burgundy boutonniere dinner jacket. The velvet smoking jacket featuring oversized buttons is also a great substitute to the damn tuxedos, even though it’s not a dinner jacket per se.

Dinner jackets go with the accessories you would wear with the standard tuxedo. For example, here, Tom Ford goes for a velvet wide peaked lapel dinner jacket, navy blue in color, and with big studs and a cummerbund.

Cummerbunds can be worn with single-breasted dinner jackets too, but a vest or waistcoat shouldn’t as the extra layer will make you overheat.

The Take-Home?

A black-tie optional is the most misunderstood yet most flexible dress code too. It allows invited guests to semi-formal attire as opposed to the conventional tuxedos for social evening events. You can pull it off with some dinner jackets or dark suits, contrasting dress shirts and matching shoes, socks and accessories. As long as you keep the style close to what the host requested, you will be safe from the judgy stares of fellow guests.

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