Style Blog/Style Tips

What is Black Tie Optional?

Published on June 26, 2019 Updated May 17, 2023

By Courtney Baldwin
Difference between black tie optional and black tie
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You receive a wedding invitation for an old college classmate’s wedding and the suggested attire is indicated as BLACK TIE OPTIONAL.  You probably think to yourself, what the heck does black-tie optional mean? Must I wear a tuxedo? As it relates to style, everyone loves the freedom of choice, right?!  The same applies when you've been invited to a black tie optional wedding!  Essentially, black tie optional gives you the flexibility to dress in a black tuxedo or black or dark colored suit.  The level of formality is still considered formal but it'll be up to you to decide how formal you'd like to be.  AT THE SAME PARTYGents, take cues from your date’s look to successfully pull this off. When attending a black tie optional wedding or formal event with a date, you always want to look like you are going to the same place.  And, you want to your looks to complement and not match. Anything to matchy-matchy will look like old school prom style! If your date is wearing an elegant gown, jumpsuit, or a tuxedo, you'll want to make sure you two are on the same page style-wise.  Otherwise, you both will look a bit odd or mix-matched – like you all didn’t get the same invitation or consult with one another. 

VESTED INTERESTVests (or waistcoats) are sorely underrated.  Not a lot of people think to wear three-piece suiting for black tie optional – limiting themselves to only wearing either a tuxedo or a two-piece suit.  Incorporating a vest into your suiting look will automatically separate you from the rest and elevate your overall look.  You could wear a classic necktie or bowtie but either way you’ll definitely turn heads and create a more interesting look. Wearing a vest with your suit would be perfect for the occasion especially if you opt not to wear a tuxedo.  

TUXEDO SANS BOW TIEIf you’re the guy who wants to wear a tuxedo but also wants to do something a little different than expected, try wearing a great necktie with the look instead of a standard bow tie.  You will want to choose a tie that still has a sense of elegance. Neckties made of satin, silk or grosgrain - pretty elegant fabrics tend to look better for formal occasions.  Try to avoid ties that are cotton, linen or have a matte finish which may look a bit more on the casual side – generally speaking.  For the even more fashion forward gent, you can style your tuxedo with a dress shirt and no necktie at all.  With this look, you want to make sure you purchase a point collar or banded collar shirt and button it all the way to the top. Wearing no necktie and the shirt unbuttoned will appear too casual and unfinished.

SUIT & BOWTIEDon’t forget that bow ties are not just for tuxedos.  Many gentlemen wear bow ties with suits, and what a clever way to elevate the look without wearing a full tuxedo.  The key to mastering this look is to keep it simple!  Wearing too bold of a bow tie will be too overt and way too forced.  Remember, you’re recreating the essence of a traditional tuxedo so go for more of a refined look.  In lieu of playing with loud patterns and prints, consider selecting a unique bow tie with texture (velvet, silk knit, brocade) or tone on tone print. And if anyway possible, you want to choose the self-tie variety of bow tie.  The true sign of a gentleman of style is purchasing and learning how to tie a self-tie bow tie. To learn, check out our guide on How to tie a bow tie

PATTERN PLAYIf the idea of a plain black tuxedo seems too boring for you, consider adding a little flair to your look with a patterned or colored dress shirt styled with the black tuxedo or dark colored suit.  When we say patterned, we mean subtle patterns, for example, a white dress shirt with a pattern in light gray or navy. Nothing too loud like bold florals. More subtle like pin dot and not plaid or check that will read business.  If you opt for a colored shirt other than white, consider a black, navy or dark denim dress shirt. Save dress shirts in pastels or neon colors for another occasion.

If you’ve decided that you’re going to wear a tuxedo to your black tie optional event but are not sure whether you should rent or buy, we’ve broken down the costs of renting and buying a tuxedo here. For more black tie optional style, check out our Instagram for more inspiration!

Courtney Baldwin
Courtney Baldwin

Courtney Arrington-Baldwin is the co-author of GROOMS: A Professional Stylist’s Guide to Wedding Planning for Every Budget. She has a seasoned background i...

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