Black tie: a head to toe

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Having seen a variation of questionable black tie attempts at undergraduate formals, Oliver Briscoe, a first year Law student, provides the Style section with an in-depth do's and don't's list that ensures perfect bow tie's and matching textures.

Male students of Bristol, I am writing this for you, not only to inject a male perspective into the style section but to help correct all your black tie faux-pas and to help those who are just generally confused. This may not seem like the most horrendous problem to afflict men here in Bristol but I find that I cannot help but speak out against the butchery of the black tie attire that I see at every student formal. Some of you may already feel comfortable with the rules of black tie and enjoy experimenting with tartan trousers or an odd coloured velvet jacket. Indeed, there are numerous variation to the black tie outfit and this article could go on for pages. Here, I will stick to the most widely accepted rules for black tie, with which you can always feel confident in your dinner suit.

From the top, we have the bow tie. Generally, it should be black and matching the lapel material (i.e satin or grosgrain silk). NEVER buy a clip-on, just go on Youtube and figure it out (I would explain but the last step never translates well on paper). It’s rather simple.

Then, we move on to the shirt. You have two options: pleated bib or Marcella. Personally, I prefer Marcella, I feel pleated is a bit Austin Powers.

Other tips:
-White school shirts do not compliment the outfit
-Wing collar is white tie, your collar should be turndown
French cuffs are essential

Now for the jacket. First you pick the lapel; notched (purists disagree), peaked or shawl. Each to their own and each acceptable. Facings on a traditional jacket will be black regardless of the jacket, in satin or grosgrain silk and matching the colour of your buttons, of which there are one or sometimes two. Double breasted jackets are acceptable; you should never undo the jacket. Your jacket should traditionally be wool or a wool and mohair blend. Preferably, your jacket should not have a vent, but if desired, go for two side vents, never centre. Finally, no pocket flaps, if yours does, you can probably tuck them in (some are made with that option).

Screen-Shot-2018-02-18-at-15.03.38

*Image: Moss Bros.* Conveniently Moss Bros. offers a 15% student discount, saving you quite a fair amount on expensive suits.

So far so good, we are on the final stretch. You now have to choose your waist covering, these have become less and less popular over the past few years but trust me, even James Bond wears one (Picture 6). Again you have a choice, either a cummerbund or a waistcoat. Ensure your cummerbund matches your bow tie and the pleats face up. Your waistcoat should be black and match the facings on the lapel. Just because you are wearing a waistcoat does not mean you can take off your jacket.

Skyfall-Cummerbund
Image: The Suits of James Bond. Find their article here on 'The Cummerbund and James Bond'.

The trousers are simple; same colour as your top unless you have an odd jacket, then they should be black. A single braid down each side is customary, made of the same material as the facing. Double braids are for evening tails. DO NOT cuff your trousers. Please never wear a belt with a dinner suit and if yours has belt loops- run! Keep to braces and side fastenings.

Socks: silk, same colour as trousers and long, no one wants to see your legs.

A post shared by Bresciani 1970 (@bresciani1970) on

Shoes: you can wear pumps or patent leather (high shine all round), Oxfords (not brogues!) or Oxfords with a well polished toe cap. Boys who had to wear a uniform, unless you went to an expensive public school (quite likely if you ended up here), your schools shoes will not do.

Accessories: White pocket squares are nice and there is no specific fold for them. For those who can pull it off, a boutonnière (the flower, red or white) can be rather elegant. Silk scarves can work nicely and give you room for personality, think polka dots. Outerwear should be a dark dress overcoat and if you want to complete the look a cane, leave these at the door with your scarf. Watches should not be worn but if you do, make it black.

There you have it, a long, dry, rather strict but complete guide to the classic black tie. Finally, I would recommend investing in a full black tie outfit- it will always outshine rental- and will be worn for years. Start off with black or midnight blue (Bond Goldfinger and my current one) and get it, if not tailored, fitted because not matter how many faux-pas you make, fit will make or break you.

Once you have mastered all this, see Jared Leto in Gucci.

Featured Image: Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash.com


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