Black Tie dressing is one of the highlights of the festive party season. There’s an elegance in the simplicity of this dress code; an undeniable sexiness in the way the outfit absorbs the light and sharpens the silhouette of the wearer.
It has its origins in the smoking parlours and lounges of high-end London over a century ago, and on the special occasions we get to wear it the refinement of that bygone era immediately returns.
The fact that those occasions are so special comes in part from their rarity, and that rarity can mean we forget to invest in an outfit for the occasion
Realising at short notice that there is not one in our wardrobe – or at least not one which still closes at the waist – is a common problem. Thankfully, there are plenty of exceptional brands making high quality black tie garments as ready-to-wear: perfect for those last-minute invitations.
Crockett & Jones
Let's start from the ground up: a solid, classic base is key to a successful black tie look.
Black patent leather has been a popular choice for years, as they bring just enough flamboyance without drawing too much focus.
The Alex model from Crockett & Jones is made on a beautiful, slender last, and the fact they are a whole-cut oxford with a plain front means there is no unnecessary embellishment to clutter up the aesthetic.
The same last used to create these shoes was used for the shoes in two of Daniel Craig’s Bond films – fitting testament to their suitability.
For the shirt, the safest choice is classic white. Many will opt for a “bib” front – with a textured section over the chest, possibly fastened by detachable studs as opposed to buttons – but for a cleaner look we can consider a covered placket, like this example from Swedish heritage shirtmakers Stenstroms.
The elongated collar brings a touch of drama, the fly front provides simplicity, and the pristine two-fold cotton construction maintains the luxury feel of the outfit. French, or double, cuffs are a further nod to tradition which elevate the black tie look beyond just a simple suit.
While tradition may dictate that the whole dinner suit be black, in the modern age there is much more room for expression and individuality. A velvet jacket in a rich colour, like this sumptuous burgundy number by Chelsea tailoring house Oliver Brown, will stand you out from the crowd just a little, but not too much.
The heavy velvet fabric will also help insulate you on the crisp festive nights, and adds an extra touch of opulence to the ensemble. Anchor the look with a pair of sleek, flat-fronted dinner trousers, in traditional black barathea wool and with the traditional satin stripe at the outside of each leg. This subtlety against the vibrance of the jacket will keep your style looking confident without veering into over-the-top.
Only a dress watch will do for a black tie occasion, with a natural leather strap (preferably in black) and not too many complications to the face. Your chunky sports watch will probably ruin the line of the sleeve on whichever wrist you wear it, so go for something slim enough to hide discreetly under those French cuffs. As those cuffs will contain cufflinks, always try to match the colour of the links to the watch case to maintain harmony throughout the outfit.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony in White Gold
The Patrimony is one of the finest dress watches on the market. This edition is presented in white gold on a black alligator strap, with nothing on the face but the time and date.
At 40mm the dial is reasonably large on the wrist, but the watch is still unassuming and elegant enough to match the understated nature of the dress code. Quite simply, a sublime timepiece.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin in Steel
Further proof that less is more when it comes to dress watches. Once again, nothing on the face but time and date; once again a crisp case, this time in steel, contrasted against a black alligator strap.
The dial of the Master Ultra Thin is a touch smaller than the Patrimony, at 39mm, and the thickness is below 8mm, meaning it will effortlessly glide underneath your shirt cuff.
Tsai by Tsai
Cufflinks worn with a black tie ensemble will only be noticed if they are the wrong ones. This is not the moment for the novelty pair you received from an unimaginative relative last birthday, rather they should be functional, discreet, and (as mentioned previously) matched to the case material of your dress watch to maintain harmony.
These Sterling silver & Black Spinel versions from Tsai by Tsai fit the bill perfectly: matching the colour scheme of our watch and wider outfit, solid Sterling silver to have enough weight to hold the cuff in place, and secured with a simple button fastening to prevent a hinge coming loose and falling out.
Anything you read on black tie, including the words here, should only ever be treated as a guideline, except for one hard-and-fast rule which may never be broken: for black tie, your tie must be black.
La Bowtique are a firm with roots on Savile Row and a studio in east London, dedicated to making the finest bow ties in the world. They do offer bespoke, but as we’re looking at creating an outfit in a hurry the best choice is their Laurent model: gorgeous black silk satin, a slightly unusual shape to add a little flourish to the finished look, self-tie so you can pull it open at the end of the night and let it hang louche around your neck like a member of the Rat Pack.
This last point is an important one – it is the final clear demonstration that you are a tasteful dresser who belongs at these events, even if you did have to pull this look together in a hurry.