Black tie: A guide on formal attire

Picture of By Margarete Schweinitz

By Margarete Schweinitz

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I[/mks_dropcap]t is award season, the next Mercurius gala is coming, and there are several other formal events that require  ‘black-tie’ dress code. Though, what does ‘black-tie’ actually mean? And, from where does it originate? This guide tries to answer these questions and provides an overview of suggestions and tips on how to dress for the formal dress code.

What does it mean?

The black-tie dress code is one of the most formal dress codes there is. Although, it emerged because of opposite reasons. In earlier times, it was less comfortable to dress for formal events than now. Men were required to wear tailcoats, until King Edward the VII wanted this to change. Unhappy with the traditional tailcoats, the monarch asked his tailor for a more relaxed fitting short jacket. These days it is known as the dinner jacket and the centerpiece of black-tie attire.

In comparison to the time when King Edward VII was alive, the formal evening attire means to dress up these days.

For men

In general, men are required to wear a dinner jacket with matching pants with a white shirt underneath. There are diverse opinions on what color the pants should have. To always make sure to meet the host’s standards, it is advisable to wear dark colors, so either black or very dark blue pants. Depending on how strict the dress code requirements are, other colors might be acceptable. A bow-tie is a must and can have any color except white. All these elements can be found in a tuxedo, which is the best fit for this evening formal attire.

Cummerbund, cufflinks, and a waistcoat make the look even more elegant but are optional and definitely not a must for the evening look. To have a little extra, men should wear more elegant watches and shoes to complement the look.

For women

Women should ideally wear floor-length gowns, and they may choose any color they like. Exceptions can be made, and a cocktail dress can be worn as long as the color is rich with a darker note, for example, a dark red or black. So, in contrast to men, the rules that apply to women’s attire are a bit more flexible when it comes to the often rigorous black-tie dress code, and when in doubt: always go with black. Accessories should be fancy, but modest, so nothing that is too much and dangling.


Remember to wear something you feel comfortable in to fully enjoy the event you attend. A not fitting tuxedo or dress may make the whole experience less enjoyable, so make sure you are able to sit down and make movements in your attire.

There are many more options to step up the game but to make sure not to be the center of attention because the simple requirements were not met, it is advised to stick to dark colors and clean cuts. It is aimed to have a timeless look that can be worn on multiple occasions. Therefore, it might sound logical to invest in a gown that will last for a long time. This will not only save some money but also time for the next formal occasion when it comes to the attire for the event.

To get a better idea of what is meant with black-tie, award ceremony red carpet pictures should be looked at. It will help to understand what the dress codes mean and get inspiration on how to dress for the next formal evening event.

If the host is not too strict about the dress code, everything should go as long as it is evening attire and looks elegant enough. Full colors and patterns should be avoided under all circumstances. Otherwise, attention is guaranteed.

Mercurius is hosting its yearly gala with its sister study associations next week! Don’t stress so much over what to wear, look and feel your best and join us at Undercurrent.



Cover: Study Association Mercurius

Men reference pictures from left to right: bantersnaps, Munib Saad, and Gergő Komporály.

Women reference pictures from left to right: Arsham Haghani, cottonbro, and Daria Shevtsova.

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