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Decode Menswear: What Does Black Tie Optional Mean?

black tie optional

Formal wear is one of the cornerstones of men’s fashion. If you need an outfit that is stylish yet highly sophisticated, there is no better place to look than semi-formal. Things have stayed this way for a long time now, and there is no competitor for formal wear in sight. So, men’s fashion will stay on this route for decades to come.

That said, this style of clothing is not perfect either, its main issue being the confusing terminologies. For example, let’s say you get invited to an event with a formal dress code, and on the invitation, it says “black tie optional” as the type of acceptable clothing.

Does this term mean that you can wear a black tie if you want to, or you can skip it? No, not really. So, what does black tie optional mean for a man? Let’s find out.

What Is Black Tie Optional?

What Is Black Tie Optional?

Simply put, formal and semi-formal clothing is separated into tiers with regard to the strictness of the instructions. For example, a white tie is the strictest formal clothing with precise rules for each and every item of your clothing. There is zero room for any creative or personal alterations as well.

So, by this line of thinking, black tie optional is one of the lowest-end formal clothing. Its rules are pretty relaxed and give you plenty of options to choose from.

However, it is still a part of formal dress code style and not casual style where you can wear anything. The basic rules for black tie optional are to follow the black tie ruleset with the ability to add your own personality into it.

A black tie, on the other hand, requires you to wear a dinner jacket with matching pants, a pair of black formal shoes (preferably leather), a white pleated shirt, and a bow tie. So, you’re allowed to choose the color of the tie in black tie optional.

Limits of Black Tie Optional

Limits of Black Tie Optional

Again, black tie optional is not “wear whatever you want” as there are several limits in place. For example, you might think that swapping out the white shirt for a black shirt is OK, but it is not a good idea. However, you can change the type of the suit to something from a basic suit to something like a tuxedo, and that is completely fine.

Similarly, you can pick the color of the tie. You might think, “Great; now I can express my personality through the color of my tie.” But there are only a set number of colors that actually look good in this dress code, and you’re limited to them.

Picking Black Tie Optional Clothing

Picking Black Tie Optional Clothing

Now that you have a better idea of what black tie optional is, it is time to pick an outfit. Now, we can just tell you an outfit and be done with it. But there is a better idea, and that is to go through each item one by one and provide suggestions and advice for that particular item.


The first and arguably the best option for the suit is a buttoned-up black tuxedo. They are polished pieces of fashion equipment with a level of confidence oozing from them. Their dark black color, combined with a well-fitted look, provides a level of sharpness that is difficult to replicate with anything else. But, if you don’t own a tuxedo or don’t want to wear one, you still have options to choose from.

Your next choice for a suit at a black tie optional event is any dark-colored suit. The only factor to keep in mind, other than the color, is the fit of the suit. It should not be too big or too small. Only wear suits that are perfectly fitted for your body.

As for the color, any dark hue is acceptable. This obviously includes black, but it also includes charcoal, dark gray, and navy blue suits as possible options. Brown is not a part of this list unless your suit is very dark brown. Even then, it is better to choose any other dark option over brown if you can.


Picking a shirt for a black tie optional suit is as simple as it gets. All you need is one crisp white shirt, that’s it. Just make sure that it does not have an off-white or yellowish tint and that it is properly ironed. Other than that, you are pretty much free to choose any button-up. Though, plain shirts with French cuffs are preferred over patterned shirts with barrel cuffs.

If you’re in a hurry and you don’t have access to a white shirt, then light blue will work for the most part, but it is not recommended. Other pastel tones are not an option at all, as even the lightest ones are way too colorful for this dress code.


Footwear is one of the most important parts of a formal dress code, yet anyone hardly talks about it. A pair of the right casual shoes won’t add much to your overall look. In fact, they will just blend in with the rest of the attire, never to be noticed again.

But, if you somehow manage to wear dress shoes that do not fit the black tie optional dress code, then they will stick out like a sore thumb and ruin your whole outfit. So, what is the right pair of shoes for black tie optional?

The best option, by far, is a pair of black leather oxfords. They are simple and functional. Shining them up doesn’t take much time either, and some can even be shined with a paper towel a few times before they need proper polishing. Your second option for footwear is well-shined black derby shoes. Though, their open-laced design can clash with the clean aesthetic of black tie optional.

Lastly, do not wear brown. Black suits and brown shoes for black tie optional can provide a nice punchy contrast without the use of any vibrant colors, but it is too informal for the dress code in question. Brown leather shoes are, honestly, a better match for casual outfits with matching leather jackets on top.


The last major piece of the black tie optional puzzle is your neckwear which follows the same theme as the rest of the outfit. You should wear solid dark color ties for black suits. The choice of the color is completely up to you, with dark blue, maroon, green all being acceptable choices.

If you’re wearing a suit jacket that isn’t black, then trying to match the color of the tie to your suit, is a great way of creating some thematic symmetry in your attire. Also, smooth, shiny ties may work with a black tie optional dress code, a bit of texture that is subtle and understated may also be an alternative.


Wearing the right pair of socks is not that important to your overall look in the long run. But, spending the time to pick out the right pair for a black tie optional event will give your attire a level of completion that only you will know about.

Ideally, you want to wear socks that closely resemble the hue and tone of your suit trousers. You can introduce some creativity in your outfit by matching the socks to the color of the dark tie, but anything more vibrant than that is a big no-no.


Accessories are an entirely optional part of a black tie menswear. Your outfit will be complete without them, but it will definitely look better with their addition. These include metallic cuff studs, classic wristwatches, and pocket squares.

Just remember that not wearing any of these is better than wearing ones that look bad or do not match the tone of the event and the rest of your outfit.

Black Tie Optional at a Wedding

Black Tie Optional at a Wedding

Weddings are the most frequent black tie optional events you will encounter in your day-to-day life. Most couples want the guests at their wedding to look polished and presentable, but they also don’t want to burden them with strict formal dress codes. So, most of them end up choosing black tie optional as a nice middle ground between formality and guest convenience.

What to Wear

The best black tie optional outfit for a wedding consists of the following items.

  • A well-fitted black shawl collar tuxedo. These work better in black tie optional because of their single-button closure, as opposed to the two buttons you’ll find on more formal suits.
  • A matching vest underneath the suit jacket.
  • A white dress shirt with a fold-down collar.
  • A black bowtie.
  • A pair of metallic cuff studs. Square-shaped ones are preferred over the circular options.
  • A shiny pair of black leather oxfords.

FAQs –  Black Tie Optional

What Is Black Tie Optional for men? 

In short, black tie optional is semi-formal clothing with a bit of personal flair. The main contents of the black tie optional outfits are dark suits, white shirts, dark-colored ties, and black shiny leather shoes.

Are Black Suits Too Formal?

This depends heavily on the type of the suit, as well as the stuff you wear around it. For example, a tuxedo is not too formal until you wear a wing-tip shirt underneath it. Though, you can always opt for a black tie optional gray suit as they tend to look more subtle.

Can You Wear A Navy Suit to A Black Tie Event?

Yes, you can. In fact, navy blue suits to black tie events are among the recommended list of suits, right behind pure black.

Where Do You Wear Black Tie Optional?

Black tie optional events can take the forms of wedding ceremonies, business events, business dinners, or up-scale gatherings.

Is It OK to Wear A Black Suit to An Interview?

Yes, but only if suits or other formal clothing will be your dress code if you do get the job. Also, keep your position in the company in mind, as most places have a hierarchy of formal clothing based on the rank in the company.


The world of formal clothing is vast. We can write a whole book on black tie optional alone, and it would still not be enough. So, there is still much to learn, but at least you now know what black tie optional is what you can wear to those events.  

The trick to getting a grasp of these formal guidelines is to understand one base-standard outfit for each. You can then do further research and iterate on your outfits when the time for such events arrives.

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