Yours truly. Click to enlarge.
Yours truly. Click to enlarge.
In a few weeks, I have a work-related fundraising dinner to attend. It’s “formal” but I’m about 90% certain I’ll be in the company of men in suits, which is fine. I do have a tuxedo which rarely gets any use. Since it is for a charity event, do I dare take the bold attempt and go black tie, stick out like a pretentiously well-dressed sore thumb, or go the safe route and don a suit? Also, if a tux, traditional black tie is timeless, yes, but I couldn’t decide if lightly coordinating with the color of my wife’s dress for the tie would be too prom cheesy. The intent is to make it appear as if a bit of effort was put into the look, but not sure if it would be trying too hard. I was thinking maybe a pop of color can be fun too. (I’m 32 years old if that helps at all). – Mike S.

I am impressed that you, at age 32, own a dinner jacket. You’re already ahead of the game. Last year, a friend of mine invited me to a black tie event with one day’s notice (his wife was called out of town). As the owner of a tuxedo, I was able to say yes. My friend and I had a terrific time, I felt confident knowing that I looked like I belonged at the table, and I met some incredible new people. To quote the inimitable Edna Mode from The Incredibles: Luck favors the prepared, darling.

When stepping out – whether for black tie, regular tie or no tie – it has apparently become the woman’s job to fuss and look amazing. Somewhere along our tragically casualizing line, upon receiving invitations to black tie affairs, men started seeing the word “optional” in their heads, even if the invitation specifically stated “black tie” or “formal.” These days, to get a man into a tuxedo, it’s as if a formal invitation needs to say “Black tie. No… seriously… wear a dinner jacket. We really fucking mean it.”

Wear the tux. When someone goes through the trouble of arranging a nice event and requests that people come formally dressed, it is a courtesy to accommodate their request. For some reason, men have become pussies when it comes to black tie. Maybe it’s because it’s a rarified and unfamiliar arena in which they’re uncomfortably lost. Even with it’s simplicity, proper black tie has become a lost art or a foreign language. Awards show red carpets now exhibit legions of men who manage to get lazy or “experimental” and ultimately blow it (and these are celebrities with access to professional, overpaid style resources).

For most of us, black tie invitations are rare. Take advantage of it, get dressed up and enjoy it. Sport a bow tie and celebrate.

I would nix the idea of trying to complement your wife’s dress with some color coordination. Classic black tie is already designed to complement the woman. It deliberately takes a back seat and gives her and her beautiful dress the spotlight. Go timeless with a black bow tie (NOT a regular tie, even if it’s black) and cummerbund. Don’t steal focus. She is the star of the couple.

Go forth boldly, set an example for your slacker counterparts and show them how it’s done. Even if the invitation specifically said “Black tie optional,” I’d go the extra mile. If flunkies from the lazy brigade cough up the gall to give you shit after their fourth scotch at the open bar, it’s because you nailed it and they know it and can’t stand it. Worst case scenario: you’ll be the best-dressed man in the room.

Other related posts of interest:
The Black Tie Affair of the 70th Annual Golden Globes
The Black Tie Affair at the 85th Annual Academy Awards
How To Kill It on the Red Carpet at the Tony Awards
How To Kill It on the Red Carpet at the Tony Awards, Plan B


  1. James Strattan

    As a gay man who (as per my previous post) also suffers from follicle challenges and is, in addition, a bit heavyset, I find donning the appropriate formal attire all the more important. I have, however, received a few jabs by some ill-mannered chavs both on account of the aforementioned physical deficiencies and my tendency to arrive “overdressed” (in bespoke suits) at social functions. Despite efforts to dismiss such comments as rubbish, I find myself less and less inclined, or indeed even able, to brave the “formal” scene or social outings in general. It has disrupted my ability to enjoy life, and my chosen lifestyle. For that reason, I do find your website admirable for offering encouragement to those who wish to preserve the “sense of occasion.”

    • George

      James… One of my favorite graphic designers is the legendary Massimo Vignelli. Among many things, he designed the NYC Subway system and my Stendig wall calendar. He once said something I will never forget: “The designer’s life is a fight – a fight against ugliness.” As a guy doing what I do, I also sometimes see my life as a fight against ugliness. Every time I meet someone for theater, for which I wear suit and tie, I invariably get “Wow, you’re all dressed up.” I think Really? What royal invitation or funeral are people waiting for in order to feel justified in getting dressed up? Don’t do it for anyone else. You stick to your guns and you do it for you. When others look at you and are reminded of what they’re not (i.e. a well-dressed guy who dares to look like he gives a shit), hostility arises. And when that hostility arises, you rise higher. Don’t ever lower your standards to accommodate other people or their comfort level. That’s like the smart kid in the class deliberately getting answers wrong on the test so the other kids won’t feel bad or make fun of him. Why blend in when you can stand out? If I were more interested in blending in, I would have stayed in Cleveland, gotten married, had children, be cheating with men on the side, and drinking my ass of behind it all. As I said: stick to your guns, keep your standards intact and f%k what the others think or say.

      In the meantime, inspiring reading: How To Be a Man by Glenn O’Brien.

      Keep the faith,

  2. You, my friend, quoted “The Incredibles” to arrive at a conclusive argument! That quote just won you a new follower!