THE CODE OF BLACK TIE
While menʼs suiting has undergone changes over time, the black tie dress code has remained resolutely the same, challenged occasionally by Hollywood celebrities who wish to assert their perception of what works on the red carpet. Pharrell Williams is a prominent example, foregoing pants for shorts.
The black tie dress code was established in the 19th century, designated for after sunset. Morning dress was the formal code for daytime events, while white tie was the second most formal code after court dress.
The traditional components of black tie are a white dress shirt, a black bow tie, a cummerbund and a dinner suit, either in black or midnight blue. One essential is that the suit lapel and trouser braid (the strip along the outer length of the pant) be in silk. Black dress shoes, preferably in patent leather but not compulsory, are also de rigueur.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the way men dressed was indicative of the sections of population that they belonged to. Getting dressed appropriately for social evenings was also a matter of serious importance. Proper gentlemen would never offend the fairer sex with their work sensibilities. And given the fact that they spent a fair amount of their time in the saddle, which bore a distinct stench, getting ready for social engagement was a genteel ritual.
Evening dress became a common format. It was during this period that Beau Brummell recommended the modern black tie style, shying away from colours. Black tie has relaxed a little over the centuries, but still suffers the moniker of “penguin suit”. Not that anyone’s bothered, because it makes a man look good.
The Englishman was an arbiter of fashion and credited with many modern innovations in menswear including the necktie.