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Formal Fashion Guide: What to Wear When

Black Tie. When we think “formal” in America, we usually think “Black Tie.” At these events, gentlemen wear traditional black tuxedos and formal white shirts. As the name suggests, ties and cummerbunds should both be black, and of similar material and texture.

In most cases, a gentleman attending a black tie event will wear a classic white shirt with a bow tie wrapped visibly around the collar. Some men prefer to wear shirts that feature pointed collars instead. In such cases, the points of the tie should clearly stick out from and away from the points of the collar.

With some of today’s fashion innovations, you can push the envelope at a black tie event as long as you look good. Movie stars like Jamie Foxx have popularized the trend of wearing long, silk, straight ties with Windsor knots instead of the traditional bow tie. This looks especially good on gentlemen that wear a single-breasted tuxedo jacket with three or four buttons – the high neckline conveys a great deal of formality.

Ladies at black tie events should wear elegant evening gowns that complement their skin tone and reference the season. Since black is technically the color of mourning, ladies should not wear black gowns to festive events, such as weddings. Likewise, only the bride should wear white to a wedding. Therefore, women can choose any other color in the spectrum. Bright colors tend to dominate the spring and summer wardrobe, while darker colors often appear more frequently in the autumn and winter.

Ladies that enjoy tradition may wear long gloves to black tie events. They should remove them, however, before enjoying a meal, especially at wedding receptions.

White Tie / Full Dress. The most elegant celebrations call for the most formal attire. “White tie” on an invitation signifies the ultimate in traditional, conservative fashion. No fooling around, and no rock-star flashiness.

Gentlemen wear long, black, traditional dinner jackets with two tails, as gentlemen of distinction have done since the days of the wealthy Lorrilards in Tuxedo Park, New York. A gentleman complements the jacket with a white vest instead of a cummerbund, along with a matching, white, pique bow tie.

It is not out of the question for a gentleman to purchase new formal shoes for a white tie event. Shoes must be black, and they must be polished until they gleam under the ballroom lights. When dancing with ladies, gentlemen should wear matching white gloves. Diplomats and military officials may accessorize their dinner jackets with small pins or medals that denote rank, distinctions, awards, or countries of origin. An honoree at a gala may also opt to wear a medal on a sash over his vest.

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