Proper Fashion Etiquette for a Formal Event

The rules of fashion etiquette are clear for formal events. Certain terms and events require a certain protocol.

First, some general rules to go by:

  1. Unless you are in a wedding in the USA, it is considered to be in poor taste to wear formal attire before evening, roughly 6 pm. The UK and other regions have their own set of rules for this situation.
  2. If you are wearing a waist coat (vest), the bottom button should be left unbuttoned unless you are wearing it for a white tie event.
  3. You may wear a cummerbund and bow tie or a waist coat and bow tie or satin cravat (necktie). You may wear braces with either a cummerbund or a waistcoat.

  4. The pleats of a cummerbund are to be worn facing up as they were originally designed to hold opera or theater tickets.
  5. Because a double-breasted dinner jacket should be worn closed at all times, you do not need to wear a cummerbund or waistcoat under it.
  6. If at all possible, wear a bow tie that you tie yourself (as opposed to a pre-tied bow tie).

With at least seven categories of formal dress to consider, we will reserve discussion of the two most formal – White Tie and Morning Dress – for another time. For Semi-formal to Black Tie occasions, the following suggestions apply:

  1. Black Tie – Although this is a very formal event, it is not as formal as that of the white tie. A black tuxedo is required (AKA a dinner jacket or “D.J.” in the UK.) A white wing collar or pointed collar shirt is worn with a black bow tie and black cummerbund or black waist coat. Black studs and cuff links would also be worn. The lapel of the dinner jacket should be peak or shawl.
  2. Black Tie Preferred – means that the host prefers black tie, but a dark colored suit and conservative tie is allowable. (The suit is acceptable, but not preferred.) This is when it is also proper (or at least acceptable) to wear a patterned bow tie/cummerbund or patterned bow tie and waist coat. This is a formal event but not as formal as black tie or white tie. You may also consider wearing your White Dinner Jacket provided that you are in a tropical climate, on a cruise, or it is between Memorial Day and Labor Day (Derby Day to Labor Day in the Bluegrass state.) Dinner jackets of other colors and patterns may also be considered. Our recommendation would be that you wear your formal clothing in both the “preferred” and “optional” situations. It shows your respect for the event and your hosts.
  3. Black Tie Optional – Not as strong as “Black Tie Preferred” but the same rules apply.
  4. Black Tie Invited – Not as formal an event as Black Tie Preferred or Black Tie Optional. A dark suit and tie are required or you may choose to wear a tuxedo or white dinner jacket (providing the season and climate are correct.)
  5. Semi- Formal – Historically, this was synonymous with “black tie”. Today this could mean anything from a tuxedo to a dark suit and tie. In a more relaxed setting this could allow for a dressy sport coat with or without a tie depending on local culture or particular setting. If you are unsure of what to wear, it is considered proper to call your host and ask.

Shall we all be “puttin’ on the Ritz” this Winter when the occasion calls for something beyond business as usual? Time to raise our standards, gentlemen.

And in case you need some tips on formal dress, like How to Tie a Bowtie, check out The Virtual Tailor.

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