what's more black tie than black and white?
To answer MD's question this week, here's Sid in an interview with our HS Editor, Jonathan Baker, on the mysterious sartorial dilemma – “B.T.O.”
JB: Okay, this week's question is about how to dress for a Black Tie Optional wedding. MD is "a bit afraid of being underdressed" since he doesn't own a tux.
Sid: Hi MD. You're in good company... we've been getting more questions than we can count around formal dressing lately.
We covered how to do formal black tie not long ago, but your question might even be more relevant: Black. Tie. Optional. I think I've spoken to 3 customers in the last week about this very particular thing, and even helped one of them pick out a tie for an upcoming BTO wedding. I'll share with you what I shared with him…
You basically want to look like the dressiest guy there, without putting a tuxedo on. Or minimally, blend in and respect the dress code that was put out there. This is not the time to stand out. So if I got that invite, that leaves me really 2 options, and both revolve around a suit.
Option 1: I'm going dark, dark, dark navy.
Option 2: I’m going mid-to-dark gray – the darker the better, preferably charcoal.
Both of those are gonna lend themselves to most formal occasions.
As for the type of suit, most of the time we like a little texture. For us that means high-twist wool. It's made of an open weave, twisted fabric from England, that has some weight to it. The weight makes it lay and drape beautifully, but the weave helps it breathe. So it can really work for a lot of different climates, and year-round. We also like a navy or charcoal sharkskin suit for Black Tie Optional... which isn't as breathable but is just as elegant, if not more.
JB: Speaking of climates, does B.T.O. change at all based on where you live?
Sid: Not for me, no... if it's just a dressy wedding, I could go with an Air Force Blue suit. And I would probably keep it in the blue family if it's an evening wedding. Unless it's summer… and it's really hot… and then I might go with a navy seersucker or tan or brown or light grey suit. But MD, you’re asking about B.T.O, and for that, no matter the weather, I would not wear tan or brown or light grey. I'd stick to something that is darker and dressier. Navy or Charcoal.
THE CHARCOAL KIT
Charcoal High-Twist Suit, White Poplin Dress Shirt, Black Grenadine Tie, Black Bowtie, Black Sharkskin Belt, Black Two-Eyelet Gibsons, Charcoal OTC Socks, White Pocket Square
JB: Okay… Navy or Charcoal Suit. What about a shirt?
Sid: For B.T.O., let’s eliminate all options except white. White is the dressiest shirt a guy can wear. You could go with a white poplin dress shirt, or I might actually recommend a white roxford dress shirt. It's one of our more versatile shirts… the weave can appear fancy, but actually goes great with jeans. Just roll the sleeves up! Anything that can go from 5-pockets to formalwear is never a bad item to have in your closet.
And for some of the same reasons, I would go with a white pocket square. It just leans more formal and can look great in any jacket pocket. Again, you're not going to see a lot of color at a black-tie optional affair.
JB: What about shoes?
Sid: For both a navy suit and a charcoal suit, I like black shoes, specifically black cap-toes or black gibsons. Navy socks with the navy suit and charcoal socks with the charcoal suit. You want your socks to be just as quiet as your pocket square. And this might be stating the obvious but I’d go with a black belt in a bridle leather or sharkskin – materials that won’t make a statement.
THE NAVY KIT
Navy High-Twist Suit, White Roxford Dress Shirt, Discreet Navy Tie, Navy Bowtie, Black Bridle Belt, Black Cap-toe Shoes, Navy OTC Socks, White Pocket Square
JB: I think about all that leaves is the tie...
Sid: For the tie I'd go with something dark, solid, and not too recognizable. A grenadine tie (our most formal tie, and very Connery-era Bond) is hands-down the easiest choice. Either the tighter weave (garza fina) or the looser weave (garza grossa). Both get more interesting the closer you get, so it’s whichever one you like better.
JB: What about a solid knit tie?
Sid: I love a knit tie about… 95% of the time. But it's probably just a little too casual for a black-tie optional wedding.
JB: If you've got a dark suit, white shirt, and black shoes, could you get away with a dark tie with a quiet pattern to it?
Sid: If it is very, very, very discreet and low-key… maybe so. Like a Macclesfield tie, which has a small geometric pattern woven into it. Actually, Alan Flusser talks about Macclesfields being known as “wedding ties” in certain circles. But again — your decoration should be super discreet, like an off-white or gray or white. Out of our current assortment, I think we've only got one tie with a pattern that would work... which is a navy woven with these tiny diamond patterns. So it's really gotta be the right tie. When in doubt, solid is the move. And color-wise, I like a black tie with the charcoal suit and navy tie with the navy suit.
JB: You never know with B.T.O. - you might end up being in the land of bow ties... could a bow tie work with this kit?
Sid: Oh yeah. Same colors: black bowtie with the charcoal, navy bowtie with the navy suit. Keep everything else the same... all you’re doing is switching out the tie. But if you go bowtie, I wouldn't do ANY pattern on that.
All this "dark suit, white shirt, solid tie, black shoes" might seem formulaic or super-specific to B.T.O., but it will also work for a board meeting, an evening wedding, or a funeral. And all events where you don't want to hunt for your outfit at the last minute.
JB: Last question... what if you don't own a dark suit or a tuxedo?
Sid: Let’s say you see Black Tie Optional, and you don't have a tuxedo or a dark suit. Instead of jumping to the rental right away, if I knew a guy about my size who did have a tux… I wouldn't hesitate to say "hey man, would you spot me your tux for the weekend? I’ll pay for alterations and get it dry cleaned.”
One reason I say this is that I have an old tuxedo that’s about 30 years old, and it’s been lent out… probably a dozen and a half times over the years. To guys going to college formals, or even to friends of mine in the last year or two. It’s fun for me. And now that tuxedo is more well-traveled than I am. Don't feel bad about borrowing one. We all have before, and we may all again.
A rental will work in a pinch, but I might actually check out a vintage or consignment shop before going that route. You never know what you might find.
One last thing, though. If you dig wearing a tuxedo… bring it on! Once you invest in the right one, it’s gotta be worn. There is nothing wrong with black tie at black tie optional!