What does black tie mean, really?

You open the envelope and you read two words that make you shudder:

Black tie.

What does black tie mean? You wonder.

So you ask your wife (or girlfriend or sister or mother or best friend or neighbor).

She tells you, she’d wear a dress.

AND, that doesn’t help at all.

Black tie, Black tie optional, Black tie welcome. We’re here to answer your questions about what black tie really means.

But more importantly, what are you supposed to wear when the invitation calls for it?


The purpose of creating a dress code is to make it clear to guests what they should wear. It also brings uniformity and sophistication to an event.

If the invite says “Black Tie,” “Black Tie Required” or “Black Tie Only,” it means you are required to wear a tuxedo.

You may be able to get away with wearing a long black tie instead of a bow tie, if that truly isn’t your style. But you can’t fake a tuxedo with a black suit.

A tuxedo consists of a dinner jacket with satin lapels (or something similar) and pants which often feature a matching satin stripe on the outside of each pant leg. It may also include a cummerbund or a vest.

Don’t leave that breast pocket empty either. A pocket square truly finishes off the outfit.

Click here to learn which pocket square fold is best for formal occasions.


“Black Tie Welcome” tells you that the event’s host would love for you to wear a tuxedo because you’ll be making his event look even more dapper.

But – if you don’t own a tuxedo and don’t want to rent one, you can wear a dark suit and still look fancy enough for the gathering.


“Black Tie Optional” can often mean the equivalent of semi-formal. Cocktail attire is requested but certainly not expected from every single guest.

Again, that black or dark blue suit will do just fine in the crowd.

But here’s the deal, if you have a tuxedo, isn’t it worth taking it out for a spin?


We recommend our limited-edition white pocket square featuring artist Gary Fenske’s work, Delphinus (Day), if you’re on the more reserved side with color.

But menswear experts often tout the importance of adding color to a tuxedo with your pocket square.

And at Finley and Co., we have plenty of colorful handmade pocket squares to choose from.

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