Although you’ve likely heard of white and black tie dress codes, most people aren’t clear on precisely what these terms mean or the difference between them. Knowing what dress code to wear is essential to avoid looking out of place if you’ve been invited to a formal event. 

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you out. In this blog, we’ll cover:

  • The definition of black tie
  • The definition of white tie
  • The difference between black tie and white tie 
  • When you should wear black tie vs white tie


What is black tie?

Although black tie is less formal than white tie, it’s still considered formal evening wear. It’s one of the most common dress codes for formal weddings, dinners, parties and balls which take place after 5 pm. 

Black tie attire usually consists of a black dinner jacket (or tuxedo as it’s called in America) and matching trousers. White tuxedos paired with black trousers are also popular, especially for weddings. Other colours, such as dark grey, navy, and burgundy, are also gaining popularity. If you’re unsure which colour of dinner jacket is appropriate for a specific event, the classic black is always a good choice. 

What sets dinner jackets apart from other suit jackets is their satin detailing, which usually includes a satin shawl lapel, satin-covered buttons, and a satin stripe down the trouser leg. To complete your black tie outfit, pair your dinner jacket with a white dress shirt (piqué or pleated front), a black bow tie, and a matching cummerbund (or vest). You should complete the ensemble with black patent shoes and black socks. 

Creative black tie

Another subsection of the black tie dress code that you might see is creative black tie. You should still wear a dinner jacket to reflect the formality of the occasion, but this gives you the licence to be more creative with colours, textures and accessories. You might opt for a less traditional tuxedo jacket colour, a patterned bow tie, or a colourful vest.

Black tie optional

This is another dress code that you might see. Black tie optional allows male guests to choose between a formal dinner jacket or a dark suit. If you feel more comfortable wearing a suit (or don’t own a tuxedo), this allows you to wear one, but make sure to pair it with a dress shirt and conservative tie to keep things formal. 


What is white tie?

White tie dress code is sometimes called ‘full evening dress’ or ‘evening tails’ and is the most formal of all dress codes. This usually indicates that it’s a royal event or that the guests have high social standing. 

If you’re invited to a white tie event, you should wear an evening tailcoat (don’t confuse this with a morning coat which has a different cut), matching trousers with two lines of braid down the outside, and a white evening shirt with a wing collar and bib. The tailcoat should be worn unbuttoned and paired with a white hand-tied bow tie made from silk or cotton pique and a white waistcoat. You should complete your outfit with shirt studs, cufflinks (ideally mother of pearl), black patent shoes and black dress socks. 

In terms of accessories, the most common is a top hat, although this is optional. Other white accessories, such as white gloves or a white pocket square, are also popular. 


What is the difference between black and white tie?

White tie is more formal than black tie. Black tie events are fairly common, while white tie events are fairly rare nowadays. 

The key difference between these two dress codes is for black tie, you should wear a dinner jacket (or tuxedo) worn with a black bow tie, while for white tie, you should wear a black evening tailcoat and a white bow tie. 


When should you wear black tie vs white tie?

If you’ve been invited to a formal evening event but aren’t sure if it’s white tie or black tie, the first step should be to check the invitation or ask the host. Although wearing a white tie to a black tie event is acceptable, you’ll likely look too formal and out of place. It is never appropriate to wear black tie to a white tie event. 

White tie events aren’t very common and are usually reserved for events where royalty, a president or a diplomat will be in attendance, or guests include titled individuals or those with high social standing. Black tie events are more common. You might be invited to a wedding, dinner party or awards ceremony that has a black tie dress code. 


How Phillip Alexander can help

If you’ve been invited to a formal event, the best way to ensure you look your best is to purchase a tailored suit from an experienced and professional tailor. They’ll be able to help you style your suit and choose the most appropriate colour, material and fit for the occasion whilst still taking your style into consideration.

At Phillip Alexander, we’re experts at dressing gentlemen. Established in 1876, we’ve been dressing gentlemen for white and black-tie events for over a hundred years. Based on Savile Row in London and Cheshire, we specialise in crafting luxury, handmade jackets, shirts, and trousers. Whether you’re looking for a dinner jacket or evening tails, we can tailor a suit that fits you and the occasion perfectly. 

We offer various tailoring services, including bespoke suits, semi-bespoke ‘made to measure’ suits, and tailored suit hire

Bespoke suits 

If you’re looking for an unparalleled tailoring experience, our bespoke suit service is for you. Our bespoke tailoring process involves multiple fittings and consultations with our master tailor, where you can design your perfect suit. Our team of expert tailors will then handcraft your chosen suit. 

We also create bespoke tailored wedding suits, including evening tails and tuxedos. 

Made to measure suits 

We also offer made to measure suits which are the perfect solution if you want a high-end tailored suit for a lower price than our bespoke service. This process uses a mix of handcraft and machine work to prepare your suit in less than two months. 

Our made to measure wedding suits are ideal if you need a beautiful suit for a rapidly approaching wedding.  

Luxury tailored suit hire

If you’re attending a formal event and don’t want to purchase a suit of your own for the occasion, our luxury tailored suit hire might be the solution. All our tailored hire suits involve several fittings to guarantee the best fit possible, and you’ll still get styling guidance from our master tailor. 

If you want to know more about our range of services or are still trying to decide if a custom suit is right for you, contact us today to request an appointment.