Black Tie Optional? What does that mean?

Black Tie Preferred vs Black Tie Required vs Creative Black Tie

While the phrase “Black Tie event” has been thrown around for years, understanding the etiquette for such an event is always confusing.  Part of the issue is the variety of Black Tie events that exist.  Some invitations simply say Black Tie or Black Tie Required, while others will phrase it as Black Tie Requested, Black Tie Requested or Preferred, Black Tie Optional, or Creative Black Tie.  With so many similar phrases, it’s no wonder that people show up underdressed or sometimes overdressed.

Since this seems to be a point of confusion amongst event goers, it’s a good time to demystify the Black Tie phenomenon once and for all.  We’ve broken down what each of these keywords actually means for you as a guest:

Black and white image of man buttoning suit for black tie preferred event.

Black Tie or Black Tie Required

This one seems the most straightforward, and it is.  Your host is asking you to show up in a full tuxedo, no questions asked.  While many will try to manipulate this dress code with a business suit, this phrase is asking you to maintain a basic level of elegance.  A black tie event may require some extra work in order to attend.  But that’s the nature of this type of occasion.  A black tie event indicates a high level of elegance and formality that shouldn’t be challenged.

Black Tie Requested Or Preferred

What does black tie requested mean? This phrasing indicates a subtle difference.  A host who recognizes that obtaining a tuxedo may be cost-prohibitive to some guests.  With that said, the phrasing is still being included for a reason.  Your host still would like to maintain the same style and elegance of a required event.  If a tuxedo is within your means, you should still consider this the right approach.  However, if you are someone who might not be able to afford it, opting instead for a nice dark suit and tie is acceptable.

Example of wedding invitation with "black tie requested"

Black Tie Optional Dress Code

This black tie optional dress code phrasing suggests a host with even more relaxed expectations for their guests.  While the host would still like to see men wearing tuxedos, they don’t feel the need to require them.   This may be the single biggest source of frustration for guests trying to wrap their heads around a Black Tie event. If it’s optional, do you really need to do it?  The answer is similar to above, with a bit more leeway.  If you have the ability or the wardrobe to dress formally, you still should.  But you shouldn’t be concerned with being turned away for not being properly attired.  There’s a reason they call it black tie optional, right?

Creative Black Tie Wedding

Finally, we get to perhaps the most confusing of all the forms of the Black Tie event.  This category is defined by Emily Post’s Etiquette as a “tuxedo combined with trendy or whimsical items”.  Before you go about wearing a soccer scarf around your shoulders, remember that these items are generally understood as referring to the shirt, tie, or accessories.  Remember the basis of a Black Tie event while picking out your wacky accessories though.  A Black Tie event still indicates a baseline of formality that needs to be maintained. But you can feel free to have fun with it, especially if you are adhering to a theme for the event.

Men sporting colorful creative black tie wedding tuxes.
Creative Black Tie Examples from The Black Tux

When all else fails, ask!

If you are in doubt about the meaning of any of the above phrasings when you receive an invitation, feel free to contact your host for clarifications.  It beats the awkward social moment of showing up underdressed for a fancy formal soiree!

Next, check out our post on finding the perfect groomsmen suit rental options!

Updated February 26, 2022

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