There has yet to be a charity event committee that I have served on that in the discussion of dress code black tie optional does not come up. That is not to say that ‘cocktail attire,’ ‘black tie,’ and ‘business dress’ don’t come up, because they do. But anyway, without fail, someone brings up ‘black tie optional.’ Something which, without fail, makes me cringe.
I understand the practical aspect of black tie optional, that is, ‘we (the hosts) prefer you wear black tie, but realize that it may be a financial or logisitical burden that would make it not feasible to wear.’ However, I follow the school of thought that goes something like ‘half measures avail us nothing.’ That is, you either require black tie or you do not even present it as an option. There is no middle ground or ‘optional.’
So, faced with this dilemma, what is a man to do? When I see black tie optional I essentially default to wearing a tuxedo, however, I typically take a more creative and less conservative approach to the wearing (hopefully in a much more tasteful manner than the celebs are known for at their award shows).
By that I mean I will change up certain aspects of my tuxedo de rigueur; for instance the color or the style of shirt. I will often wear a pink shirt (as pictured) or a oxford cloth button down. But there are plenty of other things you can do to change up your ensemble from a traditional black tie to a more creative one. As with many things, it is all in the accessories and details. Perhaps you want to don some pope red socks (from Gamarelli) or Prince Albert slippers. And yes, there is the obvious option to change the fabric of your tuxedo (as pictured).
Although I do see it done often, one thing I do not like to do is change the color of my bow tie, I like to take ‘black tie’ quite literally. Oh, and also, don’t ditch the cummerbund regardless of what some of the more trendy and contemporary voices may say.
If you sit in the camp where donning a tuxedo would not be feasible (or you just refuse to do so) the best course of action is to keep your ensemble formal and conservative so as to come as close to the formality of black tie as you can. A solid suit in navy or gray paired with a white shirt and a dark conservative tie is ideal.
Whichever course you decide on keep in mind that the most important thing is to keep your ensemble tasteful and respectful toward your host(s) and other guests. What do you think? Would you change up your normal tuxedo for something more creative or not?
Tuxedo: Lilly Pulitzer. Shoes: Allen Edmonds. Shirt: TM Lewin. Bow tie & Cummerbund: Brooks Brothers. Suspenders: The Fine Young Gentleman. Cufflinks: Rotenier. Pocket square: Robert Talbott.