Black Tie Explained

Black Tie & Tuxedos Explained with 1930s Fashion Illustrations

After seeing the black tie outfits at the Oscars, we were quite disappointed, and while it is always easy to critique others, it is more difficult but also more helpful to show great examples of elegant tuxedo outfits. Therefore we decided to create a hands-on black tie series that helps men look dapper in a tuxedo or dinner jacket without having to sacrifice individual style. Yes, the black tie dress code has many different rules, but at the same time, every gentleman can adapt elements to make the outfit truly unique.

In this article, we want to take a look back to the past because during the heyday of classic men’s clothing black tie was an integral part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Ivy-League students back then probably wore black tie as often as students wear hoodies today.

Of course, when more men wear a certain garment, you end up with a larger variety of styles, accessories, and looks. Fortunately, black tie has changed very little since the 1930s, and you can draw lots of inspiration for your modern day tuxedo outfits from photos and illustrations from that time.

1930s Classic Black Tie - that could be worn just like that today

1930s Classic Black Tie – that could be worn just like that today

First, let’s start with an illustration that may seem familiar to you – we use it on the homepage of the Gentleman’s Gazette.

The Formal Version Of A Tuxedo

The gentleman on the left wears a black single breasted one button tuxedo with peaked lapels faced in wide grosgrain silk. The trousers are full-cut, the shirt cuffs fit the sleeve perfectly, and the sleeves show four cuff buttons. The shirt has a high, stiff wing collar that is paired with a single breasted cotton evening waistcoat. Both of these elements are borrowed from a white tie ensemble. At that time, evening wear used to be stiff, and it wasn’t until the Prince of Wales that soft turndown collars and French double cuffs became popular with black tie. Even after the softer look became popular, many men still enjoyed the stiffer, more formal look of a white tie shirt and vest. The shoes are patent leather oxfords in black. To add a dash of color, this gent opted for a dark red carnation boutonniere.

The black bow tie was visible on the neckband, and hence it was important that the black bow tie came in a fixed neck size. To honor that tradition and to allow you to wear black bow ties with a wing collar, all Fort Belvedere bow ties are sized specifically to your neck size. In case you are not sure what bow tie is right for your tuxedo, please read this guide on how to find the perfect black bow tie for you.

The Slightly Less Formal Tuxedo

The second chap from the right likewise wears a butterfly bow tie with a  stiff evening shirt. However, his jacket is double breasted, and therefore he does not need a vest. Note, it is a 4×1 button configuration meaning out of 4 buttons, only one is buttoned. In this case, the buttoning point is very low, which is something quite common on double breasted dinner jackets or tuxedos, because it reveals more of the shirt front which is always a hallmark of evening wear.

The lapel is faced in wide rib grosgrain again, and instead of a red boutonniere, this gent opted for something in blue.

Soft Collar Tuxedo Outfits

Most men today likely wear a softer shirt with French cuffs with their tuxedo. Again, this was a somewhat new thing back in the 1930s, but as it was more comfortable it is no surprise that the fashion stuck, and the stiffer less comfortable boiled front shirt is rarely seen with black tie anymore.

The gentleman on the very right has a single button jacket with an attractive satin faced shawl collar that gets progressively wider with its widest point just underneath the chest. It is a rather attractive look that is not often seen today. The shirt has a soft turndown collar and pleats as well as studs and the pocket square plain white and made of linen and folded in a crown fold. To learn more about how to fold a pocket square, take a look here.

The man with the mustache also has a satin faced shawl collar jacket, but if you take a closer look, you will see that its widest part is a little higher than on the other one, which creates a different look. The bow tie is more os a slim, wider batwing style that works well for men with wide or big heads.

Both men wear opera pumps or court shoes with a nice bow. These are different than slippers because you can see the socks.

All of these outfits have jetted pockets, and they could be worn just like that today. In fact, you’d look a lot more dapper than most men at the Oscars!

Gentlemen in classic black tie with black waistcoat, galon, carnation and black silk socks

Gentlemen in classic black tie with black waistcoat, galon, carnation and black silk socks

In this illustration, you can see the gentleman on the right wearing a single button tuxedo jacket with wide, peaked lapels. Full cut trousers and wide lapels were popular back then, and today you can certainly slim both down a bit, but overall it is a very attractive look. He wears a black single breasted waistcoat that matches the tuxedo, and you can see the satin strip on the side of the pants which is called galon. The single galon (vs. double for white tie) is the hallmark of black tie, and it is made of the same material as the lapel facings. In line with that, you want to add classic, black over the calf silk socks.

The gentleman on the left wears a double breasted peaked lapel tuxedo with a red carnation boutonniere, a small black bow tie, turndown collar and a white linen pocket square.

Again, both outfits could be worn just like that today.

Black Tie Silk ad 1936 USA

Black Tie Silk ad 1936 USA

Many men believe that all of these black tie traditionas are European and that things are more relaxed in the U.S. However, that’s not entirely true. American men used to be very dapper black tie and white tie enthusiats and companies like William Skinner & Sons from New York specialized in nothing but evening silks! In this picture you can see a top hat and a double galon, both of which are for white tie but the white silk scarf aka muffler and the evening shoelaces can we worn with black tie as well.

Black Tie in 1934 in Germany. Note the colorful waistcoats and the stiff collar with white tie vest and boutonniere on the right

Black Tie in 1934 in Germany. Note the colorful waistcoats and the stiff collar with white tie vest and boutonniere on the right

If we go across the pond, men in continental Europe wore black tie as well, and certain fashions were evolved in black tie menswear. For example, take a look at the colorful waistcoats of these men. Also, not the three cuff buttons vs. the four in the U.S.  Basically, it was just a slight stylistic difference.

As you can see, even though black tie has many set rules, there is plenty of opportunity to add some personality to your outifts but opting for colorful accents, specifically, when it comes to accessories, lapel facing silks, as well as the bow tie and the cut of your ensemble.

If you enjoyed these fashion illustrations, stay tuned for our in depth Black Tie Guide. Also, make sure to take a look at our ebook Gentlemen of the Golden Age, which is full of 1930s fashion illustrations.

Gentleman of the Golden Age Screens

Gentleman of the Golden Age – ebook full of fashion illustrations and explanations on how to incorporate the inspiration into today’s outfits

Black Tie & Tuxedos Explained with 1930s Fashion Illustrations
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Black Tie & Tuxedos Explained with 1930s Fashion Illustrations
An in-depth guide to Black tie & Tuxedo outfits; including tips to looking dapper in them without having to sacrifice individual style.
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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34 replies
  1. Louk Bots says:

    I love the first tuxedo (with the white tie accesories) but since it is a more formal garment that looks quite like white tie with exception of the bow tie and the jacket, shouldn’t you wear a top hat with it then? I know a top hat doesn’t suit a tuxedo, but I think a black fedora, boater hat with black ribbon or homburg doesn’t suit this particular tuxedo as well. What hat to wear is the question.

    • Andrew Dy says:

      I assume you would only wear a hat if you’re wearing an overcoat outside(which would broaden your choice of hats), once inside both will be checked at the door. That does leave the question of what if the event were in summer and too hot for an overcoat…

    • Wolf says:

      In the thirties men did sometimes wear top hats with black tie too (in the way that they had adopted other white tie trappings for its less formal cousin). Unless you are deliberately going for a vintage look, I’d advise against doing it these days.

      • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

        Top hats are tall and require a tail coat. Yes, there are some pics of men wearing top hat with black tie but they did not know the rules at the time and it was definitely not the standard.

        • Wolf says:

          Although the homburg became the generally accepted hat to wear with black tie in the 1930s, finally surplanting the bowler hat and fedora as alternatives to the top hat, wearing a top hat with black tie was actually recommended by a number of style bibles of the day – Emily Post continued to recommend the top hat until the 1950s. Of course, it is right that top hats were the exception in general wear by the 1930s, but were more common earlier.

  2. Andrew Dy says:

    I love the man in first picture wearing the double breasted shawl collar, a lot of people go for single breasted shawl now days for it’s relaxed look. A double breasted shawl will definitely make you stand out from the crowd.

    • Keep Dandyism Alive says:

      I definitely agree. A double breasted tuxedo with a shawl lapel looks stunning.

      • Mark in OZ says:

        To get away in a DB outfit you do though need to be tall and slim . None the less the look can be sensational .
        Favourite for me is Midnight Blue barathea , iit falls well too.

    • Lukacs says:

      Quick question on shawl collars. I’ve seen them on waistcoats, single or double breasted. Is there a rule of thumb for shawl collars on waistcoats? In other words, what sort of jacket collar pairs with a shawl collar on a waistcoat?

      • Mark in OZ says:

        shawl collars for waistcoats are commonly seen to accompany a morning suit tailcoat ; therefore the coat is DB lapels
        For Tuxedo the waist coat is cut deeper , single breast no lapel . the most formal of evening wear ( days gone bye ) is black tails , Marcella vest and bowtie.

  3. Stubb says:

    Three buttons on the sleeve is interesting. Almost never see that today. Are there specific conventions in suiting with regard to buttons numbers?

  4. Daniel says:

    The fellow with the black, single-breasted waistcoat: is there a collar on that waistcoat? It looks like no collar, just about 4 button cut very low.

    • Mark in OZ says:

      Daniel ,
      Normally no collar , more than likely though is the garment backless similarly to what is found with tails .
      Formal wear is a fantastic topic dating back hundreds of years to some of the old chivalrous orders.

  5. Allan says:

    I love the black tie with white tie accessories looks here. They give you the feeling of a formal wear transition happening right at that moment.

    I’m so happy that black tie is increasing in popularity. It gives us, the lovers and enthusiasts of style, more options both in terms of ready made outfits, and not least accessories.

  6. Wolf says:

    As a quick note, the gallons on black tie trousers can be a stripe of black braid, rather than silk to match the lapels. Many older and better quality dinner jackets will have this.

    Some lovely illustrations here – some of which I have never seen before and one from Laurence Fellows that always bears repeating.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Of course it can be a braid, in different widths but generally not a strip of fabric that does not match the the lapels. I have a white tie and black tie ensemble with a braid in my wardrobe.

  7. George says:

    When I read about the prince of wales it reminded me of the tv series “the crown” in which you can see a lot of great black tie looks as well. I can only recommend “the crown” to all of you. And by the way, I would really enjoy if you (Mr. Schneider) would make a video on german once.

  8. Michael says:

    What bothers me most regarding men’s Oscar clothing is this; Most men at the Oscars have enough cash to afford bespoke, yet the majority look as if dressed for a costume party or their first prom. Not to mention white Dinner jackets in February, jacket sleeves too long, or shirt sleeves too short, trousers with way too much break, and ill fitting all around, and the silly looking neck-ties in-place of bow-ties, jackets too tight, or too loose, or too short. The list is endless and screams “I’m too lazy to be bothered so I’ll throw this funky get-up on and hope like hell nobody notices, even though they know people will notice.” The current crop of male actors idea of style is not to have any.
    Where is the Cary Grants, Clark Gables, Randolph Scotts, Peter O’Tooles, Michael Caines, William Holdens,Steve McQueens etc, in this years crop of winners. Most, if not all, of the actors listed are known for their style and manner of dress. Some had tailors across the globe.
    The Cary Grants, et al, do not exist any more. It’s mostly boys trying on their adult clothes for the first time.

    • Mark in OZ says:

      I prefer no vent and a single pleat on the trousers, this totally formalises the garment and totally separates it from everything in your wardrobe . Modern day suits are these days made highly tailored , slim cut with bum freezer jackets ; they are far less time less . I have been wearing clothes for more tan 65 years and have seen a lot of change . I survived the early 1970 ,s to great expense at that time.

    • Wolf says:

      Ventless is the traditional look. Double vents have been accepted for dinner jackets for at least fifty years, so you are on safe ground there. Single vents, though sometimes seen, are generally considered inappropriate as they are too sporty looking – avoid.

  9. Andrzej Bonarski says:

    The evening is a little bit too cold or wet and windy and I am in the tuxedo…
    The constant problem – what kind of a coat?
    A cape? OK – but isn’t it oldschool…?
    Light cashmere overcote ? Well but maybe not the best solution…
    Something of cotton?
    O no…
    So what?…


    • Wolf says:

      Something plain (not patterned) and dark (navy or charcoal perhaps) coloured, ideally. It needs to look fairly formal, so trench coats or reefer jackets/pea coats are a little too casual. If it’s single breasted a fly covering for the buttons would be nice.

      Capes are cool but, I fear, look like you are wearing a costume!

  10. Thomas Leslie says:

    Looking for white buckskin gloves to wear and keep in topcoat. Any suggestions where they can be found today? I have the white lamb skin gloves.

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