The Shenyang Consulate had its annual Marine Corps Ball last weekend, and Diplowife and I attended. We were excited about going to our first State Department fancy ball, and to support our Marines. And we had a great time, the food was catered by a local luxury hotel, there was dancing, and they had a lovely ceremony covering the history of the Marines and their relationship to the State Department, and of course, cutting the cake with a sword.
The problem (as I saw it) was the horrible way most of Diplowife’s male colleagues dressed for the event. The tickets clearly specified “Black Tie”, and most of their outfits did not remotely qualify. Now, you may call me a snob, but I don’t think it’s right to show up to a black tie event and dress inappropriately. They make good money, and they should buy a proper tuxedo and learn how to wear it. The women looked great and probably spent good money on their hair and makeup, so what was the mens’ excuse?
So, in the interest of averting any future embarrassments for my male readers, I want to go over the basics for what “black tie” is, and is not:
1. “Black Tie” means TUXEDO. Not a black business suit, or some other color suit with a black tie. A tuxedo is a special kind of suit, and it’s just for black tie events. Tuxedos come in many varieties, but here are some bare minimums: black (or midnight blue), decorative lapels (usually satin or textured grosgrain), a single button closure, no vents, and a satin stripe up the outside of each pant leg. Some tuxedos have notched lapels, but it should be peaked or shawl lapels.
2. A proper tuxedo shirt is required. That’s a white dress shirt with either a pleated front, or a pique-textured front, french cuffs, and holes for shirt studs down the front. Get a matching set of studs and cuff links. I admit, I wore my State Department cuff links but my shirt studs were legit.
3. Black dress socks, shiny black dress shoes (preferably without laces, NOT loafers or brogues), and suspenders holding your pants up. Note: if you’re shopping for a tuxedo and the pants have belt loops, run away.
4. Waist covering. Either a cummerbund or a waistcoat (vest). The stores that sell tuxedos should have cummerbunds for sale, the material should match your tie, and colored black. Waistcoats are less common, but are a fine alternative. Tuxedo waistcoats are not like the vest from a 3-piece suit, they only come up to around your navel, so your shirt studs are visible. Your waistcoat shouldn’t be visible when your jacket is buttoned. The waist covering should cover the normal buttons at the bottom of your shirt, along with the top of your pants, and your suspender fasteners. Note: no waist covering is needed if your jacket is double-breasted.
5. BLACK TIE. OK, maybe this is obvious to most people but just in case: wear a black bow tie. And I’m talking about a real bow tie, not the pre-tied kind, which look horrible. Learn to tie one, there are many instructional videos on YouTube.
Additional things to avoid: matching novelty vest/cummerbund and bow tie sets, black neckties, unpolished shoes, silly socks, sport watches or bracelets.
And don’t stand off to the side of the dance floor while your wife dances alone. That’s not cool either.
More info here, this site helped me a lot: http://www.blacktieguide.com/