Crane Brothers: How to master the black tie dress code

crane brothers black tie dress code fashion tips
Images courtesy of Crane Brothers

What style of shoe should I wear? Do I need a cummerbund? What colour bow tie should I go for? How do I even fasten a bow tie?

Since the 19th century, black tie has sparked countless questions from even the most well-versed style aficionados. With a number of strict rules to adhere to, it’s a notoriously tricky dress code to navigate so Together Journal sought advice from the best in the business: Crane Brothers.

New Zealand’s leading menswear brand has spent over a decade dressing grooms, groomsmen and wedding guests alike so black tie is just another part of their day job.

From seasonal differences to the accessories you’ll need to complete the look, Digital and Brand Manager Ben Saint George answers the most common questions on black tie below.

What does ‘dress code optional’ really mean?

This is usually included as a courtesy if the dress code is more specific or esoteric – in basic terms it does mean the code is optional, with a strong preference towards adherence. Whenever there is a dress code – even when ‘optional’ is appended to it – it’s good practice (and simply polite) to follow it. The hosts will always appreciate it.

READ MORE: How to master the tie-less suit

I don’t want to wear a black tux, what other colours would you recommend?

Navy makes for an exceedingly elegant evening colour, and looks great as a two-piece tuxedo. If you’re interested in wearing separates, a smoking jacket in cream is a louche and stylish choice – very Bryan Ferry.

A velvet jacket is also worth considering if you want something opulent – navy or burgundy are both excellent, rich shades to consider.

Which rules are non-negotiable when following the black tie dress code?

White tie is the most formal dress code there is – as such it should be considered absolutely non-negotiable. That means a two-piece black tuxedo, a dinner shirt, white bow tie (obviously) and black evening shoes – patent oxfords or opera pumps preferably, but smart black calf oxfords or wholecuts in a pinch.

Black tie is essentially the same, but with a spot of wiggle room. A tuxedo is usually preferred, however it doesn’t have to be black – midnight navy is a popular alternative, and a little softer. A separate smoking jacket in either a wool or velvet is also acceptable, especially if the event errs on the more relaxed end – and both tend to look increasingly rakish as a night wears on. Pair both with a black dinner trouser. For shoes, the same rules apply as per white tie, though a natty velvet slipper or black loafer may also be judiciously deployed. 

What black tie accessories do you recommend?

Not to state the obvious, but the bow tie itself really is worth getting right. Leave the pre-tied ones to the amateurs and get a self-tie. They look infinitely better, and you can impress your fellow party-goers with your sartorial acumen. If you can’t tie one yourself (it’s well worth learning but not everyone has the time), then a Crane Brothers bow tie can be tied then unclipped so that you can slip it back on and have everyone none the wiser.

As for other accessories, a high-quality white pocket square is worth investing in. Simonnot Godard are world-renowned for theirs and with good reason. Suspenders can be an elegant addition – opt for button-on rather than clips if you can. Never wear a belt. A cummerbund is another more traditional accessory – certainly not essential, but a smart way to add some extra class to your outfit, especially if your affair tends towards the formal. 

How does black tie differ in summer and winter?

In terms of ‘the rules’, such as they are, it essentially doesn’t – although separates are inherently less formal than a tuxedo, and can be a better fit for a summer soiree. Keep fabric in mind as well – something like velvet or some of the heavier tuxedo cloths are liable to cook you on a hot evening.

READ MORE: The groom’s guide to wearing colour

Most weddings take place in high summer in New Zealand and Australia, so picking a fabric that’s going to keep you looking and feeling good is extra-important. At Crane Brothers, we’ve developed our wedding collection around lightweight and breathable options like wool and mohair, that offer beautiful drape without too much heat. If your ceremony is more casual or beach-oriented, then linen is a chic, relaxed choice that will keep you cool and comfortable.

What style of footwear would you recommend when following the black tie dress code?

Patent oxfords, dress slippers and opera pumps should be your first port of call – all smart styles specifically designed with eveningwear in mind. If you’re looking for something with perhaps a touch more versatility, a black loafer is an excellent choice. Alternatively a wholecut Oxford offers an understated, dressy look that can be transported to the working wardrobe with ease.

Visit Crane Brothers online or follow @cranebrothers on Instagram to browse their carefully curated selection of clothing, footwear and accessories. The menswear atelier also offers a made-to-measure service.