Prince Philip in white tie

Black Tie and White Tie

Prince Philip in white tie

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in white tie (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Bow ties play a major role in dress code rules — such as black tie and white tie. The color of the tie reveals how formal an event is. How cool is that?

However, sometimes disaster strikes like when during a Downton Abbey episode black tie attire was worn to dinner. Gasp! Dirty and Thirty recounts:

Indeed, one of the most tragic events of Season 3, Episode 1 (hour 2) was the hullabaloo over Lord Grantham’s black tie dinner jacket (aka tuxedo). His Lordship’s white tie dinner jacket went “missing,” “missing” as in hidden by his trusted, yet devilishly conniving valet (personal butler). Lord Grantham is forced to look like a pauper at dinner and wear a black bow tie. Ghastly informal – the Dowager Countess, his mother, actually mistakes him for a butler.

Fortunately, poor Mr. Carson survived and all was good again — until (spoiler alert) multiple major characters died later that season.

Both white tie and black tie dress codes are somewhat relics of the past, but they are still important and used today. White tie applies for ultra formal events like state dinners and evening weddings (and dinners at Downton Abbey) while black tie outfits are “semi formal” for events like contemporary galas and high school proms (which — although at times are tacky — don’t need to ruin the splendor of black tie attire).

Due to the importance that bow ties play in defining these two dress codes, I advise against wearing bow ties that are solidly either black or white unless one is wearing at least a tux (some fashion experts will likely say that even that alone isn’t enough). There’s just too much associated with both of these colors when it comes to bow ties. It is too easy to make a fashion faux pas in such an occasion.

Fortunately, there are plenty of bow ties out there in other colors and patterns. When sporting a bow tie to an event that is not as formal as a state dinner, wedding, or evening affair at which Mr. Carson is the chief of the fashion and etiquette police, have fun with the bow tie and pick colors and patterns that suit your personality and outfit better. Leave the solid black and white ties for formal shindigs and Boxing matches at which you’re a referee or announcer.