Black-tie Invitation Wording Quandary

posted 2 years ago in Etiquette
Post # 2
7915 posts
Bumble Beekeeper
  • Wedding: September 2015

BGEC:  all your options are redundant. Some will guilt people. Say “black tie optional” which means wear a tux/gown if you have one. Cocktail/suit if not. 

Post # 3
7915 posts
Bumble Beekeeper
  • Wedding: September 2015

Also to say you want them to feel apologetic about wearing a suit isn’t really nice nor is it truly “optional”. So maybe preferred is the way to go because it’s honest. 

Post # 4
1004 posts
Bumble bee

I don’t like the options :/ As PP mentioned, some people will feel guilty attending if they can’t afford to buy or rent a tux. I would go with black tie optional; it sounds nicer!

Post # 5
42101 posts
Honey Beekeeper
  • Wedding: November 1999

I do not want anyone who is very near and dear to me to be deterred from coming if they can not afford a tuxedo.


  I don’t want the people I invite out of politeness to avoid coming if they absolutely can’t afford a tuxedo (though they aren’t expensive and flying is), but I want them to feel apologetic about it.

On other words, you can come but I want you to feel bad.

This absolutely boggles my mind. The goal of the host and hostess is supposed to be to make their guests feel comfortable, not guilty.

Post # 6
2117 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: June 2015

BGEC:  I’m literally in the exact opposite position as you. This weekend, I found out that apparently FMIL has been telling all of her friends/family members that our wedding is black tie (and mandatory, at that), which it absolutely is NOT. In our case, it’s my family that doesn’t own tuxedos, and I am livid at the thought that now, they may feel uncomfortable and/or underdressed. 

You don’t tell adults what to wear. People are smart, they understand that evening weddings are formal, and they’ll do the absolute best they can. If you put ANY of those things on your wedding invitation, you’re going to make a sizeable portion of your guests feel guilty. 

Post # 7
1829 posts
Buzzing bee

I think it’s terrible that you want those people who do not own and cannot afford a tux to feel guilty for not having one! If you want to have a Black Tie event then fair enough but I think it’s really harsh to say that people without a tux should feel apologetic about that. No one should have to feel sorry for their financial state and whether or not they can justify spending that much money on a suit for one night. 


Post # 8
1644 posts
Bumble bee

BGEC:  Your wedding sounds like it will be lovely. I am also impressed that you know that, for a truly formal party in circles where evening dress is commonly worn, a correct invitation does NOT include any dress instructions because you would never insult your guests by implying that they do not know how to dress. And I sympathize with the sad reality that the world has changed. But I also congratulate you for being one of the people who is changing the world: you are making it a better place. In the world where everyone in “the best families” knew how to dress, the offspring of those families all went to the same schools and vacationed in the same resorts and ended up marrying one another, because they did not know anyone else. Today people travel broadly, socialize outside their social circle, broaden their horizons and fall in love with people they would never have met without branching out. So good on you! A little sartorial confusion is small price to pay for a more egalitarian perspective.

That being said, you have three options:

Follow your better instincts, leave the dress instructions off the invitation, and have your invitation engraved with black script on a plain heavy white card using traditional formal wording — and use word of mouth to spread to guests from outside your circle the expectation that they will wear evening dress. Or, just accept that some people will be there in formalwear, and some in their formal western-wear with their “good” boots and the solid silver rodeo buckle.

Or, follow the current  popular advice that “Black Tie” is the one allowable sartorial instruction for a formal invitation, and use word of mouth to spread to guests from outside your circle that a dark business suit with white shirt and tie is always a perfectly acceptable alternative for gentlemen who do not own a dinner jacket or tailcoat. The problem with this option is that you offend the people from your circle by implying that they do not know how to dress, and *also* offend the people from outside your circle by implying that they need to hire a ‘tux’ — because word of mouth never gets around to everyone.

Or, following the lead of the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, list a clear and specific dress code: “Black tie or dark business suit” (what they listed was actually “Morning dress or lounge suit” but they were married in the morning, and “lounge suit” is the British name for a business suit.)



Post # 9
1154 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: January 2015

Just write “Black Tie,” they’ll get the hint, but since you actively want them to feel bad why don’t you write something like “NO POORS ALLOWED” or “TUX OR GTFO” or “WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE WORN IS BAD AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD”.  That should really get the point across and ensure that the people you want to feel bad for not being able to afford to dress appropriately do so.  

Post # 10
2493 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: October 2010

Technically, you let the style of the invitation do the talking, but that’s very old-fashioned etiquette that not many people will understand. To demonstrate how etiquette is changing, many familiar with that old etiquette believe that to do otherwise (to list a dress code of some sort) would insult your guests by implying they don’t know how to dress themselves; however, many who are younger and familiar with “Black tie” printed on the invite (or “cocktail attire” or whatever) seem to prefer the instruction because it saves them the guesswork. Since the traditional etiquette tends to be more obscure and the issue is important to you, I would print a small dress code on the invite.

Generally, it would be simply, “Black tie,” although I do see “Black tie optional” more and more. 

“Requested” is redundant because by virtue of putting “Black Tie” you are “requesting” the observance of a certain attire. “Preferred” is an ungracious thing to say. 

Now, as far your guests feeling bad about their attire if they don’t arrive in proper tuxedos and gowns or feeling ashamed of their “not as good” suits and cocktail dresses, I’m afraid you’ll have to let them decide how they feel about their appearance at your wedding.

You might want to consider the fact that you seem to actually wish that your guests feel uncomfortable at your wedding if they fail to uphold appearances. Your values might be misplaced on that one. 

Post # 11
858 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: June 2015

Will you have a wedding website that most of your guests will be looking at? You may be able to leave the black tie wording off the invitation, and give a slightly longer explanation on the website so that people understand that you’re looking forward to seeing everyone turned out in their best. If you’re handling this on a website where you can give a bit more of an explanation, I’m sure you’ll find a way to phrase it that will convey your desire without making anybody feel bad about what they wear to the event. 

Post # 12
195 posts
Blushing bee

I think your post went a bit astray when you mention that you want guests who can’t come in black to feel apologetic about it. At the end of the day, people are there to celebrate your union, and having them feel uncomfortable about not being able to do so in your chosen style comes across as a bit… wrong.


‘Black tie optional’ is a real pain in the backside in my opinion. I’ve been to events where this is listed and half the men turned up in tuxs, some in suits, some more casual. Women – some in evening gowns, some in cocktail – and I’m pretty sure a lot of them were feeling over or under dressed respectively. It was all a little bit of a jumble.

I like the suggestion of spreading the dress code by word of mouth and or/using the wedding website to communicate what you envisage for the evening. 

I understand that people say – adults will understand that evening weddings are formal; but my friend still listed ‘formal’ on her invitations and (not to give you any nightmares) some people still turned up in jeans…


Post # 13
7284 posts
Busy Beekeeper

And here I was thinking that just having the people that you love at your wedding even if they are wearing a garbage bag because that’s all they could afford was enough I find out that I should be guilting them too. 

I think you should recheck your attitude otherwise this whole wedding experience where you invite guests but expect them to conform to your ideals is going to leave you bitterly disappointed and angry about your wedding. Either that or just don’t invite any pesky guests. At least that way your vision can’t be ruined.

Post # 14
6674 posts
Bee Keeper

There is no such thing as black tie optional or preferred. By definition “black tie” refers to the formality of the event and a dark business suit and dark tie are considered an acceptable substitute for a dinner jacket in any case. A gracious host would never play the role of fashion police person.

The days when time, place  and formality of the invitation automatically conveyed the correct message are long past. 

Personally, I would own the black tie description of your event and then spread the word informally that dark suits are okay too. 

Post # 15
716 posts
Busy bee

I’m in the camp that the invitation should speak for itself. If you truly don’t want people to not come over attire, then be silent on the point.

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