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4 ways to nail the black-tie dress code

Plus, how to bend the rules once you've mastered them.

Blurring dress codes has led to greater flexibility in doing black tie. But because rules should be broken only after they have been mastered, here is a refresher on the essentials of this traditional dress code.

THE JACKET

A key feature that sets a tuxedo jacket apart from its workhorse brethren is the dressy material of its lapels – usually satin or silk. Lapels can be – in ascending order of formality – notched, peaked or shawl style.

THE BOW TIE

To some traditionalists, what we are going to say might sound sacrilegious, but here it is: While it’s great if you have mastered putting on a traditional bow tie, there is nothing wrong with wearing a pre-tied one. One has better things to do than trying to wrestle a strip of irregularly shaped silk into submission.

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THE CUMMERBUND

From seams to buttons, the working elements of a black-tie ensemble are often concealed for maximum sleekness. Smooth any lumps and bumps – whether they are a result of fabric or your flesh – with a cummerbund, worn at the waist and with the pleats facing upwards.

THE SHOES

Sleek and shiny to match the other dressy accents on a formal suit, lace-up shoes in black patent leather is the traditionalists’ choice. That, or lace-up shoes in a highly polished smooth leather – or even, for those with continental swagger, velvet smoking slippers.

(RELATED: What a perfect-fitting suit looks like)

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