What You Need to Know About Inaugural Balls in Specific and Black-Tie Affairs in General

After reading Capitol Hill Style’s Ball Tips & Tricks for ladies, I thought that gentlemen might benefit from a small dash of advice. Whether you have been to a hundred gala affairs or this weekend is your first, there are a number of things that a gentleman (some items are gender neutral) needs to know. 

  1. Do not wear a watch with a tuxedo.  The logic of formality dictates that a gentleman in formal attire need not be burdened by time and will allow the evening to unfold and end upon its own accord.  If you really insist on violating this genteel custom, a watch with a black leather band is least offensive; a metal banded watch would be gauche, and synthetic bands make it clear that you are uncomfortable in your clothes.
  2. The things that must be in your pockets: cell phone, three handkerchiefs (one in your breast pocket to be given to a lady in need, two in your back pocket for your use and or contingencies,) a good pen, mints (Listerine Strips are preferable because they don’t rattle, and won’t interfere with the lines of your tux.)
  3. If your wallet looks like this:


There is a much longer conversation we need to have but it will wait for another time.  For the purpose of this evening, however, you need a money clip.  The only things you need to carry are: one credit card (please no more than two,) as much cash as you need, and your driver’s license.  A number of business cards commensurate with the amount of networking you expect to do is also acceptable.  Even an oversized paperclip would be preferable to that extra hump on your hump.

Resist the urge to shove anything else in your pockets.

  1. The best bang for your buck accessory in formal wear is the white silk scarf; it will change an average tuxedo into something extraordinary*.
  2. It takes about five minutes to learn to tie a proper bow-tie.  I encourage you to learn if you don’t know, if only for the reason that at the end of the night, you’ll want to undo you tie, let it hang round your neck and channel your inner Rat Pack.
  3. If you are attending an affair at a hotel, do know that the booze offered will suck, and that banquet bartenders are not the most skilled in the craft.  Expect to drink bad wine, generic beer, or a few options from bottom level spirits and wait too long for the privilege.  If you actually like drinks, go to one of the bars outside the ballroom and get a real drink.  Sure it will cost you, but avoiding the aggravation is worth it.
  4. Speaking of large affairs at hotels… even if the food is several notches above the borderline cafeteria quality that most will serve, there will never be enough of it.  You must eat before you arrive.
  5. A lost point of etiquette: always keep your right hand free for introductions.
  6. Do know that any one you meet this evening is met under slightly distorted pretense.  Meeting someone dressed in formal attire is somewhat akin to meeting a cross between another person’s PR rep, their avatar, and their actual self.  Know that you are the same.
  7. The galas will be crowded – the coat check especially – towards the end of the night.  Don’t stay until the end of the night. 
  8. If you are fortunate enough to have a lady on your arm this evening, let her set the pace of your stride.  Most likely she is wearing the highest heels in her closet and your sensitivity to those heels is best demonstrated by letting her walk at a speed at which she is comfortable.
  9. If you attend solo, know that there will never be an easier place to start conversations with strangers than the early part of the evening.  That equation changes once the place gets really crowded.  If all other words fail to come to mind, “you look lovely this evening” is a splendid opener.
  10. Finally, it ain’t too late to buy rather then rent your tuxedo – I would be happy to connect you with shops/tailors that can still make this happen – because men in rented clothing usually look like guys who have rented their clothes.  If you are attending a black-tie optional affair, a well tailored dark suit is certainly preferable to a poorly fitting rented tux.


* please pretend that I was able to master the art of forcing WordPress to resume numbering in the correct place.


12 Responses to What You Need to Know About Inaugural Balls in Specific and Black-Tie Affairs in General

  1. Don’t forget your insurance card!

    thanks, mom – sarcasm aside, you are absolutely right, insurance card is a must.

  2. Brett says:

    And keys!!! Or, key, for the purpose of keeping pockets slim.

    And for the love of God and all that is classy, never carry a condom in your money clip.

    I tried to avoid the obvious, but yes.

  3. Fearless says:

    Re Being sensitive to the speed of the lady’s stride: Thank you.

    Most formal wear for women (especially the formal length gown) is not conducive to power walking. Or getting in and out of automobiles. Being patient and giving your date an actual hand or an arm when necessary will be greatly appreciated.

    And…re passed hors d’oeuvres – if you can’t eat it in one bite, or it arrives on a stick…it’s probably a bad idea.

    Food on sticks… hmmm, only for street fairs.

  4. Shannon says:

    To add to the rule about keeping your right hand free: hold your drink in your left hand, even if it feels really awkward at first. That way, you aren’t all dewy and moist when it’s time to shake hands.

    Here’s to having another benefit to being left hand.

  5. Sara says:

    Men should never underestimate the power of a well tailored suit. It is always appropriate and impossible to resist.

    Based on my travels through the world I can assure you that the number of women who demonstrate consistent resistance to my suits is enumerable.

  6. Kevin says:

    Might I add the addition of shirt stays to your wardrobe is also a good idea. At the end of the evening, when everyone else’s shirt is bunched around their middle, you’ll still look fresh as a daisy.

    That’s the Marine in you, but I do agree.

  7. f.B says:

    Wearing a rental is visibly suffocating. There’s just so much uncertainty: who’s worn this before; what did they do to it; what if I spill; when do I have to return?

    I couldn’t agree more, though, I wonder how interesting it might be to construct a narrative for the history of the rented tux – who were the prior occupants, what did they do with their evening, did he get left at the alter. I am thinking of a man who dons the tuxedo and somehow feels a clairvoyant sense of its past.

  8. kathleen says:

    mmmm boys in suits.

    where are all of you women who profess this weakness for the bespoke man when I am out and about having a cocktail?

  9. kathleen says:

    sorry to post twice but boys in suits when i am underdressed = unapproachable. boys in suits when i too am dressed to kill = shooting fish in a barrel.

    Just because I am really slow some times, in your scenario, who represents the fish and who has the gun?

  10. ella says:

    there needs to be a comparable list for the ladies. i’d write it but i haven’t donned formal wear in far too long to have any fresh memories of a “do” or a “don’t.”

  11. ella says:

    i’m daft… i see the list for ladies.

  12. Isabel says:

    I am having too much fun reading your blog today! Love this post and THANK YOU for #8. So true. Attended Inaugural ball in high heels after standing for hours in the Purple tunnel of doom, was walking at extremely slow speed all night.

    Thank you, and sadly this is a point that gentlemen seemingly miss regardless of the occasion for the really high heals.

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