What does the idiom "black tie" mean?

Are you using the idiom black tie but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the black tie idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "black tie"


The phrase “black tie” has two distinct uses. As an adjective, it is used to refer to formal social events, typically at evening time. It is often used to specify what kind of attire is expected of the attendees or guests. As an idiom, it means to dress up, typically wearing evening formal attire, or the highest level of formal attire.


The term “black tie” was first used in the late 19th century as an indicator of proper evening attire for men. By the mid-20th century, it had come to stand for the highest level of formal dress for evening events.


The term “black tie” is most commonly used when referring to formal events, such as a wedding or a gala. It is also used in literature to describe a situation that requires the best dress. It can also be used as an imperative verb, as in, “You must wear a black tie.”

Example Sentences

  • We are attending a black tie event tonight and need to be sure we are dressed appropriately.
  • The invitation specified that the event is black tie, so you'll need to wear a tuxedo.
  • John didn't realize that it was a black tie affair, so he showed up wearing jeans.

The meanings of the words in the "black tie" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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