Sparkles, Sneakers, Chiffon: What 'Creative Black Tie' Means to Adland

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For some, creative black tie means a tuxedo and Chucks.
For some, creative black tie means a tuxedo and Chucks.  Credit: MoniqueRodriguez/iStock

Awards season is upon us, and along with it comes the annual stress of how to dress. The phrase "creative black tie" is in vogue, and while it may seem like an oxymoron, in the advertising industry it presents an opportunity to get expressive within a set of constraints. It's a delightfully vague prescription, one just as likely to inspire flashy feathers as clunky cummerbunds.

Ad Age canvassed advertising executives to find out what creative black tie means for them. Their answers run the gamut from staid to slayed:

Rob Reilly, global creative chairman, McCann Worldgroup: "I don't believe in creative black tie. There is black tie and then there is creative dress up. I personally hate seeing a nicely tailored tuxedo with sneakers. It defeats the purpose."

Amanda Malko, CMO, Tongal: "Creative black tie means, first and foremost, have fun with it! This is a creative industry, so breaking a few of the 'old rules' along the way is what we do. Think sneakers with suits, and hopefully some color! Just don't take it too seriously -- we're here to celebrate."

Ari Halper, chief creative officer, FCB New York: "Being hog-tied with a clove hitch made of tightly wound black chiffon. And cufflinks."

Anselmo Ramos, chief creative officer and founder, David: "The truth is, nobody knows what 'creative black tie' is, not even the hosts who included it on the invitation. It could be anything from dressing like Pee-Wee Herman to 'Dumb & Dumber' at the charity ball, so good luck trying to be a creative penguin. If all else fails, just pretend you're Pharrell going to the Oscars (except none of us can pull it off like him). Or, better yet, just wear a traditional black tie and let your ideas do the creative talk."

John Matejczyk, executive creative director and co-founder, Muhtayzik Hoffer: "It's a wide open brief. For guys, ditch the jeans, step it up to a suit or nice slacks, and put something around your neck. For women, sparkles!"

Rachel Bogan, partner, Work & Co: "It's an acknowledgment that, as an industry, we're supposed to shun the expected. It means 'get dressed up, but not like you're actually trying to be fancy.' Nice jeans paired with an ironic bow tie, or a cocktail dress the opposite of what someone at a bank would wear. Sometimes it goes further, though -- more like, 'F you, I'm creative and will wear what I want.' That's when you see a moto jacket over a wedding gown or a shorts tuxedo and Chucks."

Jason Stein, founder and CEO, Laundry Service: "Creative black tie means wearing whatever makes you most likely to unleash your inner Kanye."

Susan Hoffman, executive creative director, Wieden & Kennedy: "Creative black tie... it's the perfect balance between overstated and understated with style, a little flair (but not too much) and no beige, please!"

Ryan Linder, U.S. CMO, MDC Partners: "It pays homage to classic formal attire while leaving room to bend the rules. If you don't want to break out your tux, go for formal and understated, with elements of your own personal style. This is a celebration of creativity, after all."

Zach Hilder, executive creative director, BBH Los Angeles: "Creative black tie is too much pressure for me. If I wear Jordans with my tux, I'm not really being that creative. But if I combine that with a bolo tie and a single hoop earring, I run the risk of being too creative. So next time I'm invited to a creative black tie affair, I'm just staying home and watching 'Naked and Afraid.'"

Rafael Rizuto, executive creative director, 180LA: "Everything but a black bow tie worn with a dinner jacket. Also defined as a costume more than an outfit. Typically indulged by peculiar individuals in order to stand out among a certain crowd."

Debbi Vandeven, global chief creative officer, VML: "For creative black tie, I start with a black dress -- sometimes long, sometimes short -- then add a dose of my personality. And always fabulous shoes. The best thing about creative black tie is you can wear what you want."

Now let's hear what it means to a few fashion experts.

Micaela Erlanger, a fashion stylist whose clients include Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong'o, Hillary Swank and Michelle Dockery: "For me, it means you can have more creativity and less of a traditional and formal black tie attire. For me, that might mean wearing an open collar or even sneakers with a tux. For a woman, it might mean throwing a biker jacket over a ball gown."

Jeanne Yang, men's stylist, who works with Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland, Scott Eastwood, Jamie Dornan and Josh Bohmer: "Creative black tie for men equals add your personality or a twist. A statement jacket, a turtleneck, as long as you're wearing a tux jacket or a blazer with a different fabric lapel, a smoking jacket adding flavor to the standard black tuxedo."

Christene Barberich, global editor-in-chief and co-founder, Refinery29: "Creative black tie is a nice way of encouraging people to be expressive, to feel good, and most importantly, to dress for themselves. Traditionally, I've always thought of 'black tie' as shorthand for 'formal,' which can read a bit restrictive and old-fashioned to me. Creative black tie feels festive, but on your own terms."

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