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Most Detailed White Tie Dress Code Styling Guide for Gents

The White Tie dress code is the highest order of male civilian attire and, as its name implies, requires a complete outfit.

With a patrician pedigree dating back to the English Regency, the White-Tie dress code rules are as rigid as the resplendent clothes.

However, when executed sloppily, the White Tie attire is no more than a magician’s costume.

But, when carried out skillfully, its adroit balance of militaristic authority and refined elegance elevates the most ordinary men to Rockefellers, Astors, and royals.

The dress code is also extremely rare today as it is associated with only the most ceremonious occasions.

Therefore, should you be fortunate enough to receive a White-Tie invitation, it is vital that you pay attention to detail, as this will likely be your sole opportunity to get it right.

While the less formal Black Tie code provides leeway to channel various looks from 1930s movie stars to modern-day superspies, White Tie is a virtual uniform that brooks little deviation.

White-Tie Tailcoat

What North Americans refer to simply as a tailcoat is correctly called an evening tailcoat or dress coat to differentiate it from the formal day tailcoat.

The coats differ because the evening coat is a (pseudo) double-breasted model with a sharply cut-away skirt and silk-faced lapels.

In contrast, the morning coat (or cutaway in American English) is a single-breasted model, has a skirt that tapers away gradually and carries self-faced lapels.

The evening tailcoat is further differentiated in that it must fit the torso snugly even though it is cut so it cannot be closed or buttoned.

This can only be accomplished by having it contour to the wearer’s body perfectly.

Therefore, unless a man has proportions virtually identical to those of a pre-made tailcoat, he will need to invest in the considerable expense of a custom-made dress suit for his physique.

Whether pre-made or made-to-measure, a well-fitting tailcoat benefits the wearer significantly.

“This garment can turn any many into an Adonis. Short or gangly, fat or lanky, the accentuates every potential virtue while ruthlessly suppressing every conceivable vice”

– Nicholas Antongiavanni.

Fabrics and Colours

Worsted wool with an understated finish, such as barathea, has been the most common fabric since the late Victorian era, and Britons prefer it.

Mohair and wool blends have been acceptable alternatives since the late 1950s.

They are favoured for their ability to add a tastefully dull sheen to suits.

Black has been the norm for evening wear since the 1850s, and midnight blue has been a correct and striking alternative since the 1920s.

The characteristics of midnight blue and worsted wool are discussed in detail in the description of Classic Dinner Suits.

Silhouette

The full-dress tailcoat’s design is particularly efficient at adding stature to shorter men due to its ability to elevate the waistline visually.

Like any tailored jacket, the tailcoat’s waistline typically mirrors the wearer’s natural waistline, but unlike other jackets, the coat fronts – and corresponding white waistcoat – end shortly below the waistline.

And because the dividing line between the white waistcoat and the black trousers visually breaks the body into vertical halves, the deliberate raising of this line gives the impression of longer legs.

Diminutive hoofer Fred Astaire employed an exaggerated waist height to great effect in his flawlessly tailored full-dress suits, and the English also favoured it in the 1930s for its dramatic aesthetics.

Like the waistline, other construction details of the coat’s front can vary according to changing fashions, but the practices described in a 1913 issue of Vanity Fair have been the norm ever since.

The front effect of the coat is best when well opened, exposing a considerable shirt.

The lapels roll to a little below the top button of the waistcoat, from where the line slants away to the edge, which inclines slightly upward and rounds into the skirt.

As for the rear of the coat, the Manual of Politeness dictated in 1837 that “not a crease should be discernible in the back or tails,” and this still holds true.

In addition, the coat’s collar must fit snugly at the neck and rise just high enough to cover the shirt collar’s rear stud and the bow tie’s band while still allowing a significant portion of white to remain visible.

Buttons

Because the double-breasted evening tailcoat has not been designed to close since the 1820s, the two rows of front buttons have become purely decorative.

There are three buttons in each diagonal row and their spacing is a matter of style.

Sleeve buttons are also ornamental. Four should be spaced closely together, beginning about half an inch from the end of the sleeve.

In the 20s and 30s, tailcoats with just 1, 2, or 3 sleeve cuff buttons were also common.

Lapels

The peaked lapel has been standard since the turn of the twentieth century.

Not only is it the most formal style of suit lapel, but its sweeping upward diagonal lines also create the impression of a powerful V-shaped torso.

Connoisseurs of vintage formal attire may occasionally stumble across a shawl-collared tailcoat from interwar and wish to adopt the style.

If so, they should view it in the context of an era when full dress was worn so frequently that gentlemen naturally sought an alternative to the classic.

Unless one’s social calendar is full of white-tie events, it is best to leave the shawl collar to the sartorial history books.

Some modern designers like wearing the ultra-formal tailcoat with the business suit’s informal notch lapel.

The only reason for choosing this paradox is to ensure your fellow guests know your clothing is rented.

Lapel Finishes

The best lapel facings are made of pure silk, while the less expensive ones contain a synthetic component.

The silk can be smooth satin or the dulled ribbed texture of grosgrain.

Although the former is much more common in North America, its shiny, somewhat theatrical finish is not as popular in Britain, where the understated look of grosgrain is often preferred.

The left lapel should have a working buttonhole for a boutonniere (ironically, known in Britain as a buttonhole).

Quality formal coats will also include a stem holder on the reverse side of the label.

This is typically a very small cord that keeps the stem in place so that the flower does not fall out of one’s lapel during an evening of dancing and dining.

Sleeves

Fred Astaire’s famous tailcoats also incorporated the requisite high armholes that prevented the coat’s sleeves from pulling at the body no matter the position of his arms, a feature that is just as relevant to today’s formal dancers.

Similar to the collar, sleeves should be cut short enough to reveal “a gleaming expanse of white linen at the cuff”, ranging from half an inch to one inch depending on the wearer’s height.

Tailcoat sleeves are also relatively narrow, traditionally just wide enough to allow the shirt cuff to slip through.

Skirt (Tails)

A centre vent that rises to the waistline divides the coat’s skirt into two “tails” which originally inspired the nicknames swallow-tail coat and claw-hammer tailcoat.

The tails generally extend down to the bend of the knee in a straight line with a gentle curve at the bottom.

Pockets

“In company, as little as possible should be borne in pockets of the coat; indeed, a full-dress coat should be made without pockets.”

The reasoning behind this salient advice from an 1837 etiquette manual is that the weight and bulge of loaded-down pockets will obstruct the graceful lines of the contoured dress suit.

Thus, hip pockets are never seen on a tailcoat and a breast pocket (introduced in the Edwardian era) is left empty by more fastidious dressers.

This lack of pockets presented a dilemma for nineteenth-century gentlemen expected to remove their otherwise mandatory dress gloves when dining.

In typical English fashion, Regency dandy Beau Brummell had his tailor hide pockets in the inside folds of the coat’s tails; this remains a feature of better tailcoats today.

Other Considerations

Most other aspects of a coat’s cut are purely aesthetic and, therefore, subject to changing fashions.

This includes the amount of drape (fullness over chest and back), amount of shoulder padding and size and curve of the lapels. See Style Basics for guidelines that will help make a suit as timeless as possible.

Unique to the tailcoat and morning coat are the two buttons found at the back of the waistline.

This is a vestige of a time when the coat’s tails were folded up and buttoned to the back for convenience when riding on horseback.

All buttons can be covered in the same facing as the coat’s lapels or in cloth, but simple black buttons or textured ones are also acceptable.

White Tie Full-Dress Trousers

Full-dress trousers are constructed of the same fabric as the tailcoat.

Because they must sit just above the bottom of the coat’s fronts, they must be cut with a high rise (waistline).

And because it is equally essential that they remain there throughout an evening of spirited ballroom dancing, they must be cut for and held up with suspenders (braces in the UK).

They can be constructed with flat fronts as they were before the 1920s or with pleats, as has been popular since the advent of baggier fashions following the First World War.

A primary characteristic of formal clothing is the concealment of its workings and fastenings.

This can be seen in the aforementioned silk-covered coat buttons, the decorative studs in a formal shirt and the trim that covers the outer seams of formal trousers.

This silk trim, also known as gallon, is either satin or grosgrain to match the coat’s lapels and consists of either one wide stripe or two narrow stripes to differentiate it from tuxedo trousers. (This is derived from the military practice of using double stripes to indicate higher rank.)

Braid was also used for this purpose in the past, but today, the term is often used generically when referring to trouser trim in general.

The evening suit’s refined minimalism is further aided by the placement of the side pockets on the trouser’s side seam, rendering them virtually invisible.

Finally, formal trouser legs are always plain as cuffs (turn-ups in the UK) are too casual (they originated as a mudguard) and would interfere with the side braid.

When sitting in a tailed coat do not divide the tails but carefully place them over the side or back of the chair.

Other Considerations

A coat’s arm scye is the hole where the sleeve meets the body.

High arm scyes allow the sleeves to move independently so that the body will stay in place when the wearer moves his arms.

Consequently, this is a standard feature of tailcoats that are custom-made for orchestra conductors.

Many mainstream manufacturers offer the business suit’s notched lapels on their tailcoats, often with fancy trim.

They also like to market their white-tie tailcoats with black-tie accessories. Steer well clear of such prom wear.

Whether renting or buying, consult the Style & Fit section for much more information on the proper fit of a suit.

If you opt for a custom tailcoat consider ordering a dinner jacket too and sharing a pair of tuxedo trousers between them.

Single-striped trousers are an acceptable alternative to full-dress.

In fact, they were the only formal trousers that the estimable Brooks Brothers used to sell with their tuxedo and tailcoat separates.

On the other hand, if you put in the effort of making tails, you might as well go all in and get the double-gallon white tie trousers.

White Tie Full-Dress Shirt (White Tie Marcella Piqué Bib Shirt)

Next to the tailcoat, the full-dress shirt is arguably the most important aspect of the white tie’s regal bearing.

Discovering the exquisite details of this aristocratic garment transports a man back to a romantic era of unsurpassed refinement and instils dismay at the proletarian substitute so ubiquitous today.

The shirt’s body is made of broadcloth or a very lightweight fabric such as voile, which helps the wearer stay cool.

It is constructed in a collarless “tunic” style to accommodate the requisite detachable collar, which, along with the bosom and sleeve cuffs, are the only portions presented to admiring onlookers.

Shirt Front Bosom (Bib)

The classic full-dress shirt commands a military-like formality with a stiff and simple bosom made from plain linen, plain cotton or cotton piqué (typically Marcella in the UK).

This bib-shaped thick layer of fabric is heavily starched to give all men the appearance of a firm, flat torso, regardless of their actual physique.

To prevent the cardboard-stiff shirtfront from billowing like a sail when the wearer sits down and the excess material has nowhere else to go, the properly tailored bosom will end just above the trouser waist and inside the suspenders.

The front traditionally has one or two (visible) studs, depending on the wearer’s height (a single stud adds the illusion of stature) or tastes.

While vintage shirt studs are usually beautiful, they are sadly too small for modern Marcella pique or boiled front buttonholes.

Because of that, the shirt will pop open regularly when worn.

To remedy that issue, Fort Belvedere designed a matching pair of platinum cufflinks and studs that work for white ties and keep the shirt properly closed all day long.

Understanding Piqué

Birdseye, also known as Marcella, is the most popular style for formal shirts.

The finer the weave of the piqué, the more elegant the shirt front.

Numerous piqué weaves exist, such as waffle (small squares), honeycomb, and birdseye (small diamonds).

The Boiled Shirt in Detail

See the Vintage Evening Shirts page for extensive details on the classic full-dress shirt, aka boiled shirt, including information on back-closing models, detachable cuffs and the detachable bosom (better known as a dickey).

How To Put in Shirt Studs

It can be tricky to put in the shirt studs because the starched Marcella piqué is so stiff.

Hence, some white shirts feature a side opening on the left that allows you to reach the studs from behind, which can be very helpful, especially if you have larger studs that cannot be buttoned because the buttonhole is too small.

If your shirt does not have that opening, button everything top down, allowing you to look at the back from the bottom.

Check out our White Tie accessories section for more details about different shirt studs.

Identifying the Perfect Detachable Wing Collars

The collar of the full-dress shirt is distinguished not just by its folded wings but also by its height.

Originally, these detachable collars stood nearly as high as the wearer’s jawline and even today; they should extend at least three-quarters of an inch above the coat collar.

Combined with the heavily starched fabric and the broad wings that helped keep the bow tie perfectly in place, the resulting effect “framed all men’s faces in regal splendour” to quote classic couturier Alan Flusser.

While such collars are difficult to find today, they remain the epitome of formality.

Detachable collars are fastened to the tunic shirt with a shorter stud at the back and a longer one in front, which can accommodate the overlap of fabric at the throat.

Because of the shirt design, only the front stud touches the neck.

Therefore, the flat back of this stud should be of bone or mother-of-pearl, as metal may leave a mark on the skin.

The extended portion of the stud is from brass but is not visible as it is covered by either the bow tie at the front of the collar or the bow tie band at the back.

The Collar Studs

Front and back collar studs (left and right, respectively)

Unless you are highly dexterous or employ a personal valet, it is much easier to attach the back of the collar to the shirt before putting it on.

Cuffs – Plain Linen, Cotton, or Piqué

This most formal style of shirt uses stiff barrel cuffs (single cuffs in the UK), which are intended to extend further beyond the coat sleeve than the softer French-style double cuffs worn with a dinner jacket.

Although not folded back, these cuffs are still fastened with links instead of buttons.

They can be made of plain linen or cotton or piqué to match the shirt’s bosom.

Tabs, Loops, and Other Important Details

It is a little-known fact today that when a bow tie is worn with a wing collar shirt, its band should never be seen above the coat’s collar.

Consequently, a finely tailored formal shirt will have a loop stitched immediately below the collar to discreetly tuck away the bow tie’s band and the backless waistcoat’s neck strap under the jacket.

Less diligent manufacturers will omit the loop to save costs, but a trip to the tailor can easily remedy this.

Quality formal shirts will also feature a tab that attaches to the inside of the trouser waistband to prevent the shirt from riding up over the course of an evening.

Like all working details of a formal ensemble, this tab is hidden – in this case, by the waistcoat.

No pockets are found on formal shirts, as they are not considered dressy and would interfere with the reinforced bosom.

The Attached Wing-Collar Shirt (An Acceptable Alternative)

The practice of wearing wing-collared shirts declined dramatically after the 1930s introduction of the formal turndown shirt for the dinner jacket and the dinner jacket’s subsequent replacement of the tailcoat as standard evening wear.

As the wing collar’s popularity declined, the number of dry-cleaners able to properly wash and starch them also dwindled.

In response, shirt manufacturers began attaching the wing collar to their full-dress shirts in the 1960s.

This new style took off in the 1970s and 1980s and has become the norm for wing collars.

Consequently, men unwilling to seek a conventional detachable collar shirt should look for a contemporary collar that resembles the classic archetype as much as possible.

In other words, it should be taller than the one and a half inches typical for regular shirt collars, feature pronounced wings instead of the paltry tabs common now, and have a fused construction to remain as stiff as possible during wearing.

All other details are the same as the classic shirt, including the stiffness and minimal decoration of the bosom; soft-pleated fronts are strictly for black tie.

White Tie Full Dress Vest – Waistcoat

The full-dress waistcoat is constructed of white piqué (marcella in the UK).

It can be single- or double-breasted but always features a deep V or U-shaped opening and is made in the backless style popularised by the future Duke of Windsor in the 1920s.

The most critical consideration is its length.

Novices invariably treat the white-tie waistcoat like a typical suit vest, believing that its length is irrelevant as long as it covers the trouser waistband.

This approach is fine for vests covered up by standard hip-length suit jackets.

However, with a coat cut high up at waist level, a long waistcoat’s bottom will be left completely exposed beneath the coat fronts.

The discordant juxtaposition is made all the more glaring by the stark contrast of the black coat and white vest.

Thus, onlookers are left to infer that a man’s dry cleaner must have accidentally reduced the coat to a child’s size.

Therefore, the full-dress waistcoat must be either altered or custom-tailored to suit your actual tailcoat; it must be long enough to cover the trouser waistband yet not so long as to extend below the coat fronts.

Within these parameters, there is room for extensive variation in the shape of the waistcoat’s revers (lapels) and its bottom edge, making it the sole garment that may be used to add a personal touch to the otherwise rigid white-tie uniform (see sidebar).

White Cambric, a Marcella Pique Alternative for Waistcoats

For a short while during the 1930s, a smooth cotton cloth with high shine called white cambric was also used for white tie waistcoats, white tie shirts, and white bow ties, however, that trend did never catch on.

Fine Waistcoat Finishes

Better quality models will have a neckstrap that adjusts with buttons rather than a metal ring.

Neither type of fastener is ever visible, though, as a proper full-dress shirt will have a loop built into its upper back designed to keep the neckstrap—and the bow tie band—from riding up above the tailcoat’s collar.

Finer waistcoats will also feature a small loop near their bottom edges that fastens to the inside of the trouser and ensures that the weskit will not ride up and expose the waistband.

The single-breasted model closes with three buttons, while the double-breasted version usually takes four.

The buttons are usually self-faced (US) or mother-of-pearl (UK), and on better models, they can be replaced with formal waistcoat studs if desired.

Formal Styling Tips

If your white tie shirt has a loop for the waistcoat neckband, you must fasten the band after putting it through the loop.

Since this is next to impossible once the shirt is on your back, you will need to execute this step before putting it on.

Black waistcoats with white ties are either worn by the waiter or used to be worn at formal funerals as nowadays, most waistcoats are white.

White Tie Marcella Piqué Bow Tie

The white full-dress bow tie is almost always made from cotton piqué (Marcella in the UK), the material of choice since the 1930s.

It is considered especially smart if the tie is of the same type of piqué as the waistcoat and, if applicable, the shirtfront, although that might be difficult to achieve unless all white tie accessories come from the same brand.

Bow Tie Shapes

The bow tie is traditionally semi-butterfly or batwing-shaped.

Back in the day, you could find many different white tie shapes, including ones with pointed ends. However, as white ties are increasingly rare, most gentlemen stick to the classic semi-butterfly shape.

Self-Tie Bow Ties – The Only Proper Option

It should go without saying that a self-tied model is infinitely preferable to a factory-assembled version.

If pre-tied neckwear is considered unrefined in a relatively informal office environment, it can only be viewed as downright gauche in the context of an ultra-formal society ball, royal state dinner, or Nobel Prize ceremony.

White tie may be a virtual uniform, but it is a gentleman’s uniform, and a gentleman appreciates the human touch of a slightly irregular hand-tied knot more than the cold perfection of a pre-fabricated contraption.

Most Marcella bow ties today have a size adjuster to save on stocking costs for the retailer.

After all, it is much less expensive to stock just one size fits all rather than ten sizes.

However, unlike classic black tie, which often features a turndown collar black tie shirt, a white tie shirt always has a wing collar.

That means an adjuster will be visible on the collar, which simply looks tacky.

Even worse, the hook mechanism might fall off while you move and putting it back on is not easy.

Therefore, save yourself any embarrassment and opt for the essential gentleman’s choice: a sized white Marcella bow tie or a single-end bow tie.

Remember that formal bow ties are meant to be worn outside the collar’s wings, not tucked behind them when tying the tie.

Finally, unless you are a waiter or a butler you must never wear a black bow tie with a tailcoat. Ever.

Standard versus Single-End Bow Tie

The standard is the regular bow tie style in a fixed neck size.

In the 1930s, dapper gentlemen introduced the single-end bow tie to create an even more elegant look.

The advantage is that it has no adjusters, yet it is a one-size-fits-all.

We also decided to offer a smaller single-end white tie bow tie because it is perfect for men of more modest build or vintage lovers who would like to introduce a small period-appropriate bow tie to their full-dress ensemble.

White Tie Footwear

Formal lace-ups in capless or whole-cut patent leather or mirror-shine polished calfskin oxfords are the correct dress shoes for a full dress.

Even when polished to a mirror shine, patent leather reflects the light better thus making it a preferable leather for full dress in our mind.

If you do wear oxfords, make sure to add evening shoelaces that match your lapel facings.

However, with its sixteenth-century origin and long history as de facto footwear at the royal courts and grand ballrooms of Europe, the pump is the most formal of evening shoes and some say the best suited to the evening tailcoat.

In Continental Europe and the U.S., people also used to wear Derby shoes with a white tie ensemble.

While some deem it incorrect, there is a historical precedent for the Derby.

So if you have bigger feet, the Derby may be your best option.

For similar reasons, the aristocratic pedigree and elegant sheen of silk hose make them preferable to other types of dress socks.

Note that Albert slippers or pumps with a higher vamp are never appropriate for white ties.

Formal Pumps Roots

Formal pumps and hose descend from the thin shoes and silk stockings worn with breeches as part of court dress at the royal courts of Europe.

In fact, the British still refer to them as “court shoes”, although this term has also come to refer to women’s low-heeled shoes just as “pump” now refers to the same shoe style in North America.

The cardinal rule for full-dress jewellery is that it be expensive yet discreet.

As Vogue’s Book of Etiquette said of men and their evening jewellery in 1925, “Whatever they wear must look as if it were useful by intention and valuable by chance.”

Most contemporary authorities keep it simple and suggest that shirt studs, cufflinks, and waistcoat studs (if applicable) be a matching set of mother-of-pearl, but there is also a long history of dapper alternatives.

Shirt studs have traditionally been most popular in mother-of-pearl or genuine pearls, but precious or semiprecious stones were also acceptable.

If they matched with waistcoat studs, they were often of white pearl, white enamel or crystal.

Cufflinks could also match the studs or stand apart in plain platinum or plain gold, the latter often being white.

Onyx, abalone or mother dark mother of pearl dress sets are better suited to black tie outfits.

Most vintage shirt stud sets look stunning, but they are all too small for modern white tie shirts, and thus, they almost always pop open, exposing you and your undershirt or chest hair.

Of course, when you notice it, the shirt stud is usually lost.

Modern-day shirt studs with a mechanism are made so they stay put all day, no matter how hard you dance or move.

Waistcoat Studs

Back when white-tie affairs were a regular occurrence, evening jewellery was big business.

Besides adding variety to one’s outfit, waistcoat studs had the benefit of being removed for washing, thus saving them from the wear and tear experienced by attached covered buttons.

Suspenders (Braces) & Sock Garters (Sock Suspenders)

Classic white-tie suspenders (braces in the UK) are constructed of white silk.

Sock garters (sock suspenders in the UK) can be of matching material if desired, but this is hardly necessary as both items are classified as underwear and are not intended to be seen.

White Tie Pocket Watch

A pocket watch is the most classic timepiece for a full dress, and wristwatches are incorrect.

Today, many men wear a pocket watch with an Albert watch chain for a white tie; however, that is historically incorrect.

The traditional option is to wear a pocket watch with a watch fob in your waistcoat pocket with the fob dangling out from underneath the tailcoat.

The other, more modern version is to wear the pocket watch in your chest pocket with a watch chain attached to a lapel pin worn through the buttonhole.

Key Chain

In older photos and illustrations, one can sometimes see a chain in the pocket, which looks like a watch chain, but it used to be, in fact, a key chain.

White Linen Pocket Square

A handkerchief of fine white linen with hand-rolled edges is the conventional pocket square with evening wear.

You can also have ones with your first initial embroidered in it to make them even more personal.

Boutonniere

If a boutonniere is worn with a full dress, the traditional option is white.

Carnations are the most popular choice, but small gardenias are also acceptable.

In the 1930s, it became acceptable to wear non-white boutonnieres such as red, purple, pink or yellow carnations.

The key to making these colourful buttonhole flowers work with a white tie is to have only white, black, or midnight blue in your outfit.

Full-Dress Gloves

Indoor dress gloves were once an essential part of a gentleman’s evening dress, but by the 1920s, they were obligatory only at balls, the opera and when ushering a formal wedding.

By the 1930s, even these traditions were falling by the wayside, and now, according to the British book History of Men’s Fashions, they are “very seldom needed outside formal banquets, in royal circles or some white-tie charity balls.”

In America, debutante balls are also known to maintain the chivalric custom of shielding the fairer sex from the clammy touch of a man’s hand in a receiving line or on the dance floor.

The correct gloves for these august occasions are ones made of white kidskin or lamb nappa in the slip-on or button-style

Cotton gloves, while much less expensive, can not compare to a kid’s luxurious texture and ability to fit like a second skin.

Just be sure to remove your gloves when refreshments are served, at which point you may discreetly slip them into the inside tail pocket of your tailcoat.

Outdoor Evening Gloves

Traditionally, white buckskin were the most popular street gloves but white chamois and doeskin (soft suede leathers made from sheep or deer skin, respectively) were also correct.

Walking Stick / Cane

If you are invited to an Edwardian costume party and want to be historically accurate down to the last detail, then make sure your walking stick (or cane in the UK) is of plain malacca or other plain wood and has no ornamentation other than possibly a plain silver or gold band to hide the handle joint.

Gold or ivory knobs are the “hallmark of the imitation gentleman”, according to etiquette maven Emily Post who also warned readers in 1922 that black sticks were “tabu”.

Overcoat, Evening Cloak

The Inverness coat is the conventional topcoat for White-Tie evening wear, but peaked-lapel silk-faced overcoats are just as acceptable.

Capes with white lining are a very bold statement. Otherwise, all classic Black-Tie overcoats also work for white tie.

Evening Scarf

The correct evening scarf is white silk with tasselled ends tied in a classic knot.

Silk Top Hat

The traditional top hat’s extended height is a swank counterbalance to the tailcoat’s length, and its luxe finish is the ideal complement to the coat’s silk trim.

It remains a perfectly correct choice for a man with the nonchalance required to pull it off and the willingness to pay a small fortune for an accessory that will be checked at the door.

There are two models of top hast to choose from: standard and collapsible.

The best standard models are made from black silk or beaver fur felt, which is highly polished to look like silk.

The silk version, commonly known as a silk hat, was the most popular but is no longer made since the last mill that produced the required silk has gone out of business.

Such top hats must now be purchased secondhand from vintage dealers at prices ranging up to $30,000 for larger sizes.

On the other hand, Beaver-fur varieties are still being manufactured by English companies such as 330-year-old Lock & Co. Hatters where prices start at a mere £365 ($585 US).

They also sell vintage top hats, which are most in demand before Royal Ascot.

Cheap wool felt top hats are also available, but this material is suitable only for daytime headwear.

The collapsible model is an opera hat, chapeau claque or gibus.

This model has been acceptable with evening wear since the Regency era and is still made by a handful of companies.

Traditionally, it has been constructed of ribbed silk (especially in the US) or dull merino cloth (especially in the UK).

Alternately, various authorities have endorsed a black stiff-brimmed Homburg fedora since the 1960s as a more modern version of the full-dress hat.

Its low crown and dull finish lack the stature of the topper and is thus not recommended.

Top Hat Sizing

Even though top hats come in the same size as regular hats, it is highly recommended that you determine your proper size using a conformateur head measuring device.

Otherwise, you might suffer from headaches.

Let’s assume you have a size 60 / 7.5 hat size. With a felt hat, it will adjust to your head shape.

On the other hand, a top hat does not adjust, so there are sub-categories.

For example, some people are more of a long oval, while others are oval or more round.

The conformateur device determines your head shape so a hatter can find the right top hat for your head and make the necessary adjustments without destroying the top hat.

White Tie Dos & Don’ts

There are many conventions and rules associated with White Tie, and making a mistake with even one can be glaringly obvious.

The Met Gala has become infamous for the lax ways that many of the gentlemen attendees wear their White Tie ensembles.

In many cases, we have been guilty of these errors ourselves, so do not feel bad if you have, too: it just means that you are growing and developing in your mastery of White Tie!

Do’s

Do Wear a Quality-Made White Bow Tie

As a hallmark of the White Tie dress code, you should ensure that your white bow tie is of the finest quality.

It should be made of the best materials: cotton pique is the most common contemporary fabric, but white silk can also be used.

The bow tie should also be sized to your neck, as clunky straps and adjusters spoil the lines of the White Tie.

Ideally, the bows of the bow tie should also reflect the dimensions of your face: doing so will prevent your head from appearing out of proportion with the bow tie.

Consider wearing a single-ended bow tie for an especially neat and trim appearance.

Do Wear An Evening Waistcoat

Because it is situated near the midsection, the eye is naturally drawn to your formal evening waistcoat.

Be sure that your waistcoat is cut sufficiently deep to display your shirtfront adequately, and if possible, attempt to acquire one that will not peak out under the cutaway of your tailcoat.

Do Wear Formal Evening Outerwear

When journeying to and from a White-Tie event, especially if it is cold, proper outerwear will keep you warm and your clothes protected without spoiling the elegant formality of the occasion.

In a pinch, a black Paletot is an excellent substitute for a genuine evening overcoat, but nothing compares to the real thing.

For an even more vintage look, consider a formal evening cape with contrast lining for a truly spectacular effect.

Do Show A Little Cuff

One of the most striking features of White Tie is the interplay between the white dress shirt and the black tailcoat.

Emphasise this element by tastefully highlighting this contrast wherever possible, including ensuring that some of your shirt cuff is always visible through your jacket sleeve.

Traditionally, one-quarter to one-half of an inch is exposed, but because formal evening dress shirts have a higher collar than other shirts, it is possible to show off slightly more of your cuff to create a balanced appearance.

Do Wear a Pocket Watch

While timepieces were traditionally not worn with a White Tie, it has become acceptable to add a pocket watch to an ensemble since World War I.

Adding a fine chain glittering across your waistcoat can add a unique touch and unexpected visual interest.

For further refinement, consider affixing your pocket watch with a chatelaine, an elegant fabric fob that depends on your waistcoat and instantly adds vintage charm.

Do Wear White Tie Accessories

When so much of a White Tie ensemble is fixed by rules and conventions, you should express yourself creatively in the few avenues remaining to you.

A vibrant boutonniere is an easy way to add unexpected colour; classic varieties include red or white carnations or roses, but many flower types are acceptable.

Fine studs create lustrous visual interest at your midsection, as do silver, gold, or platinum cufflinks at your wrists.

A silk top hat or formal evening gloves were once de rigour White Tie accessories, but now, you will always stand out as a man of rare taste by choosing to wear them.

Do Wear Patent Leather Shoes

While opera pumps were traditionally the only shoes that could be worn with a White Tie, it is now acceptable to wear either whole-cut or plain capless oxfords; derbies are also acceptable in some regions of Europe.

Patent leather iterations of these shoes will look especially pleasing and, with their bright, shiny appearance, emphasise the formal nature of the occasion.

Do Wear Over-The-Calf Silk Evening Socks

White Tie requires refined elegance from your head to your feet, and few things are more inelegant than puddling socks that won’t stay up.

Therefore, make sure you wear over-the-calf socks, which stay in place because they sit at a natural flexion point of the leg.

Furthermore, these socks should be in sheer black silk to match the formality of the occasion: cotton and wool socks are associated with daywear.

Do Wear a White Tie

No matter how properly you wear your White Tie ensemble, it will never look right unless you wear it confidently.

Fortunately, with the advice in this guide, you can be sure that every aspect of your ensemble is correct.

Therefore, you can wear it with total pride, secure in the knowledge that you look as elegant and dapper as possible.

Don’ts

Don’t Wear Slippers

White Tie traditionally calls for opera pump shoes, also called court shoes.

While opera pumps resemble slippers because they are both slip-on shoes, they are different.

Opera pumps have a much longer cutout in the vamp, which elegantly puts your fine silk evening socks on full display.

On the other hand, slippers have a smaller cutaway and can feature decorative elements on the vamp that are incongruous with White Tie formality.

Don’t Wear a Fake Boutonniere

Because it can be difficult to source a genuine boutonniere from a reputable florist, an artificial boutonniere is often an excellent choice for adding a splash of colour to your jacket front.

An obviously fake boutonniere, however, either because it is excessively exuberant or clearly ersatz, becomes a distraction that mars the look of your ensemble.

Therefore, if you wear a boutonniere, either employ the genuine article or seek a reputable maker who can produce artificial flowers that look like the real thing.

Don’t Wear a Necktie

Neckties are never intended to be worn with formal evening attire, whether a Black or White Tie.

The “white tie” in “White Tie” refers to a bow tie, not a necktie, even if it is white.

Therefore, never wear a necktie of any colour with a White Tie ensemble.

Don’t Skip the Bow Tie

Obviously, a White Tie ensemble requires a “white tie.” Do not attempt to eschew neckwear.

The bulk of the bow tie is necessary to create a visual bridge between your shirtfront and the shoulders of the jacket to your face, drawing the eye upwards.

Don’t Wear a Day Suit Jacket

Day suits are cut differently from tailcoats and are not an acceptable substitute for a genuine evening tailcoat.

Do not attempt to wear a conventional suit jacket with your White Tie ensemble: the proportions will simply be off.

Don’t Wear a Tuxedo Jacket

While the term “tuxedo” is sometimes erroneously applied to morning coats, evening tailcoats, and Black-Tie dinner jackets, it only properly refers to the latter.

A tuxedo jacket, also known as a dinner jacket, is intended to be worn with Black Tie, not White Tie.

Just like with a day suit jacket, wearing a tuxedo jacket with a White Tie ensemble will spoil the lines of the ensemble.

Don’t Wear a Cream or White Dinner Jacket

Off-white, cream, and white dinner jackets are a warm-weather alternative to the Black Tie dinner jacket.

They are not intended to be worn with White Tie, even if they do happen to be white.

Don’t Wear a Morning Coat

While a morning coat is a tailcoat, it is different from an evening tailcoat.

The morning coat has an oblique cutaway rather than a horizontal one, and the tails differ in appearance from those of an evening tailcoat.

Because of these details, the morning coat is too substantial to be worn instead of the more delicate evening tailcoat.

Don’t Wear Notched Lapels

Notched lapels are a traditional feature of day business suits, and while they are sometimes featured on some modern tailcoats, they are not appropriate for the solemnity and decorum of a White-Tie occasion.

Instead, formal evening tailcoats ought to have peaked lapels.

Don’t Wear a Cummerbund

A cummerbund is a waist covering that is worn with a Black Tie.

While White Tie also requires a waist covering, a white formal evening waistcoat is worn to this end. A cummerbund is, therefore, both inappropriate and superfluous.

Don’t Wear Spats

While spats are a vintage feature of daytime formal attire, such as morning wear or a stroller suit, they should not be worn with a White Tie.

Spats originated as decorative elements that protected shoes and socks.

Because White Tie events do not include excursions outdoors, spats serve no purpose and will appear affected.

Don’t Wear a Black Shirt

Black evening shirts are sometimes worn to match the black of formal evening jackets in an effort to create a monochromatic look.

The result, however, is a visual mess that muddies all of the details of your midsection.

Evening shirts are white precisely to emphasise the individual elements of your White Tie attire.

Don’t Wear Prominent Designer Names or Logos

Classic Style rarely has recourse to trumpet the designer of clothes through obvious labels, logos, or names, and in the refined setting of White Tie, doing so is even more tacky.

An essential element of formal attire is the uniformity it creates among gentleman attendees, and glaring branding does not complement this notion.

Don’t Wear a Wristwatch

Traditionally, no kind of watch could be worn with formal attire, whether a White Tie or a Black Tie.

Following World War II, it has become increasingly common for dress wristwatches to be worn with Black-Tie ensembles, but they are not acceptable with White-Tie ensembles: the bulk of the face and band spoils the tapered effect of the single cuffs and cufflinks on the shirt.

Don’t Wear a Studless Shirt (or a Turndown Collar)

A critical feature of the formal evening dress shirt is its ability to take studs, unique pieces of decorative jewellery that function like buttons.

These studs are critical for creating visual interest in your chest area, and plain buttons are not an acceptable substitute.

Another type of stud holds a detachable collar in place–traditional White Tie shirts feature a detachable wing collar affixed to the shirt with studs.

While White Tie shirts featuring an attached collar (as most modern dress shirts do) are increasingly accepted today, detachable collars are still the most elegant choice, assuming its other details are correct.

Whether detachable or not, a White Tie shirt should always feature a wing collar, not the turndown style featured on some Black Tie shirts and standard day dress shirts.

Don’t Show Excessive Shirtfront or Waistcoat Tabs

The White Tie ensemble features a variety of buttons, tabs, and bands to hold everything in place and keep all of its fine details as pristine as possible.

However, these features should remain hidden so that everything appears elegantly arranged naturally.

Therefore, secure the tabs that hold your waistcoat and the starched front of your evening shirt in place to the inside button on your formal evening trousers, making sure they are hidden from view.

Don’t Wear an Overly Long Waistcoat

White Tie ensembles require an exceptionally cut evening waistcoat considerably more abbreviated than a day waistcoat.

Day waistcoats should never be worn with a White Tie.

However, even formal evening waistcoats can sometimes be too long compared to the rest of the ensemble.

Due to the low rise typical of modern trousers, waistcoats are cut longer to cover the waistband.

This additional length, however, causes the waistcoat to be slighter longer than the tailcoat, creating an odd outline effect as the white waistcoat peeks out behind the cutaway of the black jacket.

Depending on your build and proportions, this particular issue can be challenging to solve and may require the creation of a made-to-measure or bespoke garment.

White Tie Attire Shopping Tips

When it comes to attire intended for society’s most exclusive occasions, it won’t do to “make do.”

Suppose your social calendar is auspicious enough to merit the acquisition of a full-dress kit.

In that case, you will do well to judge each potential purchase by its ability to enhance the evening’s cachet rather than by its ability to reflect the wearer’s thrift.

The ideal tailcoat and trousers would be custom-tailored for the individual buyer.

White Tie Bespoke Outfit

There is no better way to ensure the perfect fit than to give the full-dress suit its proper regal air.

Prices range drastically depending on the level of customisation: online tailors charge as little as US$285 for a made-to-measure tailcoat and trousers, while a bespoke ensemble can cost over $5,000.

The only common factor is that qualified full-dress tailors are few and far between.

If you go the custom route, it is best to choose a tailor who regularly cuts these types of body coat garments. Otherwise, you may end up with a tailcoat with strange tails or off-centred proportions, as not every tailor knows how to make a proper full-dress tailcoat.

We suggest going with a German, Viennese or Savile Row tailor, as they frequently tailor these garments.

Ready-To-Wear Tailcoats

Less ideal, but far more pragmatic, is to purchase a ready-to-wear ensemble.

Take some time to find a make that suits your body type then employ a skilled tailor to alter the garments for the best fit possible.

When shopping, look for superior designer brands and upscale sellers.

This is not the time to shop for bargain-basement discounts at formalwear retailers that categorise tailcoats as a type of tuxedo.

Prices can be as little as US$300 for a Ralph Lauren tropical wool set online or as much as $3,500 for a Canali make at an upscale haberdasher.

Vintage Tailcoats

In an ideal world, you should never rent a tailcoat.

However, if, for some strange reason, you decide to rent your tailcoat – a perfectly respectable option for a once-in-a-lifetime event – it would still be wise to purchase the remaining garments.

Usually made bespoke, you may have to try two or three before the measurements are spot on.

Moreover, the coats’ cut, workmanship, and overall look will be superior to modern-day off-the-rack options.

The best value of all would be a well-preserved vintage tailcoat, which provides unmatched old-world tailoring, details, and style features for less than the cost of a cheap suit.

This will allow you to source items correctly rather than settling for the renter’s limited inventory. (It will also avoid the ignominy of attending the most prestigious social occasion of your life dressed entirely in borrowed clothing.)

As with tailcoats, it would be wisest to seek out quality brands and retailers like Fort Belvedere when shopping for white-tie accompaniments.

Full-Dress Shirt & Collars

Darcy Clothing (formerly The Vintage Shirt Company), a specialist offering authentic collarless shirts and detachable collars

Ede and Ravenscroft, specialist offering collarless shirts and detachable collars

Toastmaster Clothing aka Court Case aka LegalWear.co.uk, legal wear and eveningwear retailer offering Frederick Theak collarless Marcella shirts

Luke Eyres, manufacturer & wholesaler of detachable collars that supplies most other UK retailers (minimum order of 6)

Brooks Brothers, offering full-dress detachable collar shirt (with collar)

Full-Dress Waistcoats

Oliver Brown, an upscale retailer offering premium evening wear

Ede and Ravenscroft, retailer offering premium evening wear

Toastmaster Clothing aka Court Case aka LegalWear.co.uk, legal wear and eveningwear retailer offering Frederick Theak collarless Marcella shirts

Clermont Direct, an inexpensive online formalwear retailer, offers sized waistcoats complete with waistcoat studs

White Tie Accessories

Various manufacturers and retailers carry White Tie accessories but are wary of subpar products intended to take advantage of the limited market availability.

See below our curated selection of suggested stores for White Tie attire:

Fort Belvedere is a one-stop shop with a quality selection of white tie accessories, including pocket squares, gloves, evening scarves, boutonnieres, silk socks, and pocket squares

Lock & Co. Hatters, mail order shop for new and restored vintage top hats

Oliver Brown Top Hats, London shop for new and restored vintage top hats

Charles Gale Clothing, retailer of Christy top hats

Darcy Clothing (formerly The Vintage Shirt Company)

Clermont Direct, an inexpensive online formalwear retailer offering waistcoat studs

Toastmaster Clothing aka Court Case aka LegalWear.co.uk, legal wear retailer offering shirt collar studs and waistcoat studs

Ede and Ravenscroft legal wear specialist offering sterling silver shirt collar studs and leather storage boxes for detachable collars

Farthingales, supplier of gold/brass collar studs

White Tie FAQs

Is White Tie different from Black Tie?

Yes, it is. Black and White Ties are formal evening dress codes, but the White Tie dress code is more formal.

Black Tie consists of a dinner jacket ensemble, traditionally called a tuxedo or “smoking” ensemble, while White Tie refers to an evening tailcoat ensemble.

As you might expect, the former is also worn with a formal black bow tie and the latter with a formal white bow tie.

Is a morning tailcoat the same thing as an evening tailcoat?

No, it is not. A morning tailcoat is obliquely cut to the body and features broader tails.

It can be made from dark grey or black fabric.

An evening tailcoat has a horizontal cutout and longer tails, often called a swallowtail.

Conventionally, it can only be made from black or midnight blue fabric.

Does “formal attire” mean the same thing as White Tie?

Formal attire refers to any one of several formal dress codes. Historically, “formal evening attire” always indicated a White Tie, while “formal day attire” always indicated a morning dress.

Nowadays, “formal attire,” also known as Black Tie, is an evening dress code that is less formal than White Tie but still considered formal.

Furthermore, in casual society, the term “formal attire” is a colloquial reference to simply “dressing up” and could entail an ensemble as casual as a simple day suit.

What distinguishes a day waistcoat from a formal evening waistcoat?

A day waistcoat covers most of the midsection, with a relatively high buttoning point and a full back.

A formal evening waistcoat has a much lower button point, exposing considerably more of the shirt front.

Its hem is also cut somewhat higher and is backless to aid air circulation for personal cooling.

What makes a shirt a formal evening shirt?

A formal evening shirt is always white, made from cotton or linen in a broadcloth or voile weave.

It takes a detachable collar, usually a wing collar.

It has a bib front usually made of Marcella pique that is heavily starched, as is the collar.

The cuffs are also starched and consist of a single layer of fabric attached to a cufflink. French cuffs feature a double layer of fabric and are not typical of formal evening shirts.

The shirt is closed with studs, which function like cufflinks but are positioned along the shirt front instead of buttons.

Traditionally, evening shirts should take one, two, or three studs.

What does “full fig” mean?

This idiomatic expression indicates that one is fully and completely dressed smartly and properly; its likely origins are as a truncation of the expression “to be dressed in full figure.”

The term “full fig” is sometimes employed, along with “full dress,” to refer to dressing in White Tie, as this dress code is the epitome, or full figure, of formality in attire.

When is the White Tie dress code employed?

The White Tie dress code is extremely rare in the modern world.

It is most often associated with events of the highest pomp and dignity, including royal occasions, such as coronations, the apex of cultural events, like the Vienna Opera Ball, or rarefied social gatherings and stately dinners, such as society weddings or state receptions.

Some gala events, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Ball and the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Annual Dinner, also feature a White Tie dress code.

With over twenty years of front-row fashion and styling events, collabs with haute-couture houses, and a PhD in Luxury Fashion, Laurenti is an expert in crafting personalized looks that depict old-money sophistication.

With years of expertise in high-end fashion collabs and a PhD in Sustainable Fashion, Ru specializes in curating eco-luxe wardrobes for the modern gentleman seeking understated refinement.

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