Of all the dress codes in the Western world, white tie is the most formal for civilians. It is widely considered to be the epitome of sartorial elegance, essentially functioning as the most luxurious suit of armor that a gentleman can don. The tails and high-waisted trousers add height, and the presentation is one of masculine strength and elegance.
Other names for white tie include full dress, tails, evening suit, and cravate blanche.
Before the Second World War, it was standard evening dress for (wealthy) men. Currently, it’s quite rare to see men in white tie. Barely anyone sells full dress clothes off the rack, and many of the now-popular made-to-measure companies don’t even offer them as an option due to their rarity. Available as custom or bespoke pieces, tailcoats and the garments that are worn with them are quite expensive.
In fact, many invitations to modern events will state “white or black tie” in a real-world acknowledgement of the difficulty many men have acquiring these clothes.
What Does Full Dress Look Like?
There is truly nothing quite like the white tie outfit. Should you be invited to such an event, here’s what you’ll need to wear:
White Tie Coat
4- or 6-button black barathea wool tailcoat with satin-faced peak lapels. The tails hit at the back of the knee and the sleeves can be a touch shorter than you may be accustomed to. You really want to show some cuff in a tailcoat.
White Tie Trousers
Black barathea wool with double satin braiding on outseams. The trousers are cut higher than normal so as to accommodate the high-worn vest (pictured further down the page).
White Tie Waistcoat
Low-cut single-breasted in white piqué cotton with three buttons. There is a tiny bit of variation allowed in waistcoat details, such as the roundedness or sharpness of the lapels’ edges.
White piqué cotton self-tie bow tie.
White Tie Shirt
White cotton, single cuff wing collar with piqué bib and a tab to fasten to trousers. The tab keeps the shirt straight against the body while seated; without it, the bib would billow out in an unsightly way.
Shirt studs, white dress scarf, white dress gloves, white pocket square, black top hat, and, of course, cufflinks. The top hat is optional and shouldn’t be worn indoors.
What Kinds Of Events Require White Tie?
White tie tends to run in high society, amongst elites of state and the very wealthy. White tie events are only in the evening and are typically:
Formal evening weddings (often in the American South, involving socialites)
White tie attire should not be worn to events that start before 6pm. Such events would require you to wear morning dress.
Pitfalls Of White Tie
The beauty of white tie is that you have basically zero wiggle room. If you simply follow the rules, you will look great.
Problematically, we sometimes have issues following the rules. There are pitfalls that one encounters with any dress code: jacket sleeves too long, trousers sitting too low, and the like. White tie has one specific issue that’s incredibly common: the waistcoat being visible below the jacket’s body.
The white piqué waistcoat worn for full dress mustnot hang lower than the body of the jacket. This is a hugely common occurrence, and even former American President George W. Bush has been guilty of this violation, as has 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
We use the admittedly strong term “violation” because we’re not talking about your everyday suit here. We’re talking about the most special garments that a man can wear. To see something so unsightly on what should be such an elegant outfit greatly amplifies the unsightliness.
If you’re going to spend good money on formalwear, it should fit correctly.
If you ever have the opportunity to take part in a white tie event, relish it. It’s rare to have occasion to dress so formally, and there’s a chance you will never look better in your life. Enjoy it!
Should you have questions about other common dress codes for men, we cordially invite you to take a look at our comprehensive Dress Codes Guide.
Now that you have read our primer on dress codes, consider reading some of our related content: