White Tie & How Full Dress Works For Men

White Tie & How Full Dress Works For Men 2017-11-13T18:19:35+00:00

This page of our dress code series will discuss white tie attire including the the types of events where white tie is worn as well as the individual components of white tie dress and the common pitfalls.

For more information on other dress codes like black tie, formal and business casual visit our ultimate guide to dress codes.

What Is White Tie?

White-Tie-Guide

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:

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-Tailcoat

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-Trousers

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-Tie-Waistcoats

Tie

White piqué cotton self-tie bow tie.

White-Tie-Bow-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.

White-Tie-Shirt

Shoes

Black patent leather oxfords or opera pumps. For a full guide to shoe styles, see our Ultimate Shoe Style Guide.

White-Tie-Shoes

Accessories

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.

White-Tie-Accessories

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:

  • State dinners
  • Galas
  • Debutante balls
  • Formal evening weddings (often in the American South, involving socialites)
  • Royal ceremonies

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 ifs 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 must not 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.

In Conclusion

 

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.

4 Comments

  1. Thomas. R. Leslie,IV February 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Have had a full dress suit made, looking for BUTTONS. Where can I order suitable buttons. Can these be fabric covered. I favor uncovered, such as those on Oxford suits.
    Please advise.

    • Paul Anthony February 19, 2018 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Benson & Clegg of London have a wonderful selection of buttons.

      You can buy directly from their site.

      Cheers,

      – Paul

  2. George March 12, 2018 at 12:39 am - Reply

    Where can I find the links for all of theses dress items? Can you post them please?

    • Charles-Philippe March 12, 2018 at 6:01 am - Reply

      Hi George,

      As you may have noticed, there is a wide variety of items on the list. Some of them are harder to find than others these days and are dependant on where you live. Off-the-rack tailcoats and trousers are rare and you may need to approach a tailor for this. However, there are some brands who continue to make them for formal events and musicians.

      As for the accessories, there are a number of online retailers that can help regarding this. One of my favourites is Darcy Clothing who specialise in traditional clothing and accessories. You’ll be able to get the waistcoat from them as well as bibbed shirts as stiff collars for an authentic style.

      Good hunting!

      Best,

      CP

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