White tie is something that many of us have never worn, but I can tell you it's one fancy piece of kit. This style guide will show you when to wear such formal clothes and how to pull them off.
Read more Men’s Style Guide features
Now, you've probably heard of black tie. It's a standard formal look that's saturated the red carpet, fancy dos and pretty much any events where a suit and tie is an acceptable uniform. It's a traditional look and most of us know the rules, but admittedly sometimes it can be a little overused, and it can be hard to make a statement when you're wearing something so well known.
The answer? Try something equally smart, but with a slight twist. White tie is probably the most formal look you can go for, beating black tie by a fraction, and allowing you to don the Downton-esque tailcoat. Unfortunately despite its leap away from the overused black tie look, white tie attire still has a fair amount of rules to follow, so it's a good idea to brush up on a few of them before you attempt the look.
White Tie Dress Code
So if you're getting ready for a white tie event then you're going to need to get the basics of the attire spot on. Traditionally there's less room for experimenting when it comes to white tie compared to black tie, so make sure you're ticking all the right boxes to avoid the wrath of white tie aficionados (they're a small but vocal part of the population). Here's the basic components of white tie.
- A black tailcoat
- A white shirt
- A waistcoat
- A white bowtie
- High waisted black trousers
- Black leather shoes
If you go for these pieces and nothing else you'll have an ideal white tie outfit, and you won't have to worry about anything looking out of place, clashing, or just not looking quite right. However if you've put your look together and you just feel like really going for it, then there are a few extra accessories you can add.
- A top hat
- White gloves
- A dress cane
These items are admittedly going to make you look like an extra in a period drama, but sometimes you just gotta go hard on the formal look. A top hat can really just complete a formal look, and hey, if you're wearing coat tails already you might as well go the whole hog with your outfit. White gloves are similar, and can give you that polished look that just completes your formal attire.
If you're feeling like all of these additions just aren't enough then go for it and grab yourself a dress cane. Yes, you're essentially donning a more sophisticated version of a pimp cane, but as long as you avoid the fur jacket and only take it out on special occasions, then you should avoid looking too much like one. They're also just fun to have, and formal wear doesn't need to be serious all the time.
White Tie Attire and Fit
There's no point gathering all the pieces of a white tie look if you don't know exactly how each one should fit. There's a few rules on exactly how each piece of clothing needs to look in order for everything to work properly, so have a quick read through to make sure you're getting it right.
Sometimes called an evening tailcoat or a dress coat, just to make things more confusing, a tailcoat is basically a stylised version of a traditional jacket, with a cut out section to help draw attention to the waist as well as the main feature - the tails. The long sweeping back helps to elongate the body, and paired with the high position of the waist, lengthen the look of your legs and torso as well.
This garment can turn any many into an Adonis
- Nicholas Antongiavanni, Dress historian
In order to benefit from this god-like status however, you've got to make sure your tailcoat fits you properly. The middle should fit snugly against your waist, but allow enough room for your waistcoat to breathe. The shoulders should fit neatly against your own, while allowing easy movement. Your sleeves should meet your wrist bone, while showing off a rim of white from your shirt. The tails shouldn't fall lower than the back of your knees, as you'll just end up looking drowned out by your jacket.
First of all, when you're choosing your white shirt, just remember that you're not dealing with a standard oxford shirt here. This is white tie, and even the simplest piece has got to be fancy. Commonly, the shirt is sparkling white (no dull whites allowed), and is made from a thick broadcloth fabric. You're also going to have to accept the fact that part of the design looks like a bib, with the front panel made from a thicker material like linen. This just keeps things looking sharp and avoids any creasing.
Generally your shirt needs to fit like any other shirt, and there's no extra rules to finish. You should be able to tuck it into your trousers, have easy movement, not have your shoulders crushed, and have it fit closely against your torso.
The waistcoat is a fairly big part of the white tie look, so it's important that it fits you perfectly. Luckily there's not a lot of rules to follow, and the main things you need to avoid should be obvious the moment you put it on. First off, it needs to be long enough to cover the top of your trousers, and as trousers in white tie looks tend to be high waisted, you don't have to get a super long waistcoat design.
It should also be the same kind of material as your shirt, and to maintain the classic look it should be the same colour as well. Also, keep in mind that a waistcoat isn't a corset. If you're feeling constricted then get a size up. It's supposed to skim over your body, so it's got to compliment your form, not fight against it.
As we mentioned before white tie trousers tend to be high waisted, black, and slim fit, complementing the cut of the jacket and waistcoat. Generally they should have the traditional satin or silk lining along side the trouser line and never have belt loops. White tie suits should never have the addition of a belt, and because of this your trouser have to be fitted enough to stay up on their own.
However you obviously don't want to be dealing with a skinny fit, so try and find a balance between comfort and fit. Length is also important, and you need to make sure that the end of your trousers just brush the top of your shoes but don't come close to covering them entirely. It should go without saying as well that your trousers need to have a defined edge and not have a single crease.
A pair of nice loafers just isn't going to cut it this time, so if you've been thinking you could just polish up your best leather ones then stop. Stop thinking that! Patent leather brogues are basically the only shoes you should pair with a white tie look, so if you don't have a pair it's time to invest in some. They're really worth the money as they look great with black tie as well, and can instantly smarten up a range of outfits.
The final finishing touch, and vital for a white tie affair. Maintain a clean, smooth design by choosing a white bow tie, and avoid any temptation to choose a patterned or coloured one. Also, your bow tie is going to look that much better if it's the real deal and not a clip on. They can be a little tricky to tie at first, but once you get the hang of it you'll be glad you learnt.
As we mentioned before, accessories like top hats, gloves and even dress canes can be added (carefully) to boost the look of your outfit. Let's keep things on a balanced level though and make sure you're choosing the best styles to suit the white tie look.
If you're going for the classic, slightly less common look of gloves with your suit, then keep them white, keep them fitted, and always buy them in a soft cotton material. Gloves are great for really fancy events like white tie balls, but don't worry too much if you can't get hold of any, or if you just don't like the look. White gloves are far from vital for a white tie look.
Lots of people get top hats wrong. It's understandable as there's a fine line between it fitting snugly against your head and cutting off your circulation. Likewise you don't want it slipping off the moment you move your head, so achieving the correct fit can be tricky. Try to make sure that your hat fits comfortably and securely a few cms above your ears, and doesn't leave a imprint on your forehead when you take it off.
It's considered impolite white tie etiquette to showcase anything too 'vulgar' so although that skull topped dress cane might seem like a great idea, you'll probably just end up getting dirty looks the moment you step into a fancy event. Instead keep things simplified with a 'basic' silver topped cane.
This isn't something you're going to use everyday, so you don't want to spend a whole lot of money on it. This is an addition to add some flair to your outfit, but if you can only find ones that are hundreds of pounds, then just give the whole thing a miss.
Your Quick Guide on When to Wear White Tie
- If you're at an event, like the races or a formal wedding then white tie is a necessary look.
- Your outfit needs to compromise of a black tailcoat jacket, white shirt, high waisted trousers, patent leather shoes, a waistcoat and a bow tie.
- Fit is important, so make sure your clothes are close fitting but still allow you to move easily.
- You can add a top hat, white gloves and a dress cane to your look if you want to add some flair and interest to your look.
On That Note
White tie can seem overly formal, but for some occasions it's the best thing to go for. You don't have to go for the full period drama look, as canes and top hats are totally optional, but a black tailcoat, crisp white shirt and high waisted trousers blend together to form an outfit that's perfectly sleek and sophisticated.