White tie is the most formal of all dress codes and typically associated with royal affairs, state dinners and formal balls. The dress code leaves little room for personal interpretation. Thus, it is imperative you follow a strict dress guideline.
White tie consists of a black tailcoat jacket, full white waistcoat, wing-tipped collared dress shirt, self-tied white bow tie, and patent leather dress shoes.
White tie requires men to be dressed in a tailcoat jacket that is more specifically called evening dress coat. Typically, the jacket is solid black in colour although midnight blue has been considered an acceptable alternative since the 1920s. The jacket appears to have a double-breasted cut, but it is tailored in a way that it cannot be buttoned.
A well-tailored tailcoat fits well on the shoulders, snugly hugs your torso, has a sleeve length that shows about 1cm on your dress shirt’s sleeves, rises up on your neck so that enough of the dress shirt’s collar is showing but at the same time does not reveal the band of the bow tie, has a front that is just long enough to cover the waistcoat but does not reach below the waist, and finally has two tails that reach down to the knees.
Tailcoat - Traditionally the classic tailcoat is made from finest worsted wool. When shopping for a waistcoat, have a look at the label which should read super 100 wool or higher. The classic tailcoat has peak lapels and 6 buttons – both faced in finest satin.
Pants - must be made from the same fabric as the tailcoat. The front of the tailcoat has a higher rise, so it is important the pants are cut with a high waistline. Formal pants are never worn with belts. They are held in place with an adjustable concealed waistband and back buttons used to attach suspenders.
Formal pants can be straight cut or have pleated fronts – it is a question of personal preference although men with a larger waistline are advised to choose pleats that are more flattering to the larger body type. Finally, white tie pants have a silk trim matching the lapel and button facings of the jacket. The trim consists of either one or two stripes that run along the outside to the trousers’ seam. Formal white tie pants don’t have cuffs.
Waistcoat - The most important thing is proper fit. The waistcoat should be long enough to cover the pant waistline but be short enough so that it does not reach below the tailcoat. In addition, the white tie waistcoat should have a deep V opening to reveal much of the formal dress shirt. White tie waistcoats are typically white in color and made from cotton pique. You can choose between single and double-breasted cuts. The single-breasted waistcoat is secured with two buttons while the double-breasted waistcoat uses four. Buttons are either faced in the same fabric as the waistcoat or made from mother of pearl. Most white tie waistcoats have an open back.
Shirt - The right formal dress shirt is just as important as the tailcoat. The formal white tie shirt is always white in color and usually in a fine poplin cotton. Unlike black-tie dress shirts, the white tie shirt is minimal in decoration, but it does have a front that has a stiffened cotton pique or fine linen facing. The collar of the white tie shirt is a detachable wingtip. High quality shirts have a loop sown to the back of the collar that is meant to keep the bow tie loop in place. Most common is the formal double cuff, secured with mother of pearl cufflinks matching the button studs at the front of the dress shirt.
Bow Tie - The bow tie must be white in color and be made from cotton pique matching the fabric of the waistcoat. Only the self-tied bow tie is acceptable as pre-tied bow ties are considered tacky and insulting to the formal nature of white tie. Most common are batwing and butterfly bow ties. Keep in mind that the bow tie is worn outside of the wings of the collars.
Footwear - Only the finest and most elegant footwear is suited for formal white tie dress. Thus, pumps made from fine and shiny patent leather are preferred. Most formal pumps are decorated with a silk grosgrain bow. Also acceptable are patent leather oxford lace-ups.
Cufflinks & Studs - Typically the cufflinks, shirt’s studs, and waistcoat buttons all match. Most popular are studs and cufflinks faced with genuine mother of pearl. Sterling silver, platinum, and white gold is the preferred metal.
Headwear - The top hat is either made from black silk or polished black beaver fur. You will be able to choose from a fixed as well as collapsible top hat. Most top hats are decorated with a silk grosgrain band running along the bottom of the brim.
Gloves - White evening gloves have become rare at modern white tie functions. Should you choose to wear gloves with your white tie ensemble then make sure they are white in color and made from fine kidskin leather.
Click here for the Black Tie Guide