Black tie’s numerous variations reflect its origin as informal dining attire and its later role as semi-formal cocktail attire. White tie, on the other hand, originated as the most formal type of civilian apparel and has retained that exclusivity for over two centuries. When it transitioned from formal evening dress to special evening dress after the Second World War its definition became fixed. Fashion designers may attempt to alter the tailcoat’s features from time to time but style and etiquette experts recognise that the fundamentals of full dress (as white tie is also known) are not open to interpretation.
The following definition is drawn from fifty authoritative British & American resources published over the past seventy years.
Color and material to match coat
Two narrow stripes or one wide stripe of satin, grosgrain or braid along outside seams
Trousers cut for braces (suspenders in the US); high enough rise for waistband to be covered by short Waistcoat
White Marcella (Piqué in the US)
Low cut single-breasted or double-breasted, usually backless
Length does not extend below front of tailcoat
Oblong self-faced reverse (lapels)
White fabric with stiff bosom of plain linen, plain cotton or Marcella (Piqué in the US)
High, stiff, detachable wing collar
Stiff single cuffs fastened by links
Eyelets for one, two or three studs
- Bow tie
Bow tie of white Marcella (Piqué in the US), preferably to match waistcoat
Butterfly or batwing shape
Plain-toed oxfords of either patent leather or highly polished calf leather
Black silk hose, over-the-calf length
- Coat(evening tailcoat)Black wool is the norm.
Cut in a double-breasted pattern but not intended to close
Peaked lapels faced in satin or grosgrain, the latter considered more refined
Front of coat ends slightly below the waist, coat tails end just behind the knees
Mother-of-pearl shirt studs (or buttons), waistcoat studs and cufflinks
Button-on braces (suspenders in the US) and optional sock garters
Optional white linen handkerchief as pocket square optional white boutonniere
Optional pocket watch with gold or platinum key chain is most traditional
Optional white kid dress gloves for indoor wear
Black single- or double-breasted overcoat; chesterfield is especially appropriate
Optional white silk scarf with tassels
White buckskin gloves
Optional black silk top hat
Gentlemen who receive an invitation to a white-tie affair should use this definition only as a starting point. Considering that full dress is required solely for the most illustrious of social events and that its garments are not nearly as forgiving a dinner suit, it is important to familiarise yourself with the components of white tie before visiting your tailor, buying or renting the required attire.