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.

  1. Trousers

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

No turn-ups

  1. 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)

  1. Shirt

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

  1. Bow tie

Bow tie of white Marcella (Piqué in the US), preferably to match waistcoat

Butterfly or batwing shape


  1. Footwear

Plain-toed oxfords of either patent leather or highly polished calf leather

Black silk hose, over-the-calf length

  1. 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

  1. Accessories

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.