Everything A Gentleman Should Know About Formalwear–White Tie, Black Tie, Formal Morning Dress (and the modern interpretations thereof)

The Formal Wardrobe:

There was a time, from the late 1800s to about the 1940s or ’50s, when gentlemen would routinely wear white tie and black tie dress—to dinner parties, fancy restaurants, the theater, balls, operas, etc., in addition to events that specified “White Tie” (or “Tails”) or “Black Tie” (“Smoking” in Europe and South America). In that era, unlike today, formal attire was not worn on a handful of occasions in a gentleman’s lifetime. Having to invest in formalwear two or three times over the course of one’s lifetime—as one’s body changed and matured—then, was the norm. Since the 1960s, however, with the “casualization” of society, especially American society, coupled with the rise in popularity of rental garment establishments, most men do not own formalwear. A gentleman, however, rather than occasionally renting formalwear, oftentimes with unsatisfactory results (certainly to the discerning eye), should invest in formal wear and then wear the garments in such a manner and with such frequency as to receive a return on his investment. There is no reason, for example, why a gentleman should not get dressed in black tie or white tie and go out “on the town” on any given night. Of course, formal morning wear is much more restrictive since morning dress (See below) almost necessitates a social morning dress event. But black tie and white tie may be worn on private, individualized outings. Just as professional offices have established “Casual Fridays,” a gentleman could establish his own “Formal Saturdays.”  These days, it is the responsibility of the gentleman to insist that formalwear be a part of his normal life.  There is no reason, for example, why a gentleman on business travel could not pack his tuxedo and wear it to dinner—even if eating alone—at his hotel’s formal dining room. And rather than attending a Broadway play in a dark suit or jeans and a crew neck sweater, why not get dressed in white tie for the occasion? So what if “other people” are not as formally dressed?

While tails and morning dress may have altered only so slightly (not in design, but in terms of overall silhouette and proportions) over the past century, tuxedos are more subject to the whims of fashion:  like with suits, lapels widen and narrow, armholes are raised and lowered, shoulders are more pronounced or more relaxed, pants are cut looser or closer, jackets are more fitted or less fitted…. The objective, then, should be to invest in a tuxedo at least once every decade, and wear the garment so frequently that it starts to show signs of wear before it is finally discarded or packed away.  Companies such as J. Crew sell reasonably priced, well-made, fashion-forward tuxedos that suit the needs of many gentlemen.

www.blacktieguide.com provides a comprehensive discussion on men’s formal attire. ]

 

The “New” or “American” Formalwear

Fashion, by definition, should not be stagnant; it should evolve and adapt with the times. It should also serve to visually—even if superficially or summarily—define an era. Men’s fashion of the late 1960s and early ’70s, for example, with its bright palette and exaggerated, almost-feminine proportions, was born out of Americans’ objection to the Vietnam War. And though, in retrospect, the fashion of that era is rightfully regarded as one of the low points in the entire history of men’s clothing, it served to pinpoint the ethos of a generation.

But even the items that attain the status of “classic” within the ever-changing context of fashion are subject to change. For some inexplicable reason, however, when it comes to men’s formalwear, a more orthodox, unyielding approach is applied by many of the arbiters of fashion—much to the demise (albeit a slow, painful one) of formalwear. “Rules,” “Do’s and Don’ts,” and “Rights and Wrongs” are oftentimes mercilessly invoked, sartorially emasculating the average man for fear of faux pas as much as for appearing foppish.  Tampering with white tie dress, for example, is regarded as sacrilege.  And complying with established black tie dress and formal morning dress is no less de rigueur.  But frankly, on the back of a modern man, a tailcoat or a cutaway looks, at best, anachronistic, or, at worst, silly. Truth be told, tailcoats and cutaways have finally (thankfully!) left the realm of fashion and have taken up residence with things costume. And the cummerbund, which is traditionally worn with black tie dress (but never in place of a waistcoat with white tie dress!), has always, depending on vantage point, served to make men appear either disproportionately short-torsoed or long-legged, and certainly thick-waisted.  But enthusiasts of men’s formal fashion should not dismay, for it had remained virtually unaltered for over a century, making it one of the longest-running streaks in the history of fashion.  (See discussion below for the various components of each category of traditional formalwear).

What is today regarded as men’s formalwear—white tie dress, black tie dress, and morning dress, with all the accoutrements attendant thereto—was, for the most part, established over a century ago.  Until the late 1800s, white tie dress and black tie dress were identical, except for the color of the tie. (It is said that the original distinction between white tie and black tie was created to differentiate between gentlemen and their waiters, both of whom would traditionally wear black ties and tailcoats at formal events despite their diametrically opposed “ranks.” So gentlemen started wearing white ties—so as not to be mistaken for service staff, and the hierarchy between white tie and black tie was established). Then some gentleman (and the debate persists as to who that gentleman was) decided to wear a tail-less jacket with a black tie, and the “tuxedo” was born, restoring black tie to the ranks of gentlemen, even if at a stratum below that of white tie.

According to some British authorities, Henry Poole at No. 15 Saville Row would make smoking jackets for the Prince of Wales from as early as 1865; but according to Americans, the tuxedo was born on October 10, 1886 when tobacco heir Griswold “Grizzy” Lorillard entered the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, NY wearing a tail-less jacket with a black tie instead in white tie dress like the other gentlemen in attendance.

Men, even if only for practical or pecuniary purposes, have long taken pride in the fact that men’s fashion is more enduring than women’s. But increasingly in the 21st century, many men have decided that traditional formalwear has run its course.  Since about 2010, formalwear has been undergoing a much-needed infusion of 21st-century modernization and practicality. White tie is still in, but the tailcoat (also called “evening tailcoat” or “dress coat), the backbone of white tie dress, is definitely out.  And with good reason—after all, what became the tailcoat in the late 1700s is a frock coat with its front cut away and a vent added to its back so as to facilitate horseback riding. But which gentleman today mounts a horse en route to a soiree? Then, perhaps even more to the point is the perennial problem of the tailcoat:  What is a modern gentleman to do with his tails while sitting in a car en route to his white tie event? Black tie remains ever-present, but cummerbunds are a thing of the past.  And for the most part, today’s “morning dress” is a medium-gray business suit, a silk waistcoat or vest, and a tie or cravat. (Even at morning weddings, men are eschewing formal morning dress for everyday gray suits).  Except at events and venues where dress codes are uncompromising—such as at state dinners and cotillions or at the Royal Enclosure at Ascot and at Eton, modern men have adopted a much more practical approach to formal wear:  Get one tuxedo and wear it with a white tie for “white tie” events and with a black tie for “black tie” events.

Components of “New White Tie” (Also called “American White Tie”)

 -Black tuxedo (“smoking”/ “dinner”) jacket. Single-breasted with peaked lapels only.  (A double-breasted jacket; notched lapels; or a shawl collar would be unsuitable for “New White Tie”).

-Plain, white, long-sleeve, turndown spread-collar dress shirt, preferably of fine linen, but also may be of fine cotton. (Shirt should have no placket, thereby producing a more formal appearance).  Buttons should be mother-of-pearl.

-White, self-tie bowtie of cotton piqué.

-White linen pocket square. (See discussion on pocket squares)

-White waistcoat of cotton piqué.  (A waistcoat, besides serving to keep the shirt neatly in place, provides elegant coverage of a belt that may have been worn with tuxedo trousers.  Traditionally, tuxedo trousers do not accommodate belts. Instead, the trousers are worn with suspenders [also called “braces”] or have tab-adjustable waistbands. But increasingly, modern tuxedo trousers are being made to accommodate belts).  (When wearing low-rise trousers, a gentleman must be sure to acquire a waistcoat that is long enough to cover the waistband of his trousers).

-Black Tuxedo trousers.  (If the trousers are designed to accommodate a belt, a black belt with a simple, understated buckle should be used so that it may be properly concealed by the waistcoat).

-Black, silk, above-the-calf hose.

-Black tuxedo pumps, patent leather or flat-finish.  (No other shoe is appropriate for white tie dress, whether traditional or “New/American”).

 

Components of “New Black Tie” (Also called “American Black Tie”)

-Black or midnight blue tuxedo (“smoking”/ “dinner”) jacket, preferably with peaked lapels or a shawl collar (notched lapels are regarded as insufficiently formal for black tie). Jacket may be single- or double-breasted.

[ In the spring and summer months, and all year long in tropical climates, a white tuxedo jacket may be worn with black tuxedo trousers—as a refreshing alternative to an all-black ensemble.  The white jacket may be single- or double-breasted and may feature a peaked lapel or a shawl collar.  Unlike a black or midnight blue tuxedo jacket, which is constructed with lapels (in the case of a shawl collar, the collar) of black silk satin or silk grosgrain, the white tuxedo jacket is self-faced: made entirely of one fabric—usually a light-weight tropical wool, linen, or silk ].

-Plain, white, long-sleeve, turndown spread-collar dress shirt, preferably of fine linen, but also may be of fine cotton. (Shirt should have no placket, thereby producing a more formal appearance).  Buttons should be mother-of-pearl.

-Black, self-tie bowtie of a fabric that matches the jacket’s lapels. (For example, lapels of black silk satin should be worn with a bowtie of black silk satin; lapels of black silk grosgrain should be worn with a bowtie of black silk grosgrain.  When a white jacket is worn, the black tie should be in the same fabric as the vertical stripe that runs down the length of the outseam of the tuxedo trousers). (Hollywood types and their fashion disciples have been known to wear black long-ties at black tie occasions, but unsuccessfully. A man wearing a black long-tie with a tuxedo simply looks like a man going to a funeral in a tuxedo.  A tuxedo is worn on festive occasions. A bowtie conveys festivity (One would not, for example, wear a bowtie—of any color or pattern—to a funeral or some other somber occasion); conversely, a long-tie, no matter how lively its color or pattern, cannot convey the same degree of felicity as a bowtie).

-White linen pocket square. (See discussion on pocket squares)

-*Black waistcoat in same fabric as bowtie (silk satin or grosgrain, for example).  (The waistcoat, besides aiding to keep the shirt neatly in place, provides elegant coverage of a belt that may have been worn with tuxedo trousers. Traditionally, tuxedo trousers do not accommodate belts. Instead, the trousers are worn with suspenders [also called “braces”] or have tab-adjustable waistbands. But increasingly, modern tuxedo trousers are being made to accommodate belts).  When wearing low-rise trousers, a gentleman must be sure to acquire a waistcoat that is long enough to cover the waistband of his trousers.  [ A cummerbund is never worn with “New/American” black tie ].  [ A white waistcoat, though rarely seen today as an accompaniment to black tie dress, may also be correctly worn with black tie dress. If so, the waistcoat is best if constructed of the same fabric as the shirt, even if in a heavier grade, thereby creating a “seamless,” inconspicuous continuum between waistcoat and shirt.  A white silk satin waistcoat, if worn with a black tuxedo, on the other hand, would create “distraction” since the ensemble would then be comprised of two hues of silk satin—black and white—competing to serve as the highlight fabric of the ensemble.  Whether a gentleman opts for a black waistcoat or a white one should be determined by which hue best complements his physical attributes and the overall ensemble.]

-Black Tuxedo trousers.  (If the trousers are designed to accommodate a belt, a black belt with a simple, understated buckle should be used so that it may be properly concealed by the waistcoat).

-Black, silk, above-the-calf hose.

-Black tuxedo pumps, patent leather or flat-finish calfskin; or black patent leather or calfskin oxfords/balmorals (plain-toe or cap-toe). No other shoe is appropriate for black tie dress, whether traditional or “New/American.”  Some authorities advocate for black loafers—patent leather or otherwise—but unwisely so).

*With “New/American” black tie, the waistcoat is optional. Men of significant girth should opt for the waistcoat as it makes for an overall neater, leaner appearance in the torso area.

 

Components of “New Morning Dress” (Also called “American Morning Dress”)

-Medium-gray single-breasted suit with a jacket featuring peaked or notched lapels.

-Waistcoat of ecru (“buff”) or a matching or complementary gray silk. (A waistcoat, besides serving to keep the shirt neatly in place, provides elegant coverage for a belt that may have been worn with the trousers).  When wearing low-rise trousers, a gentleman must be sure to acquire a waistcoat that is long enough to cover the waistband of his trousers.

-Plain, white, long-sleeve, turndown spread-collar dress shirt, preferably of fine linen, but also may be of fine cotton. (Shirt should have no placket, thereby producing a more formal appearance).  Buttons should be mother-of-pearl.

-A cravat or long-tie of silk.  (A bowtie is never worn with morning dress, traditional or “New/American”).

-Black or gray dress socks.

-Black flat-finished, calfskin oxfords/balmorals.

 

Traditional Formalwear

 Components of Traditional Black Tie  (The most popular form of formalwear)

Black tuxedo jacket (also called “dinner jacket”) and pants of worsted wool with black silk satin or silk grosgrain embellishments* (A midnight blue tuxedo, with black silk satin or silk grosgrain embellishments, is also accepted but is usually worn only by gentlemen who have more than one tuxedo, at least one of them black, in their wardrobes) (See note below regarding white tuxedo jackets)  In the United States, the dinner jacket and pants are, as a unit, called either a “tuxedo” or a “dinner suit.”  In much of Europe, the tuxedo jacket (also the entire ensemble) is referred to as “smoking” (without the indefinite article “a”); in Spain and much of South America, as “esmoquin” (also without the indefinite article).

White linen or cotton tuxedo shirt with turn-down collar or wing-collar* (Usually designed to accommodate studs and cufflinks)  (A gentleman who has a preference for wing-collar shirts should have the shirt fitted with a loop of black, elasticized threads that is affixed to the center back of the collar, at its base where the collar connects to the yoke of the shirt. Made of black threads, the loop will be inconspicuous as it secures the black band of the bowtie in place against the starched white collar). (Studs and cufflinks for black tie wear are traditionally made of gold or silver with onyx or enamel. In the case of cufflinks, both ends should be adorned.  Cufflinks and studs serve dual purposes:  as functional accessories/jewelry. As such, they should be understated—like jewelry without the “bling”).

Formal, black waistcoat or black cummerbund (The formal waistcoat, unlike a regular waistcoat/vest, is cut with a low, wide neckline so as to allow the decorative elements, such as the bib and studs, of the formal tuxedo shirt to be displayed.  But whether waistcoat or cummerbund, its primary purpose is to conceal the “mechanical components”—waistband, belt, suspenders, etc.—of the trousers).  [ A formal, white waistcoat, though rarely seen today with black tie dress, may also be correctly worn. If so, the waistcoat should be constructed of the same fabric as the shirt, even if in a heavier grade. The white waistcoat should not be of white silk satin as its sheen would compete with that of the black satin embellishments of the ensemble.  A black waistcoat should be in the same fabric of the lapels of the tuxedo jacket—either silk satin or silk grosgrain.  Whether a gentleman opts for a black waistcoat or a white one should be determined by which hue best complements his physical attributes and the overall ensemble. ]

Black, silk satin, self-tie bowtie* A gentlemen whose preference is to wear wing-collared shirts should have his bowtie tailor-made to fit his particular neck measurement so as to avoid the unsightly adjustment clasps that are found on ready-made bowties, even those that must be self-tied.  And, of course, no gentleman would ever wear a pre-tied bowtie!  (Even when wearing a tuxedo of midnight blue, a black bowtie—never a midnight blue one—is used. After all, the dress code is called “black tie” for a reason).

White linen pocket square* (Optional).   The pocket square is placed into the outer chest pocket of the dinner jacket.  The preferred configuration is the simplest one:  squared and flat—not peaked or fluffed—with no more than one-half inch extending beyond the top of the pocket, the exposed portion of the handkerchief occupying the full width of, and aligned parallel to, the opening of the jacket pocket. This “squared” configuration complements, in form and proportion, the half-inch or so of white shirt-cuff that should extend beyond the sleeve length of the dinner jacket.

White boutonniere* (Optional).

Black tuxedo pumps in calfskin or patent leather* (Black oxfords or balmorals in patent leather or calfskin are also permissible, but pumps are significantly more in keeping with the overall theme of black tie dress.  Though a matter of personal preference, a tuxedo embellished with silk satin is paired with patent leather, while a tuxedo embellished with the more understated grosgrain is paired with calfskin).

Black silk hose* (above-the-calf length so as to avoid the showing of skin while seated)

Black, full-length (at least knee-length). wool topcoat (for use during cold climate), preferably with shawl collar of sable. A wool chesterfield coat in black, midnight blue, or oxford gray is also acceptable. A collar of black velvet imparts an understated formalness upon the chesterfield.

White or black tasseled silk scarf (worn during the fall and winter months or in cool climates)

Outerwear gloves (for cold climate).  Traditionally, gray chamois is worn, but it is a long-standing tradition that should be reconsidered:  What could possibly be the logic behind wearing gray gloves with a black coat, shoes, and hat?  Black fur-lined or wool-lined leather gloves are exceedingly more appropriate—despite tradition.

Black homburg hat.  (Until the 1930s, when black tie attire finally acquired its own hat, a silk top hat was worn as the complement to black tie dress). As with top hats, very few men today don homburgs en route to black tie events. But if a hat is to be worn, it should be a homburg.

[ The white tuxedo jacket:   In the spring and summer months, and all year long in the tropics, the black or midnight blue tuxedo jacket may be substituted by a white dinner jacket, which is worn with black or midnight blue—never white—tuxedo trousers.  The white dinner jacket is never embellished with white silk satin or silk grosgrain lapels. Instead, it is self-faced, meaning that the lapels are of the same fabric as the rest of the jacket. Any color ranging from white to off-white is appropriate. And since it is worn in the spring and summer months, it should be of a light-weight wool, linen, or silk.  ]

[ A boutonniere is worn only on the left lapel—never, ever, on the right.  If the buttonhole on the lapel (the buttonhole itself also sometimes referred to as a “boutonniere”) is functional, the stem of the flower is passed through the buttonhole. A meticulously made jacket will have a small loop at the back of the lapel, just below the functional buttonhole, that is used to secure the stem of the flower.  When the buttonhole is not functional, the flower should be carefully affixed to the lapel with a pin.  Traditionally, a white carnation is used with black tie dress, but a small white rose may also be worn successfully. Other flowers may be used—provided that they are white. For the vast majority of men, a boutonniere plus a pocket linen can appear too “busy.”  Tall, slender men, however, have been known to successfully wear both. The prevailing principle pertaining to the boutonniere is S-N-M:  simple, neat, masculine.]

[ Like tailcoats, cummerbunds are increasingly appearing outdated—as if from another age and time.  But popular or not, they are never worn with double-breasted tuxedo jackets since those jackets should not be worn unbuttoned.  A 21st-century gentleman who insists on wearing a cummerbund (And he would be totally justified in doing so) should be certain to position the open edges of its pleats facing upwards, a vestige from the days when evening pants did not have pockets and the upward-facing pleats were used to store theater tickets and the like.  And despite trends to the contrary, where everything from ruby-red satin to Madras plaid to kente cloth cummerbunds and matching bowties is worn, “black tie” means a black tie. And cummerbunds should follow suit. (A viable alternative to a cummerbund is an evening waistcoat of black silk or the main fabric of the tuxedo. A white waistcoat made of the same fabric as the shirt, but of a heavier weight, is also permissible. Unlike regular vests, where the lowest button is traditionally left unbuttoned, all buttons of a formal waistcoat are buttoned).

The word “cummerband” has been included in the English dictionary since 1616. It is originally a Persian genitive phrase, “kamar-bandi,” combining the words “kamar”(waist) and “bandi” (band).  The cummerbund was adopted by British military officers in colonial India as an alternative to a waistcoat (vest) and as a decorative covering for the belt. Eventually, by the Victorian era, the accessory had found its way into civilian use. By the 1920s the cummerbund had taken its present form—with pleats. Since the first decade of the 21st century, with tuxedos taking on the overall slimmer fit of modern men’s suits in general, the cummerbund has seen a decline as it tends to add visible bulk to a waistline that has been “narrowed” by the shorter, modern, form-fitting tuxedo jackets. On the other hand, cummerbunds, when of the same color as the trousers, tend to create the illusion of elongated legs—even if at the expense of the illusion of a shortened torso.  In the end, then, cummerbunds tend to look best on tall, slender men and men with V-shaped torsos, neither body type being particularly common amongst adult males. ]

[ Cuffs are regarded as a casual finish to men’s trousers.  Tuxedo trousers, therefore, should never be finished with cuffs. ]

[ Traditionally, a black long-tie (“necktie”), while it is, indeed, a black tie, does not qualify as “black tie”: Only a black bowtie satisfies that requirement.  Increasingly, however, especially amongst Hollywood types and other “A-listers” who walk the red carpet at award shows, for example, men are wearing black tuxedos with black neckties—and are being permitted entry. Such a daring gentleman would be wise, however, to have a black bowtie tucked away in his pocket so that in the event he encounters at the entrance a Cerberus-like stickler for tradition, the gentleman can quickly replace his inappropriate long-tie with the appropriate bowtie and proceed about his merry way. After all, part of being a gentleman is learning how to pick his battles. And a red-carpet duel with a bouncer is one of those battles better left unpicked.  Fighting with a professional bouncer is bad enough; and it is worse yet with a high-heeled date holding on to one arm for dear life! ]

[ Rather than silk satin as the fabric for the embellishments of a tuxedo, some gentlemen, especially in Europe, prefer the more understated silk grosgrain.  ]

[  Just as white tie wear in America has been modified, resulting in “American White Tie” (See below), black tie wear the world over is also undergoing some elemental changes:  Today, amongst the younger, more urbane types, “American Black Tie,” (“New Black Tie”) consists of:  a black, worsted wool dinner jacket and complementary trousers, both with silk satin or silk grosgrain embellishments; a black silk bowtie; a white shirt of fine linen or cotton with a turn-down collar; a black belt with a simple, classic buckle; black dress socks; and  black patent leather or calfskin tuxedo pumps or patent leather oxfords. The cummerbund is no longer worn by such “urbanites”; and a formal waistcoat is considered optional—and if worn, is used in cool climates or in the fall/winter months. Wing-collar shirts are not worn as part of the “New Black Tie” ensemble; and neither are studs and cufflinks. And in lieu of a cummerbund or formal waistcoat, the tendency is to keep the jacket buttoned so as to conceal the belt.  An even less traditional black tie wear is increasingly being seen at formal events:  a black worsted wool tuxedo worn with a linen or cotton white shirt with a turn-down collar, a solid black necktie, and black shoes such as loafers, oxfords/balmorals. But when it comes to wearing such variations of the age-old classic, the adage, “discretion if the better part of valor,” rings true. A gentleman who departs from the traditional should do so only at black tie venues and events that are likely to embrace such departures. ]

[ A gentleman who lives his life exclusively in the tropics may choose to have his tuxedo constructed of a suit-weight linen—with the silk embellishments, of course. Such gentlemen also tend to have a white linen dinner jacket in addition to the black. Though rarely seen, a linen tuxedo is an exceedingly refreshing sight and immediately suggests that its wearer is a gentleman of the most discerning taste. ]

 

Components of Traditional White Tie  (The most formal form of formalwear)

Tailcoat and complementary trousers in black worsted wool, both with black silk satin or silk grosgrain embellishments*

White cotton piqué (also called “cotton marcella”) waistcoat*

White linen or cotton wing-collar tuxedo shirt* ( A turn-down collar shirt is not permissible with white tie dress ).  The shirt is designed to accommodate studs and cufflinks.  Studs and cufflinks for white tie dress should be of some whitish material such as silver, platinum, mother-of-pearl, or enamel. And in the case of cufflinks, both ends should be adorned. Cufflinks and studs serve dual purposes:  as functional accessories/jewelry. As such, they should be understated—like jewelry without the “bling.”

White cotton piqué self-tie bowtie*  (White tie dress requires a wing-collar shirt. And a gentleman of discerning taste would insist upon having his white bowtie tailor-made so as to avoid those unsightly adjustment mechanisms that are typically found on ready-made bowties, even the ones that must be self-tied. That same discerning gentleman would also be certain to have his tailor attach a loop, made of elasticized white threads, affixed to the center-back of the collar, at the juncture where the collar connects to the yoke of the shirt. After the tie is carefully passed through the loop, the loop serves to keep the band of the bowtie in place—rather than ascending the gentleman’s neck as he goes about his business during the course of the evening).

 -White linen pocket square* (Optional).   The pocket square is placed into the outer chest pocket of the tailcoat.  The preferred configuration is the simplest one:  squared and flat—not peaked or fluffed—with no more than one-half inch extending beyond the top of the pocket, the exposed portion of the handkerchief occupying the full width of, and aligned parallel to, the opening of the jacket pocket. This “squared” configuration complements, in form and proportion, the half-inch or so of white shirt-cuff that should extend beyond the sleeve of the tailcoat.

White boutonniere* (Optional).

-White gloves*—made of kidskin or cotton.  White gloves are donned just prior entering the white tie venue

Black silk top hat*

 -Walking stick (Obsolete—except for the walking-impaired)

Black tuxedo pumps (See Court Shoes below) in calfskin or patent leather* (A gentleman whose evening suit is embellished in silk satin might be inclined to wear patent leather pumps, whereas an evening suit embellished with the more understated silk grosgrain would be better paired with calfskin pumps.  No other shoe is appropriate with white tie dress).

Black dress socks* (also called “hose”), preferably of silk and above-the-calf length so as to avoid the showing of skin while seated.

Black, formal-length (long enough to completely conceal the tails of the tailcoat) wool topcoat (during cold climate), preferably with a shawl collar of sable. A chesterfield coat in black wool with a black velvet collar is also acceptable. The world’s most fashionable men are also wearing the Italian tabarro with white tie dress. (See volume three, Manly Manners:  The Masculine Luxuries).

White or black tasseled silk scarf  (worn during the fall and winter months or in cool climates)

Outerwear gloves of black leather—either fur-lined or wool-lined.  (En route to the white tie venue, a gentleman will don his outerwear gloves. Then, upon arriving and checking his outerwear, he dons his white gloves (See chapter, “Out and About in Public Places” for comprehensive etiquette pertaining to gloves).

[ The earliest depictions of top hats are in paintings from the 1790s. The top hat ascended in popularity just as the tricorne was descending. Variably referred to as “stove pipe hat,” “beaver hat,” “high hat,” “chimney pot hat,” etc., by the early 1800s, the top hat had become almost obligatory for men of all classes.  It would remain relevant for everyday wear until the end of the 1800s, and for formal wear until the 1950s. Top hats are rarely used today since most gentlemen drive or are driven by car to white tie events. But if a gentleman in white tie dress will walk or use public transportation (train, bus, ferry, carriage, or any other means of public conveyance where the wearing of a hat is correct) to the event venue, he may wear a top hat en route.  It should be noted that very few venues today—even those with coat-checks—have special accommodations for checking hats.  In such instances, the collapsible top hat, also called “opera hat” or “gibus,” is especially convenient. ]

[ Rather than silk satin as the fabric for the embellishments of a tailcoat and complementary trousers, some gentlemen, especially in Europe, prefer silk grosgrain.  ]

[ Unlike regular vests, where the lowest button is traditionally left unbuttoned, all buttons of a formal waistcoat are buttoned.  ]

[ Cuffs are regarded as a casual finish to men’s trousers. The trousers worn with tailcoats, therefore, should never be cuffed. ]

[ How to sit when wearing a tailcoat is dictated by common sense; the primary objective is to prevent wrinkling of the tails. The buttons at the back of the tailcoat were once functional—they were used to button-up the tails prior to sitting. But today, those buttons serve only a decorative purpose, leaving many a gentleman like the peacock, wondering what to do with his magnificent tail. To a large extent, how to sit in a tailcoat depends on the design of the seating. A concert pianist, for example, would certainly not sit on his tails (which would likely leave them wrinkled before the end of the first movement); he simply allows them to hang freely over the back of the bench.  Similarly, when seated on a typical dining room chair, if the chair is designed with a space between the seat and the splat, the tails are passed through the space and allowed to hang freely. Otherwise, the tails are allowed to hang over the sides of the seat of the chair, one tail to each side. When seated in or on banquette seats, wing chairs, sofas, car seats, and the like—where there is nowhere for the tails to hang freely—more delicacy must be employed:  The tails should be placed neatly alongside one’s thighs so as to minimize wrinkling. But where seating is shared, special care should be taken to prevent tails from encroaching upon another person’s space. ]

[ Tails are becoming increasingly rare in the 21st century, almost appearing more as an anachronism than as the ne plus ultra of men’s fashion. So, increasingly, when invitations specify “white tie,” some modern men are wearing their tuxedos (See Black Tie above)  with a white cotton piqué bowtie and a formal white waistcoat, also of cotton piqué.  Some gentlemen wear this new white tie interpretation with the uber-formal wing-collar shirt, while others achieve the look with the less ostentatious turn-down collar shirt.  Whichever the case, the “look” is decidedly modern, refreshing, and fashionable. Referred to as “American White Tie,” and worn by American president Barak Obama at his January 2013 inaugural ball, the look is rapidly gaining worldwide acceptance.  And except for the absolute most formal and traditional of occasions, the “American White Tie” approach is being hailed as an efficient, cost-effective approach to formal dressing—one tuxedo, two tie options. Voilà!   For events such as state dinners, opera premieres, debutante balls, and white tie weddings, however, tails are still de rigueur and “American White Tie” would look entirely under-dressed.   ]

 

[ A boutonniere is worn only on the left lapel—never, ever on the right.  If the buttonhole on the lapel (the buttonhole itself also sometimes referred to as a “boutonniere”) is functional, the stem of the flower is passed through the buttonhole. A meticulously made jacket will have a small loop at the back of the lapel, just below the functional buttonhole, that is used to secure the stem of the flower.  When the buttonhole is not functional, the flower should be carefully affixed to the lapel with a pin.  Traditionally, a white carnation is used with white tie dress. Other flowers may be used, however, provided that they are white. For most men, a boutonniere plus a pocket linen can appear too “busy.”  Tall, slender men, however, have been known to successfully wear both.  The prevailing principle pertaining to the boutonniere is S-N-M:  simple, neat, masculine. ]

 

Components of Traditional Morning Dress*

-Morning coat (black or gray)

-Morning trousers (striped or solid gray)

-White linen or cotton shirt with turn-down spread collar (to accommodate cravat knots or Full Windsor knot, also call the “Double Windsor”)

-Silk waistcoat, traditionally buff (ecru-colored) or gray (At Eton, students wear black waistcoats of the same or a similar fabric as their black cutaways, along with white neckties, as their uniform).

-Silk necktie or cravat—never a bowtie

-Boutonniere

-White linen pocket square

-Gray buckskin gloves

-Gray or black silk top hat

-Walking stick (Obsolete—except for the walking-impaired)

-Black, flat-finished, calfskin oxfords/balmorals

-Black dress socks

[ The morning coat is a cross between a riding jacket and a 19th-century frock coat with its corners cut away, hence the other name for the coat:  “cutaway.”  A gray cutaway with matching gray trousers (the ensemble called “morning gray”) is only worn by a groom and/or the father of the groom at a wedding. And in such cases, the full gray morning dress would be accompanied by a gray top hat.  Otherwise, the traditional morning dress consists of a black morning coat with the traditional gray-and-black striped trousers, the fabric of which is called “cashmere spongebag trouser stripes” or, in Germany,”Stresemann.” Traditionally, the fabric is made of sheep’s wool, not cashmere as the name implies.  Alternatively, a gray morning coat may be worn with the gray-and-black striped trousers. Either a black or gray top hat may be worn with either alternative, though at a funeral, the black top hat would be infinitely more appropriate.   A bowtie is never worn with morning dress. Either a tie or cravat (the latter especially at weddings) is worn.   Morning dress is rarely worn today outside the United Kingdom, where it is required attire inside the royal enclosure at the Royal Ascot, the great horse race held each June; at state funerals in certain countries; at formal morning and early afternoon weddings and lawn parties, for example; and as a uniform at some exclusive boys’ schools such as Eton.  Unlike white tie dress, where, for practical reasons, the top hat is today optional (unless specified), morning dress requires a top hat since it is always worn at outdoor events where protection from the elements makes the donning of the hat a matter of both form and function. ]

[ Unlike the low-cut formal waistcoat of white tie or black tie dress, the waistcoat of morning dress is cut like a standard business suit waistcoat.  ]

[ A boutonniere is worn only on the left lapel—never, ever on the right.  If the buttonhole on the lapel (the buttonhole itself also sometimes referred to as a “boutonniere”) is functional, the stem of the flower is passed through the buttonhole. A meticulously made jacket will have a small loop at the back of the lapel, just below the functional buttonhole, that is used to secure the stem of the flower.  When the buttonhole is not functional, the flower should be carefully affixed to the lapel with a pin.  Traditionally, a white carnation is used with morning dress. Other flowers may be used—provided that they are white. Because morning dress is typically worn at formal outdoor events, a boutonniere of some wild flower may be especially refreshing—especially at an event such as a horse race.  For the vast majority of men, a boutonniere plus a pocket square may appear too “busy.”  Tall, slender men, however, have been known to successfully wear both. The prevailing principle pertaining to the boutonniere is S-N-M:  simple, neat, masculine. ]

[ Cuffs are considered a “casual” finish on men’s trousers. Consequently, the trousers worn with tailcoats and tuxedo jackets are never cuffed. Likewise, the traditional finish on morning suit trousers is flat-finished.  But some gentlemen have been known to wear cuffed morning trousers at events such as horse races. ]

 

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