Defining White Tie

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 recognize 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 American and British resources published over the past seventy years.



1. coat
(evening tailcoat)

black wool is the norm but midnight blue is equally correct

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


2. 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 suspenders (braces in UK); high enough rise for waistband to be covered by short waistcoat

no cuffs


3. waistcoat

white piqué (marcella in UK)

low cut single-breasted or double-breasted, usually backless

length does not extend below front of tailcoat

oblong self-faced revers (lapels)


4. shirt

white fabric with stiff bosom of plain linen, plain cotton or piqué (marcella in UK)  

high, stiff, detachable wing collar

stiff single cuffs fastened by links

eyelets for one or two studs 


5. bow tie

bow tie of white piqué (marcella in UK), preferably to match waistcoat

butterfly or batwing shape



6.  footwear   

black pumps or plain-toed oxfords of either:

    · patent leather (most traditional)

    · highly polished calf leather 

black silk hose, over-the-calf length


7. accessories

mother-of-pearl shirt studs (or buttons), waistcoat studs and cufflinks

button-on suspenders (braces in UK) and optional sock garters of white silk

optional white linen handkerchief as pocket square

optional white boutonniere

optional pocket watch with gold or platinum key chain is most traditional but evening wristwatch is also acceptable

optional white kid dress gloves for indoor wear



black or midnight blue single- or double-breasted overcoat; chesterfield is especially appropriate

optional white silk scarf with tassels

white buckskin gloves

either black silk top hat or collapsible opera hat is optional


Men fortunate enough to 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 be familiar with the component details in the White Tie section before purchasing or renting the required attire.