Formal pumps and hose descend from the
thin shoes and silk stockings worn with breeches as part of
court dress at the royal courts of Europe. In
fact, the British still refer to them as "court shoes"
although this term has also come to refer to women's
low-heeled shoes just as "pump" now refers to the same style of
shoe in North America.
Back when white-tie affairs were a
regular occurrence evening jewelry was big business.
Shown here is a vintage matching set of shirt studs (lower
left), cufflinks (lower right) and waistcoat studs (top)
in mother-of-pearl and platinum.
Besides adding variety to one's outfit, waistcoat studs had
the benefit of being removed for washing thus saving them
from the wear and tear experienced by attached covered
What's in a Name?:
English opera hat, c1920.
The collapsible top is known as an "opera hat"
since it was designed to allow tall hats to be stored
at the opera or theater
without the damage
usually inflicted on silk hats. "Gibus hat" refers to Antoine Gibus, the man who
perfected the design in 1840. "Chapeau claque" is
based on the noise the hat makes when it is popped open.
Footwear, Accessories, Outerwear
Formal lace-ups of patent leather or polished
calfskin are correct shoes for full dress. However, with its sixteenth-century origin and its long
history as de facto footwear at the royal courts and grand ballrooms
of Europe, the pump is the most formal of evening shoes and thus the
best suited to the evening tailcoat. For similar reasons, the aristocratic pedigree and elegant
sheen of silk hose make them preferable to other types of dress
socks. Complete details
for all options are provided in Classic Black-Tie Footwear.
Cufflinks and Studs
The cardinal rule for full-dress jewelry is
that it be expensive yet discreet. As Vogue’s Book of Etiquette
said of men and their evening jewelry in
1925, "Whatever they wear must look as if it were useful by
intention and valuable by chance."
Most contemporary authorities keep it simple and suggest
that shirt studs, cufflinks and waistcoat studs (if applicable) all
be a matching set of mother-of-pearl but there is
also a long history of
Shirt studs have traditionally been most popular in mother-of-pearl
or genuine pearl but precious or semiprecious stones were also
acceptable. If they were
matched with waistcoat studs then they were often of white pearl,
white enamel or crystal.
Cufflinks could also match the studs or they could stand apart in
plain platinum or plain gold, the latter often being of the white
Suspenders (Braces), Sock Garters (Sock
Classic white-tie suspenders (braces in UK) are constructed of
white silk. Sock garters
(sock suspenders in UK) can be of matching material if desired but it is hardly necessary as
both items are classified as underwear and are not intended to be
seen. Complete details
of both can be found in Classic Black-Tie Accessories.
Dress Watch (Optional)
A pocket watch is the most classic timepiece
for full dress but wristwatches have also become acceptable.
Black-Tie Accessories for the corresponding
etiquette for both.
Pocket Square (Optional)
A handkerchief of fine white linen is the
conventional pocket square with evening wear as described in
Black Tie Accessories.
If a boutonniere is worn with full dress then
it must be white.
Carnations are the most traditional choice but small gardenias are
also acceptable. There
was a vogue for dark red carnations among young mavericks from the
1930s to the 1950s but this would likely be considered a bit obnoxious at
most white-tie ceremonies today. Further etiquette is described in
Evening (Indoor) Gloves (Optional)
Indoor dress gloves were
once an essential
part of a gentleman’s evening dress but by the 1920s they were
obligatory only at balls, the opera and when ushering a formal
wedding. By the 1930s
even these traditions were falling by the wayside and now, according
to the British book History of Men’s Fashions, “they are “very
seldom needed outside formal banquets, in royal circles or some
white tie charity balls”. In America, debutante balls are also known to maintain the
chivalric custom of shielding the fairer sex from the clammy touch
of a man’s hand in a receiving line or on the dance floor.
The correct gloves for these
august occasions are ones made of white
kidskin in the slip-on or button style. Cotton gloves, while much less expensive,
can not compare to
kid’s luxurious texture and its ability to fit like a second skin. Just be sure to remove your gloves when refreshments are
served, at which point you may discreetly slip them into the inside
tail pocket of your tailcoat.
Walking Stick (Obsolete)
If you are invited to an Edwardian costume
party and want to be historically accurate down to the last detail
then make sure your walking stick (or cane in the UK) is of plain
malacca or other plain wood and has no ornamentation other than
possibly a plain silver or gold band to hide the handle joint. Gold or ivory knobs are the “hallmark of the imitation
gentleman” according to etiquette maven Emily Post who also warned
readers in 1922 that black sticks were “tabu”.
Overcoat, Evening Cloak
The chesterfield coat is the most conventional topcoat
for evening wear but any dressy style is appropriate. Capes
are best left to Transylvanian counts. See
Classic Black-Tie Outerwear for details.
The correct evening scarf is white silk with
tasseled ends as illustrated in Classic Black-Tie Outerwear.
Traditionally, white buckskin were the most popular street gloves
but white chamois and doeskin (soft suede leathers made from sheep
or deer skin, respectively) were also correct.
The extended height of the traditional top hat
is a swank counterbalance to the tailcoat’s length and its
finish is the ideal complement to the coat’s silk trim. It remains a perfectly correct choice for a man who has the
nonchalance required to pull it off and the willingness to pay
a small fortune for an accessory that will be checked at the door.
There are two models of top hat to choose from:
standard and collapsible. The best standard models are made from
black silk or from
felt that is highly polished in order to look like silk. The silk version, commonly known as a
silk hat, was the most
popular but is no longer made since the last mill that produced
the required silk has gone out of business. Such top hats now
must be purchased second hand from
vintage dealers for prices that can range up to £1,800
(approximately $2,800 US) or higher. Beaver-fur styles, on the other hand, are still being
manufactured by English companies such as 330-year-old Lock & Co.
Hatters where prices start at a mere £365 ($585 US).
Top hats made of inexpensive wool felt are also available but this type
of material is suitable only for daytime headwear.
The collapsible model is known as an opera hat
or a gibus hat.
This model has been acceptable with evening wear since the
Regency era and is still made by a handful of companies. Traditionally it has been constructed of ribbed silk
(especially in the US) or dull merino cloth (especially in the UK).
Alternately, a black stiff-brimmed homburg
fedora has been endorsed by various authorities since the 1960s as a
more modern version of the full-dress hat.
Its low crown and dull finish may lack the stature of the
topper but at least it keeps the head warm and looks better than a
Calfskin formal pumps by premiere English
shoemaker Edward Green.
Mother-of-pearl evening set.
Proper cufflinks are double sided to dress both sides of the cuff.
White evening braces from English specialists
The white carnation is the most conventional
White kid gloves.
Plain malacca walking cane.
(For reference purposes only.
Do not try this at home.)
Polished fur top hat from Lock & Co. Hatters.
Restored vintage silk hat from