Full-Dress 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 dapper alternatives. 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 variety.
Suspenders (Braces), Sock Garters (Sock Suspenders)
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. See Classic 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 Classic 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 Classic Black-Tie Accessories.
Full-Dress 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 luxe 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 beaver fur 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. 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 toque.