Flashback: 1920s Etiquette


1924_Vanity_Fair_cutter_and_tailor_forum_edit

I came across this wonderful cartoon on the Cutter and Tailor forum. ┬áThe person who posted it informs me that it came from a 1924 issue of Vanity Fair and that the caption was “Dinner jacket is SEMIformal.”

Ah for the days when a full black-tie kit was the formal equivalent of slumming it.

 

19 Comments

  1. John

    There was a time not that long ago that I would hardly have noticed the difference between white tie and black tie, but interestingly, as the dinner jacket and soft-front shirt are staring to make more frequent appearances on the third season (series) of Downton Abbey, it actually is a bit jarring to see how really informal black tie does appear in comparison!

    Reply
  2. Peter Marshall

    I’ve had the same experience with Downton Abbey. It’s one thing to read historical references to Edwardian society’s perception of the early tuxedo. But it’s quite another to watch the garment slowly evolve in its original context and find yourself coming to that conclusion on your own.

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  3. C. Ray

    Earlier in the week I had occasion to wear white tie one evening (a Mardi Gras ball) and black tie the next. Wearing a tuxedo the night after having encased myself in starch really taught me how to wear a tuxedo… casually. I felt like I was lounging in my ‘pajamas’, as the Dowager called it.

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  4. JR

    Is anyone else creeped out by the half-drawn faces at the back?

    Reply
  5. Nickolas Marinelli

    Here’s something that never happens: I am invited to two events to be held the same evening, one at 6:00 and the other at 8:00. The first is “Black Tie” and the second is “White Tie.” Though it is unlikely that the stars will align in this way again in my lifetime, I do want to do it right the “first time.”

    My question is this: is it proper to wear white tie to both occasions, or is it best to change clothes between them? Can I wear white tie at a black tie event?

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    1. C. Ray

      According to Emily Post 1922 it’s OK to go to an otherwise less formal event in white tie, if you’re going to have to be in white tie later in the evening. Congratulations, you’ve leveled-up!

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      1. Peter Marshall

        I would suggest that this advice be viewed in context. It was written nearly a century ago at a time when white tie was worn quite regularly. In this day and age showing up in a tailcoat to a black-tie event could easily be considered amateurish at best and obnoxious at worst. I would want to know more about the circumstances of the black-tie event before making a decision. In particular, how likely is it that people at that event will be aware of the white-tie affair?

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        1. thecormac

          Perhaps, but it remains the basic etiquette rule to this day that it is acceptable to be overdressed for an occasion, but not underdressed. (And the very reason is that you may give the excuse that you have somewhere more formal that you are going afterwards – even if it is not true!)

          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            That rule would give me a excuse to dress a DJ in an evening event that requires a suit.

  6. Nickolas Marinelli

    An excellent point, Mr. Marshall, and one I hadn’t considered. While the black-tie affair is known to most of the community, the white-tie affair is not. It is, in fact, a rather small group who will gather at a foreign consulate to bear witness to the awarding of an order of chivalry. Outside the honoree’s circle of friends, very few in the community would even be aware of the affair.

    Perhaps I should quietly excuse myself from the black-tie affair early enough for a change of attire. Fortunately, the two are within blocks of each other, and the first is at the hotel where I will be staying.

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    1. A. R

      Peter may have a different opinion, but as someone who is in this situation every New Years Eve*, I recommend that you wear your white waistcoat, and formal shirt (that is, your white-tie shirt) with the other elements of black tie to the black tie event, and simply change into your white tie and tails as you arrive at the other event. Remember, there is precedent for the single silk braid of black tie within the white tie ensemble, providing that the fabric colours match well. I also carry both of my link and stud sets (gold with onyx, and gold with mother of pearl), and switch them between events. Otherwise, platinum (but not silver) would be acceptable with either dress code. If the event is to be held in the United Kingdom however, where wing collars are no longer acceptable with semi-formal wear, you may consider a trick I used a few years ago, and wear a detachable turndown collar to the semi-formal event, and have someone assist you in changing the collar between events.

      *In fact, I have to switch to Morning Dress at 8:00 AM New Years day some years, and black lounge in others.

      Reply
  7. Nickolas Marinelli

    Thank you for you feedback.

    With regard to links and studs, why is silver not acceptable, and does this argentate prohibition apply to both black-tie and white-tie?

    Reply
    1. A. R

      I am not wholly aware of the reasoning behind this particular sartorial proscription, but one might reason that the tendency of silver to tarnish may have something to do with it. In addition, under the wrong lighting, silver can look much like steel or nickel, which would be quite unacceptable. From my experience, one could more easily incorporate a set of silver links and studs into a semi-formal ensemble than a formal one. In fact, one of the silver cufflink sets I wear daily could probably be used in black-tie were one to wear a fly-front shirt.

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      1. RPC

        I think it depends on how nice your silver links are. If they’re clearly traditional, smart, rather restrained, with a chain rather than a hinge, I think you could get away with them. After all, platinum could look like steel or nickel too.

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    2. Peter Marshall

      Who says silver is not acceptable with black tie?

      Reply
      1. A. R.

        Perhaps the prohibition on silver is rather specific to my locale/social circle. Is there a precedent for silver in black tie? I’ve always advocated for gold and platinum personally, as have most of the people I know.

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  8. Hal

    I always go for silver studs and often silver cufflinks. But then I’m happy to wear steel ones too.

    If you are in the UK, I wouldn’t worry about changing shirt collars either – the turndown collar is more common but I see plenty of poor examples of attached wing collars at every black tie do I go to. A decent example of a detachable collar should embarrass no-one.

    Reply
  9. Peter Marshall

    This discussion prompted me to delve further into the history of evening studs and links. You can see the results at http://www.blacktieguide.com/Vintage/Vintage_Accessories.htm. (For the record, silver is not a traditional option.)

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      wow!, the discussion has been very fruitful!

      Reply

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