White tie, also called full evening dress or a dress suit, is the most formal evening . For men, it consists of a black dress worn over a white starched , and the eponymous white worn around a . High-waisted black and shoes complete the outfit, although decorations can be worn and a and white scarf are acceptable as accessories. Women wear full length or and, optionally, jewellery, tiaras, a small bag and evening gloves.
The dress code's origins can be traced to the end of the 18th century, when high society men began abandoning their , lacy shirts and richly decorated evening coats for more austere tailcoats in dark colours, a look inspired by the country gentleman. Fashionable like popularised a style in the , tending to favour dark blue or black tailcoats, often with trousers instead of breeches, and white shirts, waistcoats and cravats. By the 1840s the minimalist black and white combination had become the standard evening wear for men. Despite the emergence of the (or tuxedo) as a less formal and more comfortable alternative in the 1880s, full evening dress remained the staple. At the , white became the only colour of waistcoats and ties worn with full evening dress, contrasting with black ties and waistcoats with the dinner jacket, an ensemble which became known as .
From the 1920s onward black tie slowly replaced white tie as the default evening wear for important events, so that by the 21st century white tie had become rare. White tie nowadays tends to be reserved for special ceremonies—especially —and a very select group of social events such as the in New York, the at , certain at , the June Ball at , the Christmas ball at , dinners of certain American hereditary societies, and very formal weddings. The and the ceremony are white tie events, and some European universities retain it as the dress code for doctoral conferment ceremonies.
According to the British etiquette guide , the central components of full evening dress for men are a white shirt with a detachable wing and single , fastened with studs and ; the eponymous white marcella is worn around the collar, while a low-cut marcella is worn over the shirt. Over this is worn a black single-breasted wool or ultrafine tailcoat with silk peak . The trousers have double-braiding down the outside of both legs, while the correct shoes are or highly polished black . Although a white scarf remains popular in winter, the traditional white gloves, , canes and cloaks are now rare. Women wear a full-length evening dress, with the option of jewellery, a tiara, a pashmina, coat or wrap. Long gloves are not compulsory.
The waistcoat should not be visible below the front of the tailcoat, which necessitates a high waistline and (often) braces for the trousers. As one style writer for magazine summarises "The simple rule of thumb is that you should only ever see black and white not black, white and black again". While Debrett's accepts double cuffs for shirts worn with white tie, some tailors and merchant suggest that single, linked cuffs are the most traditional and formal variation acceptable under the dress code. Decorations may also be worn and, unlike Debrett's, 's student newspaper suggests a top hat, opera cloak and silver-topped cane are acceptable accessories. Some invitations to white-tie events, like the last published edition of the British Lord Chamberlain's Guide to Dress at Court, state that national costume or national dress may be substituted for white tie.
Prior to World War II formal style of military dress was generally restricted to the , and ; although the French, , Swedish and other navies had adopted their own versions of mess dress during the late nineteenth century, influenced by the .
In the US Army, , in either blue or white, is the appropriate military uniform for white-tie occasions. The blue mess and white mess uniforms are black-tie equivalents, although the with bow tie are accepted, especially for non-commissioned officers and newly commissioned officers. For white-tie occasions, of which there are almost none in the United States outside the national capital region for US Army, an officer must wear a wing-collar shirt with white tie and white vest. For black-tie occasions, officers must wear a turndown collar with black tie and black cummerbund. The only outer coat prescribed for both black- and white-tie events is the army blue cape with branch color lining.
Certain clergymen wear, in place of white-tie outfits, a with , which is a light-weight ankle-length cape intended to be worn indoors. The colour and fabric of the ferraiolone is determined by the rank of the cleric and can be scarlet watered silk, purple silk, black silk or black wool. For outerwear the black cape (cappa nigra), also known as a choir cape (cappa choralis), is most traditional. It is a long black woollen cloak fastened with a clasp at the neck and often has a hood. Cardinals and bishops may also wear a black plush hat or, less formally, a . In practice, the cassock and especially the ferraiolone have become much less common and no particular formal attire has appeared to replace them. The most formal alternative is a clerical waistcoat incorporating a Roman collar (a rabat) worn with a collarless French cuff shirt and a black suit, although this is closer to "black-tie" than white-tie. Historically, clerics in the would wear a knee-length cassock called an apron, accompanied by a tailcoat with silk facings but no lapels, for a white tie occasion. In modern times this is rarely seen, however if worn the knee-length cassock is now replaced with normal dress trousers.
19th century: origins and developmentThe German actor wearing white tie on stage in 1937
Throughout the , western European male courtiers and aristocrats donned elaborate clothing at ceremonies and dinners: coats (often richly decorated), frilly and lacy shirts and breeches formed the backbone of their most formal attire. As the 18th century drew to a close, high society began adopting more austere clothing which drew inspiration from the dark hues and simpler designs adopted by country gentlemen. By the end of the 18th century, two forms of tail coat were in common use by upper class men in Britain and continental Europe: the more formal dress coat (cut away horizontally at the front) and the less formal , which curved back from the front to the tails. From around 1815, a knee-length garment called the became increasingly popular and was eventually established, along with the morning coat, as smart daywear in Victorian England. The dress coat, meanwhile, became reserved for wear in the evening. The adopted a minimalistic approach to evening wear—a white waistcoat, dark blue tailcoat, black pantaloons and striped stockings. Although Brummell felt black an ugly colour for evening dress coats, it was adopted by other dandies, like , and black and white had become the standard colours by the 1840s.
Over the course of the 19th century, the monotone colour scheme became a codified standard for evening events after 6 p.m. in upper class circles. The styles evolved and evening dress consisted of a black dress coat and trousers, white or black waistcoat, and a bow tie by the 1870s. The (tuxedo) emerged as a less formal and more comfortable alternative to full evening dress in the 1880s and, by the early 20th century, full evening dress meant wearing a white waistcoat and tie with a black tailcoat and trousers, the tuxedo incorporated a black bow tie and waistcoat: white tie had become distinct from black tie. Despite its growing popularity, the dinner jacket remained the reserve of family dinners and gentlemen's clubs during the late Victorian period.
20th centuryGuests at the white-tie Royal Ball in , 1954
By the turn of the 20th century, full evening dress consisted of a black tailcoat made of heavy fabric weighing 16-18 oz per yard. Its lapels were medium width and the white shirt worn beneath it had a heavily starched, stiff front, fastened with pearl or black studs and either a winged collar or a type called a "poke", consisting of a high band with a slight curve at the front. After World War I, the dinner jacket became more popular, especially in the US, and informal variations sprung up, like the soft, turn-down collar shirt and later the double-breasted jacket; relaxing social norms in America meant white tie was replaced by black tie as the default evening wear for young men, especially at nightclubs. According to , the years after saw white tie "almost abandoned". But it did still have a place: the American etiquette writer stated in 1922 that "A gentleman must always be in full dress, tail coat, white waistcoat, white tie and white gloves" when at the opera, yet she called the tuxedo "essential" for any gentleman, writing that "It is worn every evening and nearly everywhere, whereas the tail coat is necessary only at balls, formal dinners, and in a box at the opera."
It also continued to evolve. White tie was worn with slim-cut trousers in the early 1920s; by 1926, wide-lapelled tailcoats and double-breasted waistcoats were in vogue. The (then Prince of Wales and later Edward VIII) wore a tailcoat, trousers and waistcoat in the 1920s and 1930s both to "soften" the contrast between black and white and allow for photographs to depict the nuances of his tailoring. The late 1920s and 1930s witnessed a resurgence in the dress code's popularity, but by 1953, one etiquette writer stressed that "The modern trend is to wear 'tails' only for the most formal and ceremonious functions, such as important formal dinners, balls, elaborate evening weddings, and opening night at the opera".
The last president to have worn white tie at a was President in 1961, who wore a for , and a white tie ensemble for his .
White tie is rarely worn in the early 21st century. Nevertheless, it survives as the formal dress code for royal ceremonies, , and a select group of other social events in some countries. The male form has also been adopted for some formal weddings.
Notable international recurrent white tie events include the ceremony in , and the in .
In and the , white tie is the traditional attire for conferments and is prescribed at some Swedish and Finnish universities, where it is worn with a variant called a .
White tie is only required when the invitation specifically requests it but the considerate will usually request 'white or ' because of the potential difficulty faced by some guests in obtaining proper white tie attire.
In Britain, it is worn at some state dinners and certain and at and Cambridge universities as well as and . It was the dress code for the 's banquet until 1996, although has worn white tie to the event as .White tie is also rarely seen as part of some elite UK public (private) schools' uniform, such as , where the Head Boy is allowed to wear white tie to special events.
A few state dinners at the apply white tie, including the one held for in 2007. Other notable examples include the in , the in , and a few such as the in New York City, and the in .
When the 's in New York City announced a white tie dress code in 2014, a number of media outlets pointed out the difficulty and expense of obtaining traditional white tie, even for the celebrity guests.
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