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White tie dress code
If an invitation comes through your door that gives the dress code as white tie, then this is going to be an auspicious, exceptional event. Nowadays tails are often ousted in favour of a dinner jacket, meaning that white tie generally remains the preserve of royal ceremonies or similar events.
Eminent and unique
White tie is the most formal and elegant of all forms of dress. Unless you happen to be a conductor or are participating in a ballroom dancing competition, the likelihood of you ever having to wear tails is not very high. The hosts of all prestigious, upscale events after 6 p.m. like to welcome guests with a white tie dress code. At major balls like the Vienna Opera Ball, state banquets, or Nobel prize ceremonies, guests will be dressed in tails.
All of the following elements are required for white tie:
All guests at events like these are superbly dressed, without exception. A black bow tie distinguishes the waiters from the guests, making a white bow tie a vital element – and one which you should be able to expertly tie yourself (as for black tie). The shirt collar is not the only thing which requires attention. As well as a small wing collar, the shirt has a strengthened breast area made of cotton piqué, a specially woven material. The shirt sleeves should be two finger widths longer than the tailcoat sleeves, but should not reach below the wrists.
Tailcoat and waistcoat
A tailcoat is characterised by two swallowtails on the back and a front that stops at the man’s waist. The lapel, front button and sleeve buttons are decorated with satin. Rather than a cummerbund, which is only acceptable for musicians, men wear a white waistcoat underneath. This offers more freedom of movement than it would seem at first glance, as it is held in place with a satin waist strap round the back so can be individually adjusted. Like the tailcoat, the waistcoat has a lapel, waistcoat pockets and elegant buttons.
Braces and opera pumps
The trousers are made of the same material as the tailcoat. The legs are straight, not too tight and have no turn-ups or pleats. The side seam has not one but two trim stripes. This dress code does not include a belt, if for no other reason than the trousers should sit properly without the need for one. The white tie look instead uses braces.
Most men find the proper shoes for this dress code to be a little too feminine with a higher heel than they find comfortable. Opera pumps sound more like something that women would go for, but they are actually designed for men. Although these no longer appeal to a mass audience, there is no clear replacement. In any event, if you do not want to wear opera pumps you should put on slim, elegant patent-leather shoes such as Oxford lace-ups.
Bare skin should be covered as far as possible, so black knee-high socks are a must. You can accessorise with white kid gloves. If you want to wear something on your head, a black top hat is always the way to go. Like a coat or a silk scarf (should you choose to wear one), this is only worn outside. An opera hat is a collapsible version of a top hat which allows for easy, space-saving storage during the event.
A wristwatch does not go with conventional tails, so the recommended option is a gold pocket watch. Men can wear jewellery in the form of cufflinks or a lapel pin. For those who want to truly complete the elegant white tie look, a cane is the perfect option. This has a chrome knob and a piano lacquer finish.
For women this dress code means an elegant, floor-length evening dress, or a ball gown if the event includes dancing. Any colour is permitted provided that it is not gaudy, crazily patterned or white, as the latter is the preserve of debutantes. Arms and shoulders are generally covered by long gloves, or by an evening cape or stole when outside. The dress also should not be too tight-fitting or low-cut. Dressy high-heeled sandals, a clutch bag and discreet jewellery complete the ensemble.