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Oct, 16 2023

The Complete Guide to A White-Tie Event

A man fixing his white tie

The white-tie attire is undoubtedly the pinnacle of formalwear. No other dress code can exude the aura of royalty and financial prowess quite the same. But also, no other dress code has so many rigid rules to follow. Get some of them wrong, and you’ll look more like a magician than a monarch on your next white-tie event.

To prevent this unfortunate scenario (and spare you from reading lengthy books on white-tie dress code), we’ve prepared a complete guide to white-tie attire. Get the fundamentals right, and you’ll wear your outfit confidently, whether attending a white-tie wedding or a lavish gala event.

Understanding White-Tie and Its Events

A man and women on a red carpet

As the most formal of dress codes, white-tie attire is reserved for the most prestigious events. Keep reading to learn more about white-tie attire and the events where it is commonly donned.

Defining White Tie

As previously stated, the white-tie dress code is the most formal dress code in fashion. As such, it calls for garments like floor-length gowns for women and evening tailcoats for men. Since white-tie attire is the epitome of elegance and sophistication, an invitation to a white-tie event implies there might be guests of high caliber.

Even if they’re not, a white-tie event is certainly not the time to look at formal or semi-formal attire for men. Even the black-tie dress code is still a step below the level of formality a white-tie dress code demands.

But why is this so? Is it all about the aesthetics? Not quite.

The importance of white tie in fashion goes far beyond mere aesthetics. It embodies tradition, showcasing a deep respect for the occasion and its attendees and giving a nod to the legacy of refined societal norms.

White Tie Connotations

The white-tie dress code indicates that formality is a crucial event component. It implies a feeling of grandeur, clearly conveying that the white-tie event in question is of utmost prestige.

In other words, this is the event for which you should go the extra mile.

Gentlemen who don’t own anything white-tie-appropriate should look into wedding tux rentals to ensure they uphold the standards of the most formal of dress codes (also known as full evening dress) and don’t appear underdressed.

Appropriate Occasions for White Tie

As the name suggests, a white-tie event is a formal event that requires participants to adhere to the white-tie dress code. The beauty of such an event lies in its rarity and exclusivity. Calling such an event a formal event is nothing but an understatement. Discover some of the specific events that call for a white-tie dress code below:

  • The International Debutante Ball (New York City)
  • The Gridiron Club annual dinner (Washington, D.C.)
  • The Vienna Opera Ball (Vienna, Austria)
  • The Nobel Banquet (Stockholm, Sweden)
  • The State Banquet at Buckingham Palace (London, the U.K.)
  • The MET Gala (New York City)

Other non-specific white-tie events include occasions like an inauguration ball, the opening night of an opera, a state dinner, a formal ball or gala, and a wedding.

The Significance and Etiquette of White-Tie Events

A white-tie event is much more than just dressing up and looking elegant. Its significance stems from its historical origin and a desire to honor the occasion appropriately. For this reason, the etiquette of white-tie events like state dinners goes far beyond the outfit. It also includes observing formal protocols and showcasing impeccable manners.

Expectations at a White-Tie Dinner/Party

If the invitation features the words “white-tie dress code,” you can expect a formal event far beyond a typical dinner gathering.

This type of white-tie event usually takes place at a lavish venue where every detail has been meticulously planned. Naturally, the dinner guests are expected to wear white-tie attire. A white-tie dinner is typically a multi-course affair and features some type of entertainment during the evening.

White-Tie Attire and Dress Code

Black tuxedo with white vest

After all the talk about the white-tie dress code, let’s see what this attire actually entails.

Men’s White-tie Dress Code

Let’s say you’ve been invited to an event with the white-tie dress code. If you don’t often wear white-tie attire (which most people can relate to), you might start panicking. But there’s no need for this. With our guide to white-tie attire and the breakdown of its elements below, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the intricacies of this dress code.

Men’s white-tie attire should include the following elements:

  • An evening tailcoat (or a dress coat) with peaked lapels
  • Full-dress trousers
  • A full-dress white shirt
  • A full-dress white bow tie
  • A waistcoat
  • Patent leather shoes or Oxfords
  • Full-dress jewelry (shirt and waistcoat studs and cufflinks)
  • Optional accessories (a pocket watch, a boutonniere, gloves, and a top hat)

Standards of a White-Tie Event Dress Code

A white-tie event requires the most formal dress code—the white tie—with no leeway involved. Let’s say you’ve got invited to a wedding with a semi-formal dress code. In that case, you could choose from a wide range of semi-formal wedding attire for men, including suits, dress shirts, and ties.

With a white-tie dress code, however, every aspect of your attire is already meticulously prescribed. You’re expected to adhere to these strict rules to a tee.

Women’s White-Tie Attire

Although the term “white tie” primarily refers to men’s attire, women who attend white-tie events are also expected to dress glamorously. Luckily, the rules for women aren’t as stringent as those for men. These are the elements of the white-tie attire women need:

  • A floor-length evening gown
  • A clutch bag
  • Formal accessories
  • Elbow-length gloves (optional but highly stylish)
  • Patent leather shoes or metallic heels

Assembling a White-Tie Outfit

black tuxedo and accessories

Now that you know which elements your white-tie outfit should entail, let’s see how to assemble them for a sophisticated look.

Building a White-Tie Ensemble

Being expected to wear white-tie attire can be daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. But follow this step-by-step guide, and you’ll build a white-tie outfit worthy of even the grandest occasions.

  1. A full-dress shirt. Wear a white shirt (boiled front shirt) distinguished by its high collar with folded wings. This collar will keep your bow tie perfectly in place. Combine it with plain linen or cotton barrel cuffs, extending them beyond the tailcoat sleeves.
  2. Bow tie. The bow tie should be white and semi-butterfly or batwing-shaped. Avoid letting its band show above your collar.
  3. Waistcoat. Your waistcoat should be long enough to cover the waistband yet never extend below the tailcoat’s front.
  4. Full-dress trousers. Your trousers should be of the same fabric as your tailcoat, cut with a high rise, and held by suspenders.
  5. An evening tailcoat. This garment is typically double-breasted and features two “tails” and silk-faced lapels. It should fit your torso snugly and be either black or midnight blue.
  6. Footwear. Choose elegant shoes like whole-cut patent leather or polished calfskin Oxfords. If you choose the latter ones, add evening shoelaces matching your lapel facings.
  7. Accessories. Ideally, your white-tie jewelry should be two things – expensive and discreet. We suggest wearing pearl shirt studs, a pocket watch with a fob, a pocket square, and a boutonniere. Traditionally, the pocket square should have rolled edges, and the boutonniere should be a white carnation. To go all out, top off your ensemble with a traditional black top hat.

White-Tie Tuxedo Styling

If you’re to wear white-tie attire, you should only wear a tuxedo tailcoat. The “regular” tuxedo is reserved for black-tie events. A tuxedo tailcoat should have peaked lapels and go over a tuxedo shirt with cufflinks. Finish off the styling with a white bow tie (never a necktie!), and you’re good to go.

Dressing for a White-Tie Wedding

A man tying his shoes

Sticking to the dress code mentioned in the invitation is arguably the most important aspect of being a respectful wedding guest. If the invitation states “white tie,” you undoubtedly have your work cut out for you. But this doesn’t mean you should give up. Read on to learn how to dress for a white-tie wedding.

Navigating a White-Tie Wedding

If you’re attending a white-tie wedding and panicking about your attire, we’ve got good news. The attire for a white-tie wedding is the same as for any other white-tie event. Sure, this usually doesn’t make the requirements for this type of attire any less strict. Still, at least you don’t have to worry about deciphering a separate dress code.

In other words, you should wear a black tailcoat with full-dress trousers, a formal shirt with a white bow tie, and a pique waistcoat underneath. Note that modern interpretations of white tie do allow for some leniency. But of course, consult the bride and groom before straying from the norm.

So, what kind of changes are we talking about?

Well, it’s still white tie, so don’t expect anything too drastic. You might be able to wear a traditional tuxedo instead of a tailcoat, add some personal touches like a colorful bow tie, and that’s about it.

Women’s Attire for a White-Tie Wedding

Women’s attire for a white-tie wedding doesn’t involve dozens of elements. That’s why it’s even more important to get the few expectations from your outfit right.

Though there might be some variations in the style of your dress, one thing remains the same – it must be a floor-length dress. Your ankles should never be showing at a white-tie event, so it goes without saying that a short dress isn’t acceptable for a white-tie wedding. Your dress can have bare shoulders, but they should be covered during dinner.

Unlike men, you don’t have to wear all-black, but a black dress is always a timeless choice. You can go for another color, of course. Just make sure it’s elegant and not too “loud.” Always go for a dressy fabric like satin, lace, or tulle.

Gloves (white or ivory) are optional. Still, they add a touch of vintage elegance to any outfit, so we always recommend them. Finish off your outfit with a small clutch bag and some tasteful jewelry, preferably pearls or diamonds, and you are white-tie-wedding-ready!

Avoiding Common Mistakes

There’s no doubt about it – white tie is a rigorous dress code. This dress code demands wearing quite a few pre-determined elements in a particular way, so it takes little to get it wrong. Since the event must be very important to require such high standards, you’ll probably want to avoid any mistakes.

So, now that you know what to wear to a white-tie event let’s go over what not to wear. Here are some common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Wearing slippers (no matter how dressy they are!)
  • Putting on boutonnieres made of artificial flowers
  • Wearing a necktie (or no tie at all)
  • Wearing a regular suit
  • Wearing a black instead of a white shirt (don’t be like Jake Gyllenhaal at the 2014 MET gala!)
  • Including a wristwatch in your outfit
  • Having shoes with white soles
  • Wearing a cummerbund

Since less is demanded from women attending white-tie events, they are at a lower risk of making a faux pas. Generally speaking, just avoid showing your ankles and over-accessorizing, and there’s nothing to worry about.

Comparing White Tie With Other Dress Codes

A man in a black tuxedo

We’ve seen how white tie fares on its own. But what about when compared to other types of dress codes? Let’s find out.

Black Tie vs. White Tie

The black-tie dress code is undoubtedly more common than white tie. Since it’s also highly formal, it isn’t surprising many people believe it to be the epitome of formal fashion. But, as we know it by now, this is far from the truth. There’s only one winner in the black-tie vs. white-tie attire when it comes to the level of formality, and it’s the latter. In fact, Gentleman’s Gazette jokingly refers to white tie as “the bigger brother of black tie.”

Though still formal, the black tie dress code does provide some leeway. For instance, you can swap the traditional black bow tie with a more colorful one to show off your unique personality. Interestingly, the black bow tie is one of the differing elements in the white tie vs. black tie attire requirements. Other major differences include a tuxedo jacket instead of a tailcoat and a pleated dress shirt rather than a wing-collared one.

White Tie vs. Casual Attire

Make no mistake – if a spectrum of dress codes existed, white tie and casual attire would probably be on opposite ends. After all, a casual dress code is all about dressing informally and comfortably, none of which applies to white-tie ensembles. Unsurprisingly, casual attire includes elements that shouldn’t be seen even near a white-tie event, such as plain T-shirts and button-downs, khakis, and cargo shorts.

White Tie vs. Semi-Formal/Business Attire

Though more formal than casual attire, the semi-formal dress code can’t come close to the level of formality expected for a white-tie event.

Let’s say you’re going to a semi-formal wedding. If you’re a woman, you might wear a cocktail dress or the famed “little black dress,” none of which could fly at a white-tie wedding. As for men, the cocktail attire for men at these weddings might include a dark business suit with a matching vest and a tie. Again, all these elements are in the “forbidden” section for a white-tie event.

Master the White Tie Effortlessly

A man strutting in black tuxedo

Let’s not sugarcoat it – the white-tie dress code is unbelievably demanding. But with this complete guide to white-tie attire, you should conquer this dress code with ease.

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