White Tie – a Mayfair sartorial staple
By Eric Hewitson
Despite the vicissitudes, fads and fancies of fashion, White Tie as defined in Regency Mayfair, remains the non plus ultra of formal evening dress for gentleman of substance globally…and it all began with a Mayfair Dandy by the name of George Beau Brummell 1778-1840 who boldly declared that men looked ridiculous in velvet breeches and lace flounces, thereby beginning a sartorial revolution that continues to define and inform gentleman’s attire to this day.
The central components of white tie
(also referred to as full evening dress) for men are as follows:
- white marcella shirt with detachable wing collar and double cuffs,
- shirt studs and cufflinks,
- white marcella bow tie,
- low-cut marcella waistcoat
- black single-breasted barathea wool or ultrafine herringbone tailcoat with silk peak lapels.
- black trousers, double-braiding down the outside of both legs,
- patent leather or highly polished black dress shoes.
- a white scarf remains acceptable in winter, the traditional
- white gloves,
- top hats,
The centre of this sartorial revolution took place in Mayfair and St James’s and George “Beau” Brummell is honoured by a bronze statue which states, “to be truly elegant one should not be noticed”
Slightly cheeky given his own exhaustive pursuit of celebrity, but true n’air the less.
Any gentleman worth their Nolet’s Reserve Dry Gin martini knows the waistcoat should not be visible below the front of the tailcoat. Trousers should be worn unfashionably high with braces rather than a belt. One theory is one should only ever see black and white not black, white and black again. The jury is out on whether white tie should be double cuffs for shirts or single cuffs but it is a must to have cuff links and pearl ones are usually favourably noted.
Debrett’s are not that keen on accessories but Mayfair Eccentrics recommend a top hat, an opera cloak and a silver-topped cane in the shape of a duck or rabbit. On occassions you may find an invite to a white tie event may allow for national costume as a substitute for white tie. Unless you are Scottish, and fully sporraned, be very wary of this.
The tailcoat as the name would suggest has a long flowing back to just below the knees with the look of a waist-coat at the front. It’s best to stick with black though Brummell and those with nerve may try midnight-blue. It is of course better if you have a Mayfair bespoke tailor to fit the tailcoat perfectly to the form. Both sleeves and collar should have three quarters of an inch of cuff and shirt collar showing. The satin peaked lapels along with six satin buttons at the front and two at the back.
The trousers, from the same material as the tailcoat, should be pressed with a single crease, cuff-less and may have a lengthwise satin stripe or two on the sides.
The Marcella Waistcoat
The Marcella waistcoat is the traditional white tie choice. The backless waistcoat should come with adjustable straps and removable Mother of Pearl buttons and should not extend below the waistcoat.
The Right Dress Shirt
The Marcella shirt should feature a wing collar, double cuffs and mother of pearl buttons on a removable ribbon. It is traditional to have a well-starched button on collar.
The White Tie
The white bow tie should match the fabric of the waistcoat. Under no circumstances consider anything other than a self-tied bow tie. Shocking that we have had to say it but you would be surprised.
Shoes must be black in colour and must have a high gloss polish. Most common are pumps or plain-toed oxfords in patent leather or high-gloss polished calf leather.
White Tie Accessories
There are several popular optional accessories chosen for white tie functions: a fob watch and chain always looks handsome as do white leather gloves made from finest kid leather. A white linen pocket square also gives a finishing flourish as does a white flower button hole.
5 White Tie Tailors in Mayfair
Five of the best bespoke tailors to accommodate your every sartorial need:
and one for luck…
White Tie for Girls
By Tyne O’Connell
This photograph of me feeding my Buff Orpington Nancy with a caviar spoon whilst wearing full White Tie, brings back magical memories. White Tie is the acme of formal attire and for women it means full-length ballgowns and long white kid skin gloves over the elbow that are not to removed just as chaps in White Tie cannot remove their tails.
This photograph of me feeding my Buff Orpington Nancy with my caviar spoon whilst wearing full White Tie, brings back magical memories. White Tie is the non plus ultra of formal attire and for women it means full-length #ballgowns & long white kid skin gloves over the elbow that are not to removed just as chaps in White Tie cannot remove their tails.
However the long kidskin gloves unbutton at the wrist to enable women to slip their hands out for eating. The upside of this is that you can wear magnificent rings over your gloves and lashings of Chaumet jewellery including a Bentley & Skinner tiara for married women. But only real tiaras – not faux. Costume jewellery has its place but not at a white tie function. If you haven’t a real tiara, have your hair dressed or wear a wig. No one wants glue or clips of hair extensions besmirching the magical splendour of a white tie event.
White Tie brings a thrilling sense of occasion nothing else can match and as I age and infirmity limits my ability to attend white tie events, I frequently waft about my flat in full ball gown splendour to read poetry or drink tea or write.
If I pass on any advice it is grab every chance to attend a white tie function. Nothing beats white tie for occasion. It is quite simply magical…no memory is as vivid as those you experience in White-Tie.