White Tie Dress Code | What to Wear to the Most Formal Events

white tie dress code for formal events

Written by Tanya Zhang

 

What is White Tie Attire?

There are few dress codes that embody the pinnacle of elegance and sophistication quite like white tie attire. Revered for its regal charm and strict adherence to tradition, the white tie dress code sets the stage for grand occasions and exclusive gatherings, where each attendee strives to make the utmost impression.

Unlike its formal counterparts like black tie, black tie optional or creative black tie, and semi-formal attire, white tie attire is reserved for the most formal of occasions, demanding the utmost level of formality full dress, and decorum. Typically worn in the evening, it is often associated with events of exceptional significance, such as state dinners, royal receptions, diplomatic galas, high-profile award ceremonies, and prestigious cultural soirées.

(President John F. Kennedy, wearing white tie for an inaugural ball held on the evening of Inauguration Day, 20 January 1961.)

Embracing the white tie dress code requires a keen eye for detail and adherence to certain conventions. The ensemble typically consists of a tailcoat, a white bow tie, a stiff-fronted wing collar shirt, high-waisted trousers, and patent leather Oxford shoes.

White tie attire represents the epitome of formal dress, embodying timeless sophistication and aristocratic style. Reserved for the most prestigious of events, it showcases the commitment to tradition and attention to detail that defines an individual's refined taste.

Whether gracing the halls of power or dazzling on the grandest stages, white tie attire endows its wearer with an unparalleled aura of distinction and grandeur. We will break down how to wear white tie in this article. So keep reading!

 white tie dress code attire for men visual outfit infographic

The Essential White Tie Outfit for Men

The white tie dress codes for men comprise a specific ensemble that is meticulously tailored and designed to exude elegance and formality. We'll go into each component in detail below but, first, here is a high-level breakdown of the key elements:

 

  • Tailcoat: The tailcoat is the centerpiece of the white tie attire. It is a black, single-breasted coat with a sharply cutaway front that reveals the contrasting white waistcoat beneath.

  • Waistcoat: The waistcoat, also known as a vest, is traditionally made of white piqué fabric. It is worn underneath the tailcoat and covers the waistband of the trousers.

  • Formal Shirt: A white wing collar shirt is a crucial component of white tie attire. The wing collar features standing wing-like extensions that fold down and frame the bow tie.

  • Bow Tie: The bow tie worn with white tie attire is a large, white, self-tied bow tie. It is made of silk or cotton piqué fabric and should be properly tied with a butterfly shape.

  • Trousers: The trousers for white tie event are high-waisted and often made of black wool or barathea fabric. They have a double stripe of satin or silk running down the outer seam.

  • Footwear: Black patent leather Oxford shoes are the traditional choice for white tie attire. They feature a highly polished, glossy finish and a closed lacing system.


  • Accessories: Other accessories that complement the white tie ensemble include black silk socks, white gloves made of cotton or silk, and a white pocket square. Cufflinks, preferably in silver or gold, can add a touch of personal style.

cuff links accessories for white tie dress code

Remember, precise measurements and impeccable tailoring are essential to achieving the desired fit and silhouette for each element of the white tie ensemble. The aim is to create a cohesive and polished look that adheres to the highest standards of formal elegance.

 

Wear a Black Tail Coat

The tailcoat, also known as the evening tailcoat or full evening dress coat, is a key component of the white tie dress code. It is a black, single-breasted coat with a distinctive cutaway front.

The front edges of the coat curve gracefully upward, revealing the contrasting white waistcoat underneath. The tailcoat's construction allows for ease of movement and adds a touch of regality to the ensemble.

The length of the tailcoat is a distinguishing feature. It typically extends to the back of the knees, gracefully draping down the lower legs. The precise length can vary based on personal preference and tailoring, but it should maintain an elegant proportion. The longer tail at the back of the coat creates a sense of formality and drama, adding to the overall aesthetic of the ensemble.

The lapels of the tailcoat are often faced with satin or grosgrain silk, providing a subtle sheen and contrast against the black fabric. The peak lapels are traditionally the preferred choice, featuring an upward point where the lapel meets the collar. The peak lapels contribute to the angular lines of the coat, accentuating a sleek and tailored silhouette.

 

Pair with a White Waistcoat

The waistcoat, also known as a vest, is traditionally made of white piqué fabric. It is worn underneath the tailcoat and serves as a visible layer that covers the waistband of the trousers.

The waistcoat's purpose is twofold: it adds contrast to the black tailcoat and provides a polished finishing touch to the overall look.

The waistcoat is typically single-breasted and has a high-stand collar that rises just above the bottom edge of the tailcoat's lapels. It is designed to create a seamless transition from the shirt's wing collar to the collar of the tailcoat. The waistcoat's collar adds a touch of formality and frames the neck area elegantly.

The waistcoat's front is usually full-buttoned, with a row of fabric-covered buttons running vertically down the center. The number of buttons can vary, but typically there are three or four visible buttons.

The waistcoat's purpose is not only aesthetic but also functional. It helps to anchor the shirt and keeps it neatly in place, ensuring a well-groomed appearance throughout the event.

Additionally, the waistcoat adds an extra layer of warmth and comfort to formal wear, especially during formal occasions held in colder environments.

 

Pair with Wingtip or Wing Collar Dress Shirt

The shirt for white tie dress code is typically a crisp, white wing collar shirt. This white dress shirt with a wing collar is characterized by its distinctive standing wing-like extensions that fold down and frame the bow tie. This collar style is specifically designed to accommodate the bow tie's knot and create a clean, polished look.

The white shirt is commonly made of high-quality cotton or linen fabric, chosen for its breathability and comfort. The fabric should have a smooth and refined texture, reflecting the attention to detail in formal attire.

The front of the shirt features a bib, which is a stiff and structured panel of fabric. The bib can have a pleated or piqué design, adding texture and visual interest to the shirt. It is customary for the bib to be either plain or subtly patterned, such as with a woven texture or discreet stripes.

The shirt is usually fastened with shirt studs instead of buttons. Shirt studs are typically made of precious metals like silver or gold and are designed to complement the formality of the ensemble. They are inserted into small holes on the shirt's bib, providing a secure and polished closure.

Cuffs on the white tie shirt are typically French cuffs, also known as double cuffs. French cuffs are longer than regular cuffs and are folded back on themselves. This design allows for the use of cufflinks, which are essential accessories in white tie attire. Cufflinks can be made of various materials, such as precious metals or gemstones, adding a touch of personal style and elegance.

 

Add a Bow Tie

The bow tie worn with white tie attire is typically a large, self-tied bow tie. It is made of white silk or cotton piqué fabric to match the formality of the ensemble.

Unlike pre-tied bow ties, self-tied ones are favored in white tie dress code as they demonstrate a higher level of sartorial expertise and attention to detail. Here's a whole guide on how to tie a bow tie for men.

The self-tied bow tie should be properly tied into a butterfly shape, with symmetrical loops and a central knot. It is crucial to ensure that the bow tie is well-proportioned and balanced, with the loops neither too large nor too small. The goal is to create a refined and polished look that complements the overall ensemble.

 

Pair the Right Trousers for Appropriate attire

Trousers are typically high-waisted and made of black wool or barathea fabric. They are tailored to have a clean and streamlined appearance, with a close fit through the hips and thighs.

One distinguishing feature of white tie trousers is the presence of a double stripe of satin or silk running down the outer seam of each leg. The stripe is usually in a contrasting color such as black or midnight blue and adds a touch of sophistication and formality to the trousers.

The trousers are designed to be worn with suspenders, also known as braces, instead of a belt. Suspenders ensure a smooth and seamless waistline, free from the interruption of a belt buckle. This detail contributes to the overall polished look of white tie attire. Here's a guide on how to wear suspenders for men.

The length of the trousers is important to achieve the desired aesthetic. They should be tailored to have a slight break or no break at all, meaning the hem of the trousers should rest lightly on the top of the shoes without bunching up excessively.

In terms of style, white tie trousers typically have a flat front without pleats for a clean and tailored appearance. They may have slanted pockets at the sides and jetted pockets at the back, although these details may vary based on personal preference and tailoring traditions.

 

The Right Shoes for White Tie Dress Codes

The traditional choice for white tie attire is black patent leather Oxford shoes. These shoes have a highly polished, glossy finish that adds a touch of elegance to the ensemble. The patent leather's shine complements the formality of the overall outfit and creates a sleek and refined appearance.

black oxford shoes for men

Oxford shoes are characterized by their closed lacing system, where black laces from the shoe's quarters are stitched on top of the vamp. This design detail provides a clean and streamlined look, perfect for formal occasions.

The shape of the shoe should be sleek and minimalistic, with a rounded or slightly tapered toe. Avoid shoes with excessive ornamentation or bulky designs, as they can detract from the formal aesthetic of white tie attire.

Black silk socks are typically worn and should be long enough to cover the calf and should be made of a fine, lightweight silk fabric. They should match the color of the shoes, maintaining a cohesive and polished appearance.

 

Accessories to Wear for this Formal Dress Code

Accessories play a significant role in completing the white tie attire and adding personal touches to the overall ensemble. Here's some information about accessories for white tie dress code:

  1. Gloves: Traditionally, white cotton or silk gloves were worn with white tie attire, particularly during formal events and in colder weather. However, wearing gloves is now considered more optional and dependent on personal preference and the specific event.

  2. Tie: A white bow tie is the traditional choice for white tie dress codes. It harmonizes with the white waistcoat and maintains a cohesive and formal look. The white bow tie should be self-tied and made of silk or cotton piqué fabric.

  3. Pocket Square: A white linen or silk pocket square is an optional accessory that can add a touch of sophistication and elegance. When folded and placed in the breast pocket of the tailcoat, it provides a subtle and tasteful detail.

  4. Cufflinks: Cufflinks are an essential accessory for white tie attire, as the shirt typically features French cuffs. They add a touch of personal style and refinement to the ensemble. 

  5. Studs and Waistcoat Buttons: For a white tie event, shirt studs replace buttons on the shirt's bib. These studs are typically made of precious metals and should match the overall aesthetic of the ensemble.

  6. Watch and Jewelry: A classic, understated wristwatch can be worn as a functional accessory. Keep it minimal and discreet.

 

Traditional White Tie Occasions

White tie events encompass a wide range of occasions, each carrying its own significance and justifying the strict white tie dress code. Let's delve into the different types of events and understand why they demand the most formal attire:

formal events for white tie dress code

  1. State Dinners and Diplomatic Receptions: State dinners are hosted by heads of state or government, often in honor of visiting dignitaries or foreign leaders. White tie attire underscores the importance of diplomacy, symbolizing respect, honor, and the gravity of diplomatic relations.

  2. Royal Functions and Ceremonies: Royal weddings, coronations, investitures, and other ceremonial events associated with royalty uphold centuries-old traditions and historical continuity. The formal dress code pays homage to a rich heritage and underscores the magnificence of these momentous events.

  3. High-Profile Award Ceremonies: Academy Awards, Nobel Prize Banquets, and other esteemed award ceremonies honor outstanding achievements in various fields. By adhering to the most formal dress code, these events elevate the glamour and prestige associated with the accolades being presented.

  4. Opera Premieres and Cultural Galas: These formal occasions unite the world's elite to celebrate artistic brilliance and cultural heritage. The white tie dress code at these events represents a fusion of elegance and refined aesthetics and pays homage to the historical connection between fine arts and aristocracy.

  5. Charity Balls and Fundraisers: White tie attire is often required at exclusive formal gatherings like charity balls, debutante balls, and high-end fundraisers. These events aim to raise funds for noble causes and philanthropic endeavors. By enforcing a white-tie dress code, organizers create an ambiance of luxury and exclusivity.

The white tie dress code aligns with events of significant societal, diplomatic, or cultural importance. It adds an air of formality and reverence to these occasions, showcasing respect for tradition, recognizing excellence, and underscoring the grandeur associated with high-profile gatherings.

 

Women's White Tie Outfits

For women's white tie attire, a floor-length formal gown is typically the appropriate choice. The gown should be crafted from luxurious fabrics such as silk or satin, and can feature intricate details like beading or embroidery.

The silhouette is typically elegant and fitted at the bodice, with a full skirt that cascades gracefully to the floor. Accessories such as long gloves, statement jewelry, and a small clutch complement the ensemble, while hairstyles are often sophisticated and swept up.

The emphasis is on a timeless and glamorous look that exudes elegance and complements the formality of the occasion.

 

What to Wear to a White Tie Wedding

white tie dress code for wedding event

For a white tie event like a wedding, men should opt for a black tailcoat with peak lapels, paired with a crisp white wing collar shirt, white piqué waistcoat, and black patent leather Oxford shoes.

Here's a separate guide for what to wear to a black tie wedding.

The ensemble is completed with a self-tied white bow tie, black trousers with silk side stripes, and black silk socks. Women should choose a floor-length formal gown made of luxurious fabrics, with elegant details and a flattering silhouette.

Accessorize with statement jewelry, long gloves, and a small clutch, while hairstyles can be sophisticated and swept up. The attire for a white tie wedding should exude timeless elegance and align with the formality of the occasion.

 

Black Tie vs White Tie

tuxedo and bowtie for black tie dress code

Black tie attire and white tie evening dress code are two distinct formal dress codes with specific requirements. A black tie event usually calls for "dinner jacket" or "tuxedo" attire.

Black tie attire entails wearing a black tuxedo jacket with satin lapels, matching trousers with a silk stripe, a formal white dress shirt, and a black bow tie. Black patent leather shoes and black socks complete the ensemble.

Black tie allows for more variations in jacket styles and accessories, allowing individuals to express their personal style within the boundaries of formal elegance.

In contrast, white tie is the most formal dress code, reserved for the most prestigious and traditional occasions. It demands the highest level of formality and adherence to tradition.

White tie represents a timeless and highly ceremonial style, evoking a sense of regal elegance and sophistication.

 

Frequently asked questions about white tie attire

What is white tie dress code?

White tie dress code is the most formal and prestigious attire, characterized by men wearing a black tailcoat with peak lapels, white wing collar shirt, white piqué waistcoat, black trousers with silk side stripes, black patent leather shoes, and a white bow tie, while women opt for floor-length formal gowns made of luxurious fabrics, often paired with gloves and statement jewelry, exuding timeless elegance and formality.

 

What is the difference in white tie and black tie?

The main difference between white and black tie occasions, and black tie is that white tie is the most formal dress code, requiring a black tailcoat for men and floor-length formal gowns for women, while black tie is a slightly less formal dress code, allowing for a black tuxedo for men and formal evening gowns or cocktail dresses for women.

 

Do you have to wear tails with white tie?

Yes, wearing tails is an essential requirement for white tie attire. The black tailcoat is a key component of the formal ensemble, distinguishing it from other dress codes and adding to the traditional and prestigious nature of white tie.

 

Does anyone wear white tie anymore?

While white tie attire is less commonly worn in contemporary settings, it is still observed at certain formal and ceremonial events, such as state dinners, royal affairs, and exclusive galas that adhere to traditional dress codes.

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