the rules for decoded black and white tie events

the rules for decoded black and white tie events

    (REUTERS)

(REUTERS)

Dressing up for a party in a black or white tie can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a wardrobe minefield.

How long or short should you go with your dress? What style of jacket should you wear? What exactly is the difference between a black tie and a white tie?

As you’ve probably seen from watching period dramas, evening dress has been popular for centuries, but black and white tie dress codes first came into effect in the Edwardian era, when the practice of wearing a waistcoat and Black bow tie with a dinner jacket became the standard look after dark.

Stars Reunite on Red Carpet for 'No Time To Die' Premiere, 2021 (PA Wire)

Stars Reunite on Red Carpet for ‘No Time To Die’ Premiere, 2021 (PA Wire)

But what are the rules of the black and white tie dress code? To keep you from turning your head for the wrong reason, we’ve put together a complete guide for men and women – with some shopping ideas too.

What is a black tie dress code for men?

According to Debrett’s Etiquette Guide, a true men’s black tie outfit will feature a jacket made from barathea (a super soft fabric of silk, wool and cotton) or ultra-thin herringbone.

The jacket should be double-breasted or double-breasted with pointed silk lapels (or shawl collar) and covered buttons.

White jackets have also traditionally been used for black tie in hot climates, but generally not in Britain.

Channing Tatum at the Met Gala, 2021 (Getty Images for The Met Museum/)

Channing Tatum at the Met Gala, 2021 (Getty Images for The Met Museum/)

The traditional black tie also features a white nightshirt in Marcella, a slightly stiffer cotton fabric, with a bib detail and double cuffs. The shirt must have a turned-down collar (not a wing collar) and must be worn with cufflinks.

Black tie pants should be sleek with a natural taper and (if you’re a real black tie purist) a single row of braids on the outside of each leg.

As for the black lace itself? Debrett’s advises men to choose one that is proportionate to their head size, to avoid a comedic clown look. A man’s black tie look is usually finished off with a white scarf in the left breast pocket and polished black shoes.

Optional black tie costume pieces include cummerbunds and vests – though the two should never be worn together.

What is a black tie dress code for women?

Women tend to be more flexible with a black tie dress code, though Debrett’s advises ladies to avoid “tight ‘red carpet’ dresses” or “those with a dramatic parting as they can be uncomfortable or inappropriate in a formal event that involves both a reception and a seated dinner.”

A dress can be long or knee-length, but not shorter, and should reveal just a little cleavage. Pants are another acceptable option for women, but Debrett’s recommends a palazzo cut rather than something very tight.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend the Royal Variety Performance, 2021 (Getty Images)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend the Royal Variety Performance, 2021 (Getty Images)

Jewelry or simple bracelets and necklaces are more appropriate rather than anything too flashy (which is apparently reserved for white tie).

Tiaras are also apparently a no-no to a black tie (although this is probably not an issue for most of us). Although the dress code is ‘black tie’, dresses do not have to be black unless explicitly stated on the invitation.

What is a white tie dress code for men?

The white tie is known as a ‘full evening dress’, ‘full dress’, ‘evening dress’ or, informally, as a ‘tail’.

Before WWII it was the regular evening dress for gentlemen. Today, a white tie dress code is typically reserved for presidential dinners, state dinners with royalty, and events like Le Bal Des Debutantes in Paris.

Tom Hiddleston attends the Met Gala, 2016 (Getty Images)

Tom Hiddleston attends the Met Gala, 2016 (Getty Images)

As one of the rarest dress codes you’ll see on an invite, even celebrities struggle to get the look right. Anna Wintour revealed that many of her male guests at the 2014 Met Gala barely survived as they were required to wear white ties that year. Speaking on Late Night with Seth Meyers, she said she “had no idea how much panic [the dress code] would make men in New York and around the world think about their clothes.”

Benedict Cumberbatch that year “hit it right” according to Wintour, and helped get Cumberbatch joined by designer Tom Ford. Ford, who donned many male stars that night, reportedly told Wintour in an email that he had “hundreds of men coming in and asking him to explain what white tie meant” that year.

Unlike the black tie, there is very little room for style maneuvering as a white tie dress code comes with strict guidelines. Men should ensure that their outfit includes a black tailcoat made of black wool (barathea) or ultra-fine herringbone with silk lapels, which is worn unbuttoned.

Tom Ford and Benedict Cumberbatch attend the 2014 Met Gala

Tom Ford and Benedict Cumberbatch attend the 2014 Met Gala

The coat is shorter in the front than a morning coat and pairs with black pants with a natural taper and two rows of braids on the outside leg.

The white tie shirt is in Marcella with a starched detachable wing collar and double cufflinks. The shirt will usually be closed with studs rather than buttons.

The shirt is then worn under a low-cut white Marcella night vest (double or single chest). To complete your white tie look, wear a thin, white hand-tied bow tie.

Put your best foot (Fred Astaire) in black lace-up shoes, worn with black laces (although if you want something really traditional, it’s black ribbon) and black socks. And if you really want to get into Downton Abbey territory, you can also add a black top hat, a black overcoat and a white silk scarf.

What is a white tie dress code for women?

White tie rules for women are less strict, but the main requirement is a ball gown or full-length dress. According to Debrett, a ‘good’ ball gown design will feature a fitted bodice with a full skirt that reaches the floor.

Lady Gaga at the 2019 Oscars (Getty Images)

Lady Gaga at the 2019 Oscars (Getty Images)

Traditionally, long gloves are also worn by women at white tie balls, but over time they became less mandatory. Gloves should be worn upon arrival at an event or in the reception queue (shaking the host’s hand) and dancing, but should be taken off when eating and at the dinner table – no one likes spilling red wine.

buy the look

black tie for men

Mr. P

    (Mister Porter)

(Mister Porter)

Mr P, Shawl-Collar Tuxedo Jacket, £375, mrporter.com

Mr. P

    (Mister Porter)

(Mister Porter)

Mr P, Slim-Fit Tuxedo Pants, £195, mrporter.com

Ralph Lauren

    (Ralf Lauren)

(Ralf Lauren)

Ralph Lauren, poplin tuxedo shirt, £380, ralphlauren.co.uk

Hugo Boss

    (Hugo Chief)

(Hugo Chief)

Hugo Boss bow tie and Cummerbund set in jacquard silk, £139, hugoboss.com

Gucci

    (Gucci)

(Gucci)

Gucci, Fleece Fleece Evening Jacket, £2,200, gucci.com

jaeger

    (Jaeger)

(Jaeger)

Jaeger, Tailored fit tuxedo jacket, £250, jaeger.co.uk

jaeger

    (Jaeger)

(Jaeger)

Jaeger, Tuxedo Tailored Fit Pants, £129, jaeger.co.uk

black tie for women

The Vampire’s Wife

    (The Vampire's Wife)

(The Vampire’s Wife)

The Vampire’s Wife, The Falconetti Dress, £1595, thevampireswife.com

Zara

    (Zara)

(Zara)

Zara, Satin Sweater Dress, €32.99, zara.com

Jenny Yoo

    (JENNY YOO)

(JENNY YOO)

Jenny Yoo, off-the-shoulder velvet maxi dress Issa, £330, selfridges.com

Kurt Geiger

    (Kurt Geiger)

(Kurt Geiger)

Kurt Geiger, Alexa Heels, £99, kurtgeiger.com

white tie for men

money changers

    (Calpers)

(Calpers)

Scalpers, white tie jacket, £749, scalperscompany.com

Russell & Bromley

    (Russell and Bromley)

(Russell and Bromley)

Russell & Bromley, Sinatra Patent Derby Lace-Up shoes, £225, russellandbromley.com

Lanvin

    (Lanvin)

(Lanvin)

Lanvin, gold-plated cufflinks, £250, mrporter.com

Moss Bros

    (Moss Brothers)

(Moss Brothers)

Moss Bros, Marcella white bow tie, £20, moss.co.uk

kingsman

    (King)

(King)

Kingsman, wing-neck cotton shirt with piqué panels, £325, mrporter.com

white tie for women

Emilia Wickstead

    (Emilia Wickstead)

(Emilia Wickstead)

Emilia Wickstead, Layne Metallic-Jacquard Sleeveless Dress, £2395, matchfashion.com

Benedetta Bruzziches

    (Benedetta Bruzziches)

(Benedetta Bruzziches)

Benedetta Bruzziches, Venus La Grande Clutch, £730, selfridges.com

Coast

    (Coast)

(Coast)

Coast, maxi dress tulle skirt and sequined bodice, £239.20, coastfashion.com

Jimmy Choo

    (Jimmy Choo)

(Jimmy Choo)

Jimmy Choo, Sacora 100 Faux-Pearl Tule Sandals, £650, matchfashion.com

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