The dinner suits and ‘black tie’ events that we know now are our smartest and most formal way of dressing and celebrating in style. Whether it be a work’s party, presentation evening, wedding or the most prestigious event you have ever been to.
Or is it?
The ‘black tie’ consists of the traditional black jacket, trousers with or without a satin stripe, black waistcoat, wing collar shirt, black bow tie and patent shoes.
This however is the ‘informal’ version of ‘White Tie’.
White Tie was and still is used for those events that were not to be topped by anything else. There is a strict dress code that cannot be undermined. It is not to be worn before 6.00pm; however sometimes if it went dark first there could be a slight change on the time.
Men were to wear black or midnight blue dress coats, or more commonly known as tail coats. With trousers of matching fabric with one wide stipe or two narrow stripes of satin. A white and plain stiff fronted shirt and a white wing collar (preferably detachable) however most now are just attached and are a whole shirt. A white bow-tie is worn, with a white waistcoat, black silk socks or stockings and black court shoes.
The ‘Black Tie’ and its black waistcoats, bow ties and the choice of trousers with or without satin stripes were joined by the more casual ‘Dinner Jacket’. No top and tails now…
Where did the Satin and Top and Tails come from?
The Tailcoat was designed with a cutaway at the front to only leave the long back hanging down, giving the ‘tails’.
The dress coat and the morning coat are the two surviving tail coats, both used throughout history for prestigious occasions and to emphasise the fashion and importance of an event.
The dress coat was generally worn to these events, and only worn in the evening. The morning coat was a principal item with morning dress. It was regarded as formal half dress and received its name through the 19th century horseback riding exercise for gentlemen. The jacket was regularly worn on horseback, with the detailing of the buttons on the back being used to hold the tails up out of the way whilst riding. (There are practical uses for the little details we see now)
Changes to Black Tie
There have been some slight changes to the way that black tie can be worn.
The waistcoat and jacket sometimes omitted and a red cummerbund and trousers with red piping are worn in replacement. This is called the Red Sea Rig and is general worn in tropical areas, primarily in Western diplomatic and expatriate communities.
Also for formal dining, armed forces officers and non-commissioned officers normally wear mess uniform with is equivalent to civilian black tie. The mess uniforms may vary according to the wearers’ respective branches of the armed forces.
There is also the changes with the Scottish Highland Dress.
So black tie, white tie, and Scottish highland dress are all traditional and run along the same lines, being worn for formal occasions and all being similar throughout history!!
Giving the occasions an edge that informal dress couldn’t bring. These outfits and rules of what to wear not only make the formal occasion that much better but they also make everyone look fantastic and feel important, especially when matched with the female partner in their full length dress.