“I’ve just got an invitation through the mail…”
It’s not often that one gets the chance to wear white tie these days. Even in the days of Irving Berlin’s Top Hat, the fourth decade of the twentieth century, its rare use was cause for particular celebration. A recent invitation to a themed birthday party seemed to cry out for tails and as I gathered my thoughts on the topic, I realised that in order to achieve the highest elegance possible, there are vital considerations.
The shirt and collar
For the shirt, many will plump for a pleat or Marcella front wing collared shirt. This will require plenty of starch as a considerable amount of shirt front is on display. A floppy shirt is a no-go for white tie.
However, the best option is still a detachable collar with a stiff-fronted tunic; no amount of starch can recreate the unimpeachable elegance of this look. Thanks to Darcy Clothing, washable versions of both are available, so inconvenience of laundry is no longer an excuse.
The collar should always be a turn-up collar, although it does not necessarily need to be a standard wing collar; a detachable Imperial or Butterfly collar, despite being ‘day collars’, are also acceptable. Any shirt should be worn with studs rather than buttons.
The bow tie
Like any other bow tie, the white bow should be a self-tie; not even children should wear clip-ons. However, it should also be non-adjustable as it is worn with a turned-up collar and the band is visible. Seeing a lumpy adjustable clip is simply unacceptable.
The cut of the waistcoat is of the highest importance. A waistcoat cut too low (as the picture on the right illustrates) looks absurd. Fred’s expression says it all. The high cut of the tailcoat demands an equivalent, not a competing cut.
Despite conventional wisdom that the standard cotton Marcella is the required material for the bow and waistcoat, it does have its critics, most notably Francis Bown who writes; “There is something about its puckered surface which irritates me.”
I don’t necessarily believe that white Marcella is essential for the waistcoat or bow. I have seen, and admired, moiré silk and plain stiff cotton waistcoats and bows in ivory and bone.
A buttonhole (a single flower, stem hidden) should complete the outfit. A red carnation looks particularly fine.