If you’ve been invited to a formal event that specifies a ‘white-tie’ dress code for the first time, you likely have some questions. You might also notice other phrases, such as ‘full evening dress’ or ‘evening tails’ on your invitation, which are a clear indication that white tie is required.

White tie (one step above the more common black tie) has strict rules and etiquette you’ll need to follow to ensure you don’t look out of place.  Luckily, Phillip Alexander has got you covered with 11 top tips from our master tailors. 



What is a white tie dress code?

First things first, what does the term ‘white tie’ actually mean? 

White tie is the most formal dress code for evening events (barring ‘white tie decorations’, usually reserved for royal events) and requires you to dress your very best.

In brief, white tie consists of an evening tailcoat with peaked lapels, which should be women unbuttoned and the characteristic white bow tie. The tailcoat should be paired with high-waisted trousers with two lines of braid down the outside and a stiff white evening shirt with cufflinks and studs.


What is a white tie event?

In the past, white tie was standard at formal events, but now traditional white tie is reserved for the most formal occasions, such as royal ceremonies, balls and banquets. 


1. Don’t get mixed up between black tie vs white tie 

If you’re invited to a white tie event, it’s essential that you dress the part for the special occasion. Although it’s acceptable to wear white tie to a black tie event, the same is not true the other way around. So, ensure you’re clear on the difference between black and white tie and following the correct dress code for your event.


2. Opt for a hand-tied white bow tie

The term ‘white tie’ refers to the signature white bow tie that should accompany your evening tailcoat. Your bow should always be white (never wear a black bow tie) and, ideally, hand-tied in the correct neck size, and you don’t want to have an adjuster show on your collar. 


3. Don’t wear a black shirt

You should always wear a pleated or plain white evening shirt for a white tie event and never a black shirt. It should have a wing collar and bib paired with cufflinks. Light-coloured studs should be worn instead of buttons. 


4. Ensure you wear an evening tailcoat (and not a morning coat)

Your jacket should be an evening tailcoat and not a morning tailcoat which is only appropriate as formal day wear. An evening tail should be worn unbuttoned and should always have peaked lapels. 

For more information on the difference between a morning coat and an evening tailcoat, check out our blog on morning suit rules.  


5. Pay attention to the accessories 

While the white-tie dress code is fairly strict, the accessories are where you can show off your sense of style (within white-tie etiquette). A top hat is commonly worn. Although this is optional, it can be a great way to complete your formal ensemble. Just make sure it fits you correctly. 

You might also consider items like white gloves, a pocket watch, a white silk pocket square, or a boutonniere. If you’re purchasing your white tie suit from experienced tailors, they’ll be able to advise you on the most appropriate accessories that match the occasion and your personal style. 


6. Get the fit right 

Whether you’re hiring a suit or purchasing one for the event, you must ensure that the fit is impeccable. A well-fitting, high-quality, tailored suit will ensure that you look elegant, formal and completely comfortable in white tie. 


7. Don’t wear a wristwatch 

In the past, it would have been considered impolite to look at your watch while in society. Although sentiments have shifted, wearing a wristwatch to a white-tie event is still considered inappropriate. However, many people view pocket watches as acceptable accessories.


8. Ensure you don’t have any tabs on show

White tie shirts should have a starched shirt front (called a bib) which is usually connected to the trousers with a tab so it doesn’t bulge up when you sit down. Your waistcoat should also have a similar tab. You should ensure this is buttoned to the inside button of your trousers to ensure it doesn’t show. 


9. Make sure your waistcoat is the correct length 

You should wear a low-cut white evening waistcoat so the shirt is visible to ensure the correct look. The waistcoat also shouldn’t stick out from underneath your jacket. 


10. Show some cuff

It’s generally considered appropriate to show some shirt cuff to keep the look of the suit balanced. Most men prefer around 0.25 – 0.5 inches.


11. Stick to patent leather shoes

Black patent leather shoes with black laces are a necessity for white-tie events. You should wear plain patent leather oxford, derby shoes, or opera pumps with a bow (not slippers). These should ideally be paired with black evening socks. 



Bespoke evening tailcoats by Phillip Alexander 

If you’ve been invited to a white-tie event, it’s essential to dress for the occasion to ensure you don’t look out of place. A white-tie event is an exclusive occasion requiring you to look your absolute best. 

The best way to ensure you look the part is to consult the help of experienced master tailors like Philip Alexander. We’ve been dressing gentlemen for formal events since 1876. Our team specialises in crafting exquisite bespoke suits, jackets and shirts that fit our customers perfectly. 

Based on Savile Row in London and Cheshire, our bespoke tailoring service is the best choice if you want to look elegant and refined at a white-tie event. Our tailors will happily offer expert styling advice to help you look your best. 

We offer various tailoring services, including bespoke suits, semi-bespoke ‘made to measure’ suits, and tailored suit hire

Bespoke suits 

This is our signature service and the best choice if you want a unique, hand-crafted suit that is expertly made by a master tailor. Our bespoke suit service will produce an elegant evening tailcoat that suits you and your tastes perfectly. 

We also create bespoke tailored wedding suits to help you look the part. 

Made to measure suits 

Our made to measure suits are made using a mix of handcraft and machine work to reduce the time taken to make the suit. This is ideal if you need a well-made evening coat quickly or don’t have the budget for a fully bespoke suit. 

We also specialise in made to measure wedding suits for the groom, father of the bride, wedding party and guests. 

Luxury tailored suit hire

Not everyone has the budget for a tailored suit of their own, especially if you’ve been invited to a formal event that requires white or black tie and you’re not sure when you’ll get the chance to wear such a suit again. Our luxury tailored suit hire is the perfect solution. All our hire suits involve several fittings to ensure they fit impeccably at your event. 

If you want to know more about our range of services or want advice about what to wear to a white tie event,  contact us today to request an appointment.