Sunday, 4 April 2010

The White Tie project

I have a couple of events coming up this year where, for the first time, it looks as if I will be requiring white tie, so over the weekend I have begun assembling the necessary items of clothing. White tie is a pretty expensive dress code to put together since it has a lot of individual parts, almost none of which can be taken from black tie. As a result, whilst it would be lovely to buy a brand new rig off Savile Row, or have Cad and the Dandy make me one, I have decided to save a bit of money by doing as much as possible through vintage and second hand stores. I'll be doing my best to stick to 'correct' white tie, but buying vintage is rarely perfect, so this first attempt will, realistically, have to be 'as near as I can get it', and can then be improved upon in the future. If you want an explanation of 'perfect' White Tie then The Black Tie Guide has a small but expanding section on it.

'The Ball Room' in Oxford, where I was visiting my family over Easter, is good for second hand evening tails, and here I found the necessary very high-waisted trousers (with double braid piping, rather than the plan silk found on black tie trousers) and a lovely old tailcoat from the now sadly defunct Barkers of Kensington. The above picture shows the first slight problem with a second hand tailcoat - getting the precise fit necessary to ensure that waistcoat is not visible beneath the tailcoat. Although the effect is much exaggerated by hanging on a coat-hanger, the tailcoat I found is ever so slightly too short for the only trousers I could find. Since it seemed most important that the waistcoat covers the top of the trousers, this results in a small amount of waistcoat peeking out. However, while this may be a breach of the strict gold standard, it's a small and common enough error that I think I am happy enough to put up with it for the time being.

The waistcoat itself is not a money-saving vintage purchase. Rather, it is a quite expensive one bought new from Ede & Ravenscroft on Savile Row. It was probably a bit of a mistake even going in there, but once I had seen it I was too enamored of the high-quality cotton and the beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons to go anywhere else.

The next problem is the shirt. Strictly, a white-tie shirt ought to be made of white cotton with a plain or marcella bib front, single (but cufflink fastening) cuffs, and a starched detachable collar. This is worn with a marcella cotton bow tie. I am lucky enough to have the bow tie and collar from my school days, but the shirt is a more difficult matter, since these are fairly uncommon and cost over £100 in the few shirtmakers that still do them. I shall have to keep a keen eye on vintage stores for the next couple of weeks, I think, unless any readers have any good ideas?


  1. You bought a new waistcoat at Ede and Ravenscroft...? How nice for you. The mother of pearl studs are delightful.

    The coat and trousers look delightful.

    You could do worse than wear a school shirt heavily starched by my dry cleaners. Shirts without the marcella were originally thought more formal. You could always cut stud holes in it as well.

    Ede and Ravenscroft is of course, on Burlington Gardens, not Savile Row.


  2. I went the other way around and have an tweeked off the peg dinner suit (with a custom made swoop neck wasicoat) for standard evening wear but opted for the full tailored rig for the white tie. I just could not get the little details to work otherwise (like getting the points of the jacket to align with the points on the waistcoat.

    I wish you luck with this project

  3. PDmillett - You may have made the best decision. In many ways, the white tie rig is less forgiving of small errors in fit than a standard dinner jacket would be, so tailoring is probably worth the expense. On the other hand, mine will get so much less use than my dinner jacket that it would seem silly for me to get a tailored one. Yet.

    Somerset - you are, as ever, correct. Ede and Ravenscroft is not on Savile Row. I apologise.
    Still, the waistcoat is beautiful, even if it did cost nearly as much as the tailcoat. I actually tried on one of the E&R ready-to-wear tailcoats and it fitted me beautifully. It was also a relative snip at £490 (without the trousers). One day.

    My original plan had actually been to use a school shirt but, after trying it on, I decided against it. I'm not particularly attached to the idea of a marcella shirt (infact, with the waistcoat and bow tie, there might be a case of marcella overkill...) but my problem is that the material is too thin, meaning that it shows some skin tone through. In my opinion, this diminishes the necessary stark white effect. Not the biggest problem in the world, I suppose, but still...

  4. Wear a white microfibre T-shirt under it.

    What is this 'couple of events coming up'? Have you already decided that one is not enough? What are we to do for the other one?


  5. Not a bad idea. I'll do that if I can't find anything better. Would definitely be nice not to spend anything further on this. Except the shoes, of course, where I plan to go with your suggestion.

    I have plans for the summer NMcBMDS dinner. I just haven't shared them with you yet.
    Actually, I think I did mention my idea, I just thought we'd get the Lent dinner out of the way before we go into the detail.

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  7. Jake - [properly spelt this time! - please delete my previous posting] You've started well. The rule for assembling any wardrobe is to start with a basic set and, over the years, gradually upgrade.

    I trust the bow tie is self-tie!

    The waistcoat is always a "problem" - so many people think that showing the vest under the coat is OK, almost "the rules". It ain't.
    Perhaps you could ask Philip Thomas, the tailor at Ede's (now based at Chancery Lane but he also drops into their Savile Row branch), to slightly re-shape the bottom of the waistcoat so that only just a tad (or the points only) shows under the coat. Whatever, take both garments into him and ask for his opinion.

    Marcella tunic dress short? Budd in Piccadilly’s current price is about £84. You might actually find a decent one on eBay. Depends on your collar size: the smaller size you are the more common you might find the right shirt. Have you tried (I think that’s it)

    P.S.: Good to see you got the trousers right!

  8. Hi Ray,
    The bow tie is, of course, self-tie. The best thing about my education was that I had to wear a bow tie every day for my last year, so I've got pretty good at tying them!

    I know you're right about the waistcoat, and it is a bit of a pain, but I've had to try and get the best fit possible from a pretty limited selection of vintage coats and trousers, and it's hard to get it 100% spot on. The sleeves and shoulders of the coat are almost perfect, it's just a pity the length isn't quite.
    I may look at re-shaping the waistcoat, but the biggest problem is that the tailcoat only barely covers the waistband of the trousers, so in order to get the waistcoat covered by the tailcoat, it will probably not cover the trousers, which seems to me an even more egregious problem. As I say, it's hard to get everything perfect, but it's all a work in progress.

    Budd do seem to have some fairly cheap ones, although I'm a little reluctant to spend even £84 at the moment. Still, if necessary I may do. Neither ebay or Savvy row have any tunic dress shirts just now, but I'll keep looking back.

    Thanks for the comments, anyway. Good luck with Midsomer Murders!

  9. Hello,

    I purchased my bib front shirt from It's as nice as I could want, with all the bells and whistles, including the slitted side, to ease the placing of the studs. If you haven't seen this site, check it out. They make all kinds of great things, from detachable collars to 1860s nightshirts.

    What I'm having trouble locating is a pair of trousers with the double braided facing. Is anybody making the facing material, that I could buy and have attached by my tailor?


  10. Jake - thanks for posting, very useful.

    When speaking to friends about where to find a decent second-hand evening suit they recommended 282, Portobello Road W10 5TE. Claudia who runs the shop was helpful. I got a proper pair of high waisted trousers and tail coat for less than the price of a new pair of trousers from Ede & Ravenscroft.

    I hope this helps others.


    1. Thanks TB. There's a lot to be said for going to one shop where you can try on a number of items until you get the right fit, and I'm a particular fan of second-hand when it comes to evening dress because they tend to be considerably better-made than even the nicest modern suits.


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